Our rings do not contain new diamonds. Perhaps some people may consider purchasing engagement rings without new diamonds as cheap or inelegant. However, we didn't do this because we wanted to save money. I'm far from a jewellery expert, but I got the impression that the amount we spent on our rings would be around the same if we had bought them new (and with new diamonds) ready-made in a shop, or online. In fact, it probably cost me five times more than the most money I had previously spent before, which was buying flight tickets.
Our rings don't contain new diamonds because we don't want to support the diamond industry. Diamonds are often mined in a war zones and sold to finance invading armies' war efforts, or a warlords' activities. The illegal trade in diamonds has funded brutal wars and human rights abuses for decades in countries such as Angola, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, resulting in the death and displacement of millions of people. This is why they are often known as conflict diamonds or blood diamonds.
Recently, we watched the film ‘A United Kingdom’. The film is based on the true story of the heir to the throne of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), Seretse Khama of the Bamangwato tribe, who studied law in London immediately after World War II. There he met a white woman, Ruth Williams, whom he eventually married, despite the protests of both their families and opposition from the British government, who were concerned about relations with South Africa, and the stability of the entire region of Southern Africa. I am fortunate enough to probably never be able to relate to being a racial minority, but I was able to relate to the struggles that Seretse and Ruth faced as their marriage was condemned because it was unprecedented, and perhaps therefore feared. The British claimed that Seretse was unfit to become king of Bechuanaland. However, Seretse got hold of a confidential report that claimed that he is fit to be king, but the British cannot allow that because it would hinder their implementation of apartheid in Bechuanaland, and therefore undermine their authority and their ability to exploit the diamonds discovered there.
It is possible to have beautiful engagement rings without supporting the diamond industry. I think the photos of the rings speak louder than my claims about how beautiful I think they are.
|Design options for my ring|
|Design for Maria's ring|
Our rings were made by CaiSanni, a goldsmith run by a female married couple local to Rauma, a small town on the west coast of Finland.
My ring is made of 98% recycled white gold, and also has three recycled diamonds, which represent stars. I got inspired by a text that I read in Finnish class called 'Koivun ja tähden maa', which means 'The land of the birch and the star'. It has birch leaves because nature is important to us. The birch tree is the national tree of Finland, the country where we live together, and in which we got engaged.
Maria's ring has six recycled diamonds and one moissanite, which is a substitute for a diamond.
Both of our rings have the other's first and middle names engraved on the inside.
I have no idea where the recycled diamonds come from, but I like the idea of using what is left from someone's failed engagement or marriage, and turning into our own love story. To some, the rings (and our relationship!) may seem imperfect, but this isn't important to me. I'm engaged to the love of my life, someone who encourages and supports me; who is there for me on the bad days as well as the good ones; who is ready to compromise; who means what she says and follows through with her promises; who is forgiving; and who accepts me despite all my imperfections, bad choices, and mistakes.
The most important thing is that Maria and I's love should be at the centre of the engagement, and that the rings are representative of that. Our concern for environmental and social responsibility and trying to make our actions match our words are part of the reason why we love each other, and are reflected by the rings, even though someone probably wouldn't necessarily know that just by looking at them. We aren't particularly materialistic, and we don't want flashy jewellery that impresses others, but rather that is deep and meaningful for us, even if it beyond others' understanding. This goldsmith made self-designed, personal, meaningful, and socially and environmentally friendly engagement rings possible for us.
I've heard that some people claim that gender-neutral/gay marriage is unnecessary because civil partnerships are already available. However, civil partnerships don't give homosexual couples the same rights as those in heterosexual marriages. Why else wouldn’t it have already been called ‘marriage’, and why else would it be such a large issue advocated by many? Admittedly, I’m more aware about how it works in Finland than in the UK, but I've also learnt about the inequalities that my friends have faced.
In Australia (where gender-neutral marriage hasn’t yet been legalised and therefore isn’t recognised), the price of a visa for a homosexual couple in a civil partnership is double the amount that a heterosexual married couple pay.
Before gender-neutral marriage was legalised in Finland, for a female couple in a civil partnership who had a child, the birth mother would be, of course, automatically the parent of the child, but the other mother wouldn't, and she would have to go through an adoption process, which could take 1-2 years. If the birth mother were to die, the other mother wouldn’t automatically have guardianship of the child. Furthermore, the authorities would come to their house to check that they would be suitable parents. This isn’t something that heterosexuals usually have to go through, married or otherwise. Perhaps this is because anybody who is straight in any situation is able to have a child that is automatically theirs, and biology can’t be argued with.
Additionally, couples in civil partnerships in Finland weren’t able to have a double-barrelled surname, and one had to apply to get their surname changed, rather than it being changed automatically.
In Finland, it’s possible to apply for a study grant from Kela (Kansaneläkelaitos, The Social Insurance Institution) on the basis of moving to Finland for family ties, including to be with a spouse. At first, I couldn’t get a study grant because we are a same-sex couple, so the authorities automatically considered us as no more than friends. We had to provide proof our relationship, which was rejected, so we sent multiple appeals, but to no avail. However, they did consider us as a couple when they wanted to include Maria’s income in my housing grant application so that I would get less. It was very contradictory and hypocritical. Instead, I had to work 18 hours per week in order to get the study grant. It wasn’t necessary for me to work that much and earn that much money, but it was all or nothing. My studies have suffered as a result, and is probably part of the reason why I haven’t graduated on time. Now that gender-neutral marriage has been legalised, I am recognised as Maria’s partner, and therefore an applicant in a similar situation to mine could get the grant.
A man and a woman who aren’t a couple, but share a flat, may have the opposite experience, in which the authorities assume that they are a couple and therefore want to cut their funds, so they had to prove that they aren't together. This can also work in the favour of a same-sex couple who live together and both already receive study grants, because they can just let authorities believe that they aren’t together in order receive a bigger grant. This is pretty annoying for people in a situation like me, as we see someone getting extra grant whilst we can't get any. If they were a man and a woman, the authorities would probably assume that they're together and try to minimise their housing grants.
Regarding how I proposed, I had been planning to propose on our 5th anniversary, and I think Maria suspected that. She came home to find a note from me with instructions. They told her to download an app called Actionbound and find certain locations using clues. The locations were places where we had been together and that are important to us, so that she could be reminded of some good memories. I thought about using envelopes, but then decided on using an app instead in case the envelopes got lost somehow or blew away. The trail around the city lead her to a viewing point high on a hill in Pyynikki forest that overlooks a lake. I got down on one knee and proposed to her with a short speech in Finnish, and then she got down and proposed to me, so that we were equal.
We are planning to have a fairly small wedding with close family and friends in 2019. This gives us time to save money; and me time to improve my Finnish, graduate, and start my career. We are thinking about getting married in Finland, since Maria has a bigger family, and most of my friends are here now, although we can't be exactly sure how things will be for us in two years' time.
Living in Finland and having friends of different nationalities made me aware of the cultural differences regarding the significance of engagement. Of course, this can be attributed to individuals, especially those with limited or negative experiences of engagement. I struggled with those who have dissimilar attitudes towards engagement. For me, it's important and polite to congratulate someone, ask how the proposal went, ask to see the ring, and ask about the wedding. I guess as we spend so much time on social media, sadly, we don't always feel the need to discuss what we've messaged about or seen on there in person, and thus traditional social relations and conversations are deteriorating. However, I'm sure that my true friends shared my happiness, whether they vocalised it or not.