The year Michael Sena, Australia and HR3 said ‘I do’

In the year same-sex marriage was made legal ReadyTech’s payroll and workforce management business HR3 was delighted to celebrate the happiness of one of its own. We spoke with HR3’s Michael Sena about the day he’d been waiting 28 years for.

When HR3’s customer relationship manager Michael Sena went to a wedding expo in the first half of 2018 with his partner Paul, they felt out of place being one of the only same-sex couples in the crowd. 

With Australia having only voted ‘yes’ to marriage equality in November 2017 (followed soon after by the Marriage Equality Act) the reality of same-sex marriage in Australia was still very new.

“We picked a lot of vendors from the expo. With everyone I spoke to, I felt I always had to start off by asking if same-sex marriage was an issue for them,” Michael says. “I said I have to ask, because if it’s an issue for you it’s an issue for me, and I don’t want to put you in an awkward position.”

Michael was thrilled that the response from vendors at the expo – and from the community, his friends, and his colleagues ever since  – has been nothing short of enthusiastic and supportive.

“The response from the expo vendors that day always was, ‘why would it be an issue for me’? No one had any issues with it at all. The limo driver we hired was absolutely rapt!”

ReadyTech’s HR3 team was thrilled to celebrate with Michael. In early 2018, we sat down to ask him about the people and the politics of his story – and of course the big party he’d been waiting 28 years for.

Q&A: Michael Sena, Customer Relationship Manager, HR3

How did you and your husband meet?

I first met my husband Paul in December­­­­­­­­ 1989 – 29 years ago now – at a mutual friend’s dinner party. We had our first official date on New Year’s Eve in ‘89, and 28 years later we got married.

Was it ever challenging being in a same-sex relationship?

Definitely. Paul’s 11 years older than me and his family has accepted him for quite a while, but I’m from a Catholic Italian background, so it was a little bit strange for my family. For the first 10 years of our relationship Paul wasn’t invited or involved in any of my family gatherings. 

I was pleased when, one year out of the blue, my mother rang me and said, “Why don’t you bring your friend over for Christmas?”. I said of course. From that point on, he was accepted and he’s just part of the family now. Not just my immediate family, but my extended family as well.

Was getting married after 28 years important to you?

The main reason we did it was to have the security behind us of being recognised as next of kin. It wasn’t politically motivated, it was because as a same-sex couple, we didn’t have the same legal rights as a married couple. For example, we had to fill in an enduring power of attorney form for financial and medical because if a decision had to be made to turn off someone’s life support, for example, neither of us would have been able to make that decision. It gives us peace of mind.

So that’s the reason we did it – and to have a big party!

How did you feel about the plebiscite process?

It was a big issue for the community at the time. I was personally very worried about it – at the time I actually posted on Facebook that if anyone was going to vote ‘no’ in the postal vote then please unfriend me because it just means you don’t have any respect for me. None did, which was great.

It worried me because if it didn’t happen we’d still be in the same position and there’s no guarantee Labor will win the next election. It could have been quite a few years before anything happened again. My view is it shouldn’t have been done; Malcolm Turnbull should have just made a captain’s call and passed it. To ask the Australian people if we should be given equal rights is just a ridiculous notion to me. But there wasn’t anything we could do, and the good came out of it in the end.

What was it like hearing Australia voted ‘yes’?

I was driving around all that day – I didn’t even have the radio on, so I didn’t know what had happened. It was Paul who messaged me to say it’s a  ‘yes’, and then I started getting texts and Facebook tags from my friends overseas. It was just a really emotional day, and by the time I got home and saw Paul we were both in tears, so it was just a good day. It was a really good day.

How did you pop the question to Paul?

I proposed on Australia Day 2016, nine days after my 50th birthday. We were in Paris, and I had it all planned – the ring and everything – for months. The last day in Paris was the only blue sky day for the whole four days we were there, and I proposed to him on top of the Eiffel Tower.

Were you confident marriage equality would happen?

The word at the time was that marriage equality was going to happen and the election was not far around the corner. Bill Shorten had promised that, should Labor get into power, they would pass the Marriage Equality Act within the first 100 days. That didn’t happen as we know.

Friends were saying, “Why don’t you go to New Zealand and get married?”. But it wasn’t the same, because it wouldn’t have been recognised in Australia. So we just waited and waited and when the postal vote came back with a ‘yes’, there were a few tears and a few glasses of champagne.

You were married on August 4th. Was it one of the first same-sex weddings?

There’s been over 5000 same-sex weddings now in Australia and over 1000 in Victoria since the law passed, but we were pretty much the first same-sex couple with all the providers we used. Our celebrant, the limo driver, the reception venue, the band – we were their first same-sex wedding.

So how did the ‘big party’ turn out on your wedding day?

We went to a venue in Richmond on the Yarra called Fenix Events. We were the first same-sex couple to get married there – they’d had some commitment ceremonies, but not a marriage ceremony. It was just fun – the party was the best day of our lives. It was amazing,  more than we expected. Our friends are still talking about it – they keep asking when we’re getting married again. 

It wasn’t huge – we had 70 people including the wedding party. To give you a flavour of that, that included our ‘proxy son’ as we call him as our best man, my niece as maid of honour, my godson as groomsman, Paul’s goddaughter as ‘groomsmaid’ as we call them, and my youngest niece and nephew as junior groomsman and flower girl. It was just brilliant, it was the best night ever.

Have your work colleagues been supportive?

I’ve had no issues at all. When I started at HR3 seven and a half years ago for example,  I put Paul’s name down as my partner and there was never any negative feedback from anyone. It’s been really positive – I don’t feel like I have to pretend to be someone I’m not. I don’t flaunt it obviously, because I’m just not that sort of person. I’m just who I am and our team is fine with that. 

When I had my last day of work before the wedding, I wasn’t expecting anything but Rick [Verloop] made a really nice speech and gave us a present. I had to stop opening the card because I was getting quite emotional about it. I’m just grateful that HR3 has been so supportive.

How have the clients you deal with taken the news? 

Some of the clients I deal with knew I was getting married, and when I’ve gone to see them and they’ve asked if I had any wedding photos on my phone, nobody has ever had any issues with it when I’ve shown them. It’s been really positive, which is a good feeling. 

I had one client when I was in Sydney a couple of months ago who had a son getting married, and I told her that I’d been with my partner for 28 years and just got married. She said, “What took you so long?”. I said, “Marriage equality.” She said, “Riiiight. Well, it’s about time!”

So what’s next for you and Paul?

We haven’t had our honeymoon yet, so we’re planning to go away in February 2019. Because it’s been a really hectic year for us, we decided we’re just going to go away and do nothing. Thailand is our place for doing that, so our plan is to be there for two weeks on a beach doing nothing.

Other than that, the future is just what it is; it’s just going to carry on as normal. Paul is hopefully going to retire or semi-retire soon, so our plan is just to keep living the life we are living. Nothing is going to change as far as that goes; it’s just that now, we have the security and comfort of knowing nothing is going to stop us from making decisions for each other, because it is the law now.