They have long been conservative bastions of male tradition, but one private club is smashing convention by hosting its first gay wedding.
While some clubs hang on to their men-only charters, The Royal Automobile Club of Australia, founded in Sydney in 1903, is continuing its trail blazing – it allowed women as members more than 70 years ago – by allowing a men-only wedding.
“The club has so much history, we thought it would be really great to marry here and be part of its progression as almost the next cycle after women were admitted as members in 1946,” said Paul Wormleaton, 49, who’ll be marrying his partner Andrew Newport, 33, there on June 8.
“This is such an old-school establishment, it’s really exciting for us to be its first gay wedding, and they’ve been so welcoming, it’s been wonderful. It feels like, together, we’re leading the revolution into the future.”
The pair discovered the club after a relative invited them in to have a look as a potential wedding venue, and Mr Wormleaton ended up joining. Mr Newport is just as enthusiastic about saying his vows beneath the chandeliers and oil paintings of early colonial Australia at the club’s heritage-listed Macquarie Street premises.
“As soon as we came in and saw how much character the club has, we thought it was the perfect aesthetic,” he said. “It’s a beautiful setting.
“We didn’t have to join to have our wedding there, but we liked it so much and it’s going to be such an important part of our life that we want to be involved and go back there for anniversaries and family birthdays and events, and use the restaurant and gym.”
The club’s chief executive Markus Friedler said he was delighted to welcome the couple for their wedding. “All members are equal in the eyes of the club and we’re as open to gay weddings as any other kind of wedding,” he said. “The more the merrier.
“Being inclusive is the way of the future but while I can’t speak for all private clubs, we intend to keep our current members and hopefully grow future membership.”
It’s uncertain if other private clubs will follow in the RACA’s footsteps; most contacted by Commercial Real Estate declined to comment on whether they would allow same-sex weddings.
However, those clubs that only admit men as members might end up having to consider these weddings.
At The Australian Club in Sydney, for instance – the oldest ‘gentlemen only’ club in the southern hemisphere dating back to 1838 – no one was prepared to comment officially, but one staff member said he thought gay weddings could possibly be permitted “depending on whether or not they are members”.
In Melbourne, the men-only Athenaeum Club (1868) for “gentlemen of good character” also declined to comment. It does hold weddings on the premises for members, friends of members and, on occasion, people who have no relation to the club and is believed to have hosted gay commitment ceremonies in the past, before the historic same-sex marriage legislation was passed in December 2017.
But with many of the more traditional clubs now suffering through tough economic times and pressure from some members to modernise, could same-sex weddings become a useful source of extra income?
“It certainly could,” said Mr Friedler from the Royal Automobile Club of Australia. “We’d like to encourage as many as would like to marry here.”
Hair stylist Mr Newport, who’s been with Mr Wormleaton, a visual merchandising coordinator, for five years said:“I can’t believe [other clubs] wouldn’t permit same-sex weddings. This is the 21st century, after all.”
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