When Melbourne resident Elyse James sat down in the studio audience of one of Australia's evening talk shows, "Adam Hills in Gordon St. Tonight," in February, she had no idea that her girlfriend of eight months, Rebecca Edwards, would be proposing that night.
Days before the show, James filled out a survey sent by the talk show's producers asking audience members one question: "If you were prime minister for a day, what law would you change or introduce?" James wrote that she would legalize same-sex marriage -- currently not recognized in Australia -- in hopes of one day marrying her girlfriend.
Later that week, the host of the show, popular Aussie comedian Adam Hills, called James’ girlfriend to ask if she would be willing to propose to James on an upcoming episode of "Adam Hills."
Edwards agreed and popped the question in front of the studio audience in February, stunning James, who said “yes” on the spot in front of a cheering crowd.
"[Proposing] was a split-second decision,” Edwards told HuffPost Weddings. "We wanted to put it out there to Australians about marriage equality."
Hills offered to throw the couple a "TV wedding," despite the fact that their marriage would not be recognized by the government. They accepted, but the wedding for two quickly grew to be more than just that.
"The following week [after the on-air proposal], we had a whole bunch of gay and lesbian couples saying, 'We'd like to be a part of this as well.' And so the second week, we said, 'Alright, it's open to any gay and lesbian couples,'" Hills told HuffPost Weddings. "Then the following week, we had complaints from bi and transgender couples, saying, 'What about us?' So eventually we said fine -- as long as you're same-sex, then come on and get married."
The number soon grew to 41 same-sex couples from all over Australia, who tied the knot this week. Their nuptials, which air Wednesday, will be the country's first televised, mass, same-sex wedding.
Australian viewers were initially a bit hesitant about the idea of a mass same-sex wedding on the "Adam Hills" show. “There was a little bit of reticence at first because some people thought we might be making fun of the whole thing, and not really giving it any respect,” said Hills, whose show regularly features audience participation, celebrity interviews, comedy and live music. “But as the weeks have gone on, the viewers have realized, 'Oh, it’s going to be funny, but you’re not making fun of it. You’re actually celebrating it in a TV way.'”
Though the message of the show will be serious, it will stay true to its off-the-cuff, comedic nature by including quirky elements, such as asking audience members to bring in gifts.
“We thought it might be funny if they brought in something reused or something they might have been given that they didn’t want anymore,” Hills said, laughing.
Each of the 41 couples was asked to “bring a plate” –- keeping with the Australian tradition of bringing a plate of food to parties.
In an homage to the British royal wedding mania of 2011, the show’s producers posted online downloadable wedding memorabilia with photos of the couples, so that viewers can create their own commemorative plates, T-shirts and other items to celebrate the occasion.
The nuptials had a “lovely country wedding" theme, and during the show, Hills acted as the wedding officiant and read aloud vows written by each couple before he “married” them. The festivities included celebrity appearances and a performance by '80s pop musician Adam Ant.
While their marriages won't be legal, the couples are taking the vows and the nuptials to heart, according to Hills. “Originally we thought [this] might be a little fun bit of symbolism or wish-granting, and instead, people are really taking it seriously. And they’re saying, ‘Well, I know that we’re not going to really be married, but this is a big deal for us.’"
Bride-to-be Edwards told HuffPost Weddings that she hopes the televised nuptials will help raise awareness about gay marriage in Australia. “The Australian mind-set seems to be 'well, if it doesn’t affect me, I’ve got no interest in it,'” she said. “If they actually see [the wedding] happening, it [will start] to stir the public debate about it. And they’ll realize that it really isn’t an issue -- the world hasn’t collapsed, the economy is still going on, nothing actually changes for me, but it does mean a big positive change for other people.”
For Hills, the aim is to get people to realize that marriage is “all about love.” He told HuffPost Weddings, “At the end of the day, we want the viewers to walk away from this going, ‘Wow, that’s actually a really lovely, normal wedding,’ and maybe realize that a whole bunch of gay people and lesbian people getting married isn’t actually as scary as they might think it might be."
Below, photos from the taping of the ceremony.