They say love knows no bounds. And for newly-married Cook Islands couple Alex and Joshua Nicholls, this rings true. Nationality, distance, gender, tradition – their relationship has crossed many borders.
Theirs is not a boy meets a girl, love happens and they get married story. It is about two men and their abiding love for one another.
Alex, a champion Cook Islands dancer, met Ryan Joshua Han on the dance floor 15 years ago. He was 18 then, a year younger than Joshua.
“When we locked eyes, we instantly hit it off like a house on fire,” remembers Alex.
After two weeks of texting each other, Joshua moved in to live with Alex and his family.
“We were good friends for many seasons and as we grew to enjoy each other’s friendship we became more intimate!
“There was no official ‘coming out party’. Our relationship developed naturally over time.”
It wasn’t plain sailing for them. Like any other relationship, they also weathered a few storms. In 2012, they took a year’s break from each other – but the distance apart brought them closer and helped them realise what they had was special.
That was the year that Alex returned home to Cook Islands, where he had previously lived, to win the International Dancer of the Year contest.
They got back together in 2013 and travelled to a number of countries including Cook Islands, on dancing tours with Tropical Island Hula.
Joshua, who is an Australian of Chinese heritage, embraced Cook Islands culture and took the name Teretokorua.
“Joshua and I are both creative individuals,” says Alex. “We both enjoy travelling and love the performing arts.”
In August 2018, Alex and Joshua got engaged and a year later they moved in with Joshua’s mum.
A week ago, the two exchanged vows to officially become one. Their union in marriage, Alex says, will symbolise a higher level of commitment they have to each other.
“As expected challenges will always be present but relish in them and face them head on knowing that it will only make you stronger,” says Alex.
“We fought, we cried, we forgive and forget like every other relationship and now we are almost inseparable.”
Alex and Joshua’s wedding was the first of its kind for their respected and devoutly religious families.
They were blessed with the most amazing and supportive pack of friends and families, Alex says, who have not only accepted their relationship but also supported them from day one.
“Everyone was excited upon receiving their wedding invites. It was everyone’s first LGBT wedding so everyone was curious and fascinated.”
Aitutaki was their dream wedding destination, but same sex marriage or relationship is banned in the Cook Islands.
Given the circumstances, Alex says an intimate wedding in Sydney was their best option.
“At least it allowed us to exchange our vows, announce our union ship and celebrate with our friends and families in Cook Islands and Australian style.
“The wedding itself was magical! Planned within five weeks, we were able to put our hospitality skills to good use and customised a lot of the finer details which gave it a romantic ambience.
“There were plenty of food, beverage, music and dance so the event was a success.”
They had the most gorgeous and talented line of grooms-maids. They included their older sisters Sharlene Barat and Kathy Wilkinson, inspirational cousins Lydia Simonis (former Miss Cook Islands) and Tiare Simonis, and friends Matakaiariki Samuel-Mata, Maria Kolo, Jaylene Andrews and Rikki-lee Ruha.
Now Teretokorua Ryan Joshua Han has taken another new name: that of Nicholls, his husband.
Besides the fact that Joshua possesses the “most gorgeous green eyes and most alluring warm smile”, Alex says his husband personified the kind of values and personality traits he was looking for in his life partner.
Joshua embraces his cultural heritage/identity, supports him, and always goes beyond the call, to develop a strong relationship with his family.
“I am attracted to his personality, not his gender, which is something not everyone understands or accepts to this date. But the truth is, I know within my heart that I deserve happiness!”
Alex says they are polar opposites in many ways but they complement each other very well.
Compromising is a key word, he says, in keeping the peace.
Joshua is very sentimental about everything, while Alex is all about logic and reason.
“He’s materialistic, I’m all about building memories and experience. He enjoys burning hot tea/coffee and eating freshly cooked hot food, I prefer both lukewarm.
“He can shower for hours while I have concerns over living a more sustainable lifestyle.
“He’s very pedantic about what he wants down to the fine details and not worry about budget, I’m about efficiency and meeting timeframe within or under the budget.”
The elements that define their relationship start with love, followed by what Alex calls CTR: Compromise, Transparency and Respect.
“Joshua helps me realise my true potential and true worth. He never allows me to become lazy and complacent. He gives me purpose and meaning to life.”
In Cook Islands, sexual relations between two men is banned by the Crimes Act.
There is no decision yet on previous plans to remove the ban. The matter is still with the select committee, which had wanted to retain the criminal clause.
Alex and Joshua hopes their story will help the committee members realise that members of the LGBTQ+ community deserve love and respect.
“We now cherish our culture and arts and want to protect them, yet when the missionaries arrived from England in 1821, Christianity quickly took hold in the culture and the blue laws were introduced, which almost disintegrated our cultural heritage,” says Alex.
“If we can make big decisions as such, why can’t we legalise gay marriage in the Cook Islands and lift the ban on homosexuality?
“Do we only use our LGBT community to make beautiful costumes and dance choreographies for our Miss Cook Islands, Mire Ura and Te Maeva Nui celebrations? Better yet, weave the rito hats or create the pearl necklace, ear rings or ei katu you wear to church and various functions?
“I find this very hypocritical. We pick and choose when it is okay to acknowledge our LGBT community and when not too.
“The time is changing, look to your neighbour: there’s a high chance you have a family member awaiting to have their inner voice heard. Let them be a leaf in the wind and support or watch them soar!”