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Gay & Lesbian Weddings Wedding Planning

The Final One-Year Anniversary Package for Same-Sex Couples

To help give these couples the celebrations they deserve, The Condado Plaza Hilton, in Puerto Rico, partnered with Andrew Collins (LGBT travel expert and author of About.com‘s gay travel site, GayTravel.About.com) to curate the most incredible LGBT anniversary package ever: the “Coloring San Juan With Love” package. Here’s why you should take advantage of this hip, heavenly and totally romantic steal of a deal. Starting on June 26, same-sex couples all over the country will be celebrating their first wedding anniversary, thanks to last year’s Supreme Court ruling to legalize gay marriage.

“With its welcoming vibe, vibrant gay nightlife and stunning LGBT-frequented beaches, San Juan is known as one of the undisputed gay and lesbian travel hot spots in the Caribbean,” says Collins, who’s crafted a detailed itinerary for a seamless romantic weakend for two in San Juan. “For this guide, I’ve recommended where to go for some of the most popular LGBT spots in San Juan from going to Oasis Bar near the Condado beachfront early one evening and to downtown bars on Saturday night, plus some things to see and do in Old San Juan.”

The Condado Plaza Hilton offers a little bit of everything—okay, a lot of everything. It sits in Puerto Rico’s upscale Condado area, but it’s only minutes from the charming blue cobblestone streets of historic Old San Juan (perfect for an afternoon of strolling through the village).

With the unique advantage of overlooking both the Atlantic Ocean and the Condado Lagoon, you’ll get to relax by the lively ocean and the tranquil bay (yes, please!).

One night during your stay, you and your partner will get a sweet surprise: a romantic turndown service with rose petals. And when you wake each morning, not only will you be in paradise, but you’ll also get complimentary breakfast!

First things first: Sip two welcome cocktails (on the house!) when you arrive, before heading up to your guest room or suite.

Dine and drink like royalty with a five-course food tasting with wine pairing at Pikayo, the hotel’s flagship restaurant with renowned Puerto Rican Chef Wilo Benet. Or, choose from one of the other nine dining options, from coffee and nibbles to posh plates.

Want in? The “Coloring San Juan with Love” anniversary package will be available from June 2016 to June 2017, starting at $275 (based on a three-night minimum stay).

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Gay & Lesbian Weddings Wedding Planning

How Has Marriage Changed Life For Gay People?

How Has Marriage Changed Life For Gay People?

Activist and writer Peter McGraith married his partner David in the first ceremony conducted under the Marriage Act 2013 covering most of the UK. Here, he asks what effect it’s had on gay and lesbian couples – and on marriage itself.

Do we care if marriage equality contributes to the demise of gay culture, identity and community?

I do.

We ought to think what might be lost, as well as gained, if a new generation of gay men and lesbians were to rush into marriages without firstly having experienced that blast of emancipation that follows on from the realisation that you are that thing that some people loathe or pity and you feel utterly thrilled with it.

This experience of asserting a positive identity, outside of mainstream sexual morality, makes us question what we’ve been taught about gender, social hierarchies, religion, the family and the impropriety of sex. And perhaps it encourages us to have mature, rational and honest relationships.

More than 50% of gay men’s relationships are sexually non-exclusive, while lesbian women are more typically wedded to serial monogamy, which, to the surprise of some, can lead to its own problems.

How Has Marriage Changed Life For Gay People?

A Ministry of Justice response to my Freedom of Information request for same-sex divorce statistics provides an early indication of a probable trend. For every gay male couple that filed a divorce petition, 3.2 female couples did so.

Over recent years, civil partnership dissolutions of lesbian couples have held steady at roughly twice the level of gay men’s civil partnership dissolutions.

This concerns lesbian comedian and writer Rosie Wilby, who has researched attitudes to monogamy and open relationships for her stand-up shows.

“Straight women tend to have the luxury of having a female best friend, alongside a male partner,” she says.

“Lesbians are expected to be best friends with their partner, so there’s a whole heap more expectation on just one person. Then you lose that best friend every three or so years.”

Rosie worries about the mental health and financial implications of lesbian women striving too hard for an emotional and sexual monogamy – for a perfect marriage.

In 2005, 1,227 couples formed civil partnerships in the first three days of the Civil Partnership Act. By comparison, only 98 gay and lesbian couples married in the first three days of marriage equality in England and Wales.

The take-up of same-sex marriage is slightly below government expectations, but the effect of the law change is being felt widely.

How Has Marriage Changed Life For Gay People?

Older gay men and lesbians are now fielding questions about whether they might get married at some point. Such talk is seen as genuinely supportive or as an embarrassing attempt to show liberal credentials.

I have witnessed long-established relationships fall apart like wet paper over one partner’s mistaken expectation that the other might want to solemnise their love.

A twenty-something who told me that older relatives would ask him when he was in his teens, “Are you courting, yet?” described how all enquiry about his personal life had dried up after he came out as gay. He now reports that relatives and colleagues seem overly keen to marry him off just because he has a steady partner. Even teenagers are subject to pervasive assumptions that they will marry and have children.

They should be careful what they wish for as they casually use language like “husband-hunting” and broadcast their partner specifications online. The room for diversity, for queerer set-ups, non-conformity and community could be squeezed out by normativity.

Some 15,098 couples had converted their civil partnership or entered new marriages within the first fifteen months of gay marriage.

Having the legal right to marry has propelled some previously discreet individuals from naught to nuptials in an accelerated coming-out. People who didn’t feel able to declare their same-sex desires during their youth have now come out when able to present themselves with a supportive partner by their side, respectable and engaged to be married.

A recent same-sex wedding fair in London attracted a sizeable number of gay and lesbian visitors from cultural backgrounds that have been known for hostility towards homosexuals.

How Has Marriage Changed Life For Gay People?

An accomplished, preened Muslim man was there, planning on being married to his South American partner by an imam. He was too modest to acknowledge that he might be a pioneer within his religious community.

Moreover, present was an impressive young British-Asian school teacher from a family that cares about social standing. She and her beautiful lawyer girlfriend were planning their perfect wedding.

They made me think about a Scottish-Indian gay guy and his lesbian sister who were clubbing acquaintances from my youth. They were the tightest of accomplices in dodging parental pressure to marry people of the opposite sex.

Marriage may not be the apotheosis of queer emancipation, but a broad acceptance of same-sex marriage will reduce coerced marriages and unsuitable marriages that gay men, lesbians and bisexuals might have otherwise entered into for cover.

Fissures and doubts have opened up within traditional families and religious communities which had been more solidly opposed to homosexuality. Parents who previously believed that their grown-up children’s sexual orientation would bring opprobrium upon the family are coming to recognise and accept the legal status of same-sex marriage, the favourable reception it has had in the British media and the shift in wider social attitudes.

Importantly, same-sex marriage can now become a tool for leveraging basic human rights for sexual minorities around the world.

When gay and lesbian couples in Northern Ireland have no access to the unfairly privileged institution of marriage, gay life in the province is not unaffected by it. If anything, the impasse on marriage equality has meant that Northern Ireland’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community has pulled together.

How Has Marriage Changed Life For Gay People?

The Stormont Assembly has debated gay marriage five times now and it voted in favour of equality last November – then the Democratic Unionist Party used its veto to block it.

The Prime Minister told a reception for the LGBTI community at 10 Downing Street in July 2013 that he wanted to export same-sex marriage around the world, but what could he possibly achieve until he has asserted all the influence he can in bringing marriage equality to Northern Ireland?

One-time supporters of Section 28, with a few exceptions, now hold up gay marriage as an example of British values at their best. It’s about respecting difference. An achievement that allows us to view ourselves as morally superior to the Taliban and so-called Islamic State. Perhaps all at Stormont will show us the same respect when it next votes on this matter.

I was in the House of Commons with my kids on the evening of 5 February 2013 when our MPs voted 400 to 175 in favour of gay marriage, and while this victory was cheered by the 60 or so activists who gathered in a committee room to await the result, we weren’t cock-a-hoop. We all had our misgivings.

How Has Marriage Changed Life For Gay People?

In addition, lest we lose sight of why we’re glad to be gay, we should remember that while equality is everyone’s right, progress is the goal.

As Professor Matt Cook of Birkbeck, University of London has put it, will the new divide be between married and single rather than between gay and straight?

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Watch My Lesbian Girlfriend Marry A Gay Man

Watch My Lesbian Girlfriend Marry A Gay Man

Probably the headline sounds like clickbait. Thing is, it’s true.

On last Friday night at Melbourne venue Max Watt’s, I stood on stage and surveyed a very odd scene. My partner, the comedian Zoë Coombs Marr, and her father, ambling up the aisle as she scrambled into an ill-fitting white gown; her mother sitting beside the groom’s parents in the front row; the groom, comedian Rhys Nicholson, looking resplendent under spotlights to my left; and his boyfriend Kyran in running shorts standing behind him, scowling. Hannah Gadsby, in a three piece suit, had taken her place as the emcee, and Judith Lucy, Denise Scott, and Celia Pacquola were the flower girls.

After an eight-month engagement, this was really happening – replete with a riot, fake blood and a bit of vomit. You know, traditional.

There are very definite wedding trends emerging this decade, and none of them were present that night. The Baby’s Breath crowns of my youth have gone the way of Lana Del Ray, croquembouches have been replaced with artisanal ice-cream cakes, and Midori is now served in mason jars, for that classic speak-easy look. Trends also include: an official hashtag on the invitation, and straight friends who actually do support marriage equality but believe that adding in a disclaimer about it during the vows makes up for them doing something that we’re not allowed to choose to do.

My feelings about weddings are … complicated. I love a wedding, I do – I just won’t ever say that particular phrase during one. I enjoy seeing friends making googlies at each other, and dancing and drinking with their relatives I’ll never see again. But growing up gay, weddings weren’t in my wheelhouse; they weren’t something I could select in my particular queer pick’n’mix. Besides, I was schooled in feminism via riot grrrl culture, thus unless it was going to be a radical act that challenged the deeply conservative history of the ritual, probably not for me.

I’ve been to some lovely weddings over the years, that I wouldn’t have missed for the world. Right now although, with the marriage equality debate at its peak in Australia, receiving a save-the-date feels bittersweet. I can’t help but think of the message still being sent out to young queer kids: your relationships are not equal, you are not equal. As Gadsby said in her speech on Friday night, that message is reaching an even broader audience than that: “What we are doing in this country is saying to ALL of the children that it is OK to exclude a minority. It is OK to be a bully.”

The general consensus among marriage equality-supportive friends seems to be that it’s fine to get hitched, because “gay marriage” is inevitable. But, is it? I know gay couples who have been saving that date for three decades now. And so it was with a lot of mixed emotions that I took a weird phone call last August.

My girlfriend was in Edinburgh, performing at the Fringe Festival largely dressed as a man named Dave, and I was in Sydney, about to head to the airport to meet her. It was late at night in the UK, and she was tipsy. “I have something to tell you …” is never a great start to a phone call from your girlfriend, particularly before a long-haul flight. It’s even worse when it’s followed with: “I’m engaged!”

Zoë and I have been together for six or so years – about as long as it took us to get through the entire series of Xena: Warrior Princess. Of course we’ve talked about what we’d do should marriage equality ever come to town. The quick answer: It’s not for us, but it would be nice to have a choice. We’ll settle for an elaborate Brigadoon-themed anniversary booze-up at some point.

And yet here she was, wanting to wed fellow comedian and friend Rhys, who was also in Edinburgh, and more importantly a man. It was to be a protest wedding; a wedding just because they could; a farce, a really good party, and best of all – given their genders – legal. Despite the ridiculousness of it all, I was surprisingly affected. Here was the big day we didn’t want, that one of us was going to get – and now I had a good 26-plus hours to stew on a long-haul flight. Thank god for sleeping tablets.

The engagement was kept a secret until last week, but we’d all had to break the news to our parents. Zoë and I told my parents on Christmas Day, over lunch. They took the idea in good grace, but my dad grew misty at some point between the trifle and the pudding, when the statement behind the event really hit him. That would turn out to be a common response from our straight, marriage equality allies, who hadn’t ever really had to think about how weddings could actually make gay people feel – a persistent, nagging reminder that you can’t access the same simple rights; that your capacity for love is not deemed the same as theirs.

Watch My Lesbian Girlfriend Marry A Gay ManIt was a strange scene backstage last Friday, as the audience filtered in – friends and family scattered throughout the ticket-holders. There were the usual pre-show jitters of course, but on that night they were amplified by an electric energy about what we were about to take part in.

Essentially, all weddings are variety shows, but this one took the fruitcake – all carefully curated by the bride and groom. Hot Brown Honey and Brendan Maclean kicked off the evening in song and a black power salute, Peter and Bambi Heaven gave a bloody good performance; Father Geraldine Hickey created a sacred space with incense; the flower girls mesmerised with a knicker-flashing ribbon dance, and Aunty Tina Del Twist read a lovely piece from the bible. There were objectors of course: first in the form of a feminist take by Adrienne Truscott, and then a full brawl broke out, with the True Australian Patriots chanting, “Leftie scum!”.

In other words, the best wedding I’ve ever been to.

Throughout the nuptials, I played the dutiful role of “reluctant partner”, a character that came quite naturally. But I cracked during Gadsby’s wedding speech, a piercing take on inclusivity and queerness. She has since published it online, and I keep revisiting it, each time misting up like my dad on Christmas Day: “Exclusion is not a simple act. When you say to a person, ‘No, you can not join in, you do not belong in this community,’ the end of that sentence is not the end of the story. The ramifications are traumatic to the individual. To actively isolate a fellow human being is nothing short of structural violence.” Between the performances and the speech, it could well have been the only wedding in history with neither a dry eye or seat in the house.
Watch My Lesbian Girlfriend Marry A Gay Man

Vows and rings were exchanged, papers signed; when it was announced their wills would need updating, Wil Anderson appeared from side of stage to have his arms signed. The only thing left was the ceremonial kiss. Groom and bride – both covered in fake blood and fake vomit at this point – wrinkled their noses and turned, respectively, to Kyran and me, for what turned out to be quite an embarrassingly lengthy public pash.

The rest was a blur, but the flashy fun of it all paled the next day when one of the young attendees, a stranger, sent through a message, saying the wedding had given him the courage to eventually come out to his friends and family. Marriage equality isn’t everything. In fact, it’s pretty boring. However it’s a start.

Frankly speaking, I wish Rhys and Zoë the best of luck in their new union. Bless ‘em. Kyran, give me a call.

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5 Wedding Traditions With Surprisingly Feminist

As the number of couples getting hitched continues to dwindle, marriage can occasionally seem like an archaic institution — particularly given how many traditions are rooted in old-fashioned gender norms. But, feminist wedding traditions do exist, and they might be more common than you’d deem.

Part of this is thanks to how marriage has evolved over the centuries. Historically, it was more of an exchange of property — the property being the bride, in case you needed a reminder to be thankful you were born in this century — than the partnership between equals marriage has become today. Unluckily, many wedding customs we still practice nowadays are holdovers from an era when women were considered something to be bought and sold. The most obvious example is the ubiquitous white wedding dress: Though the trend was largely started by Queen Victoria, over time, it grew heavy with religious connotations, with the white gown coming to symbolize the bride’s virginity and equate her worth with her sexual purity. Yikes.

Wedding Traditions With Surprisingly Feminist

Certainly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. By nature, weddings tend to be highly traditional, and problematic customs like the father “giving away” the bride or women taking their husbands’ last names are still fairly common. However, this doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with taking part in these traditions, nor does it mean that weddings can’t be feminist. In the end, it’s up to you to define what makes a wedding feminist; if that means wearing a poofy dress and tossing your garter at the groomsmen, go for it. If it means walking yourself down the aisle and keeping your last name, that’s cool as well.

As a matter of fact, there are a number of ways wedding traditions can be surprisingly feminist — let’s take a look at five below.

1. Walking Down The Aisle

As we already discussed, the practice of “giving away” the bride is hella sexist. On the other hand, many brides these days use it as a chance to honor the people who raised them — they make their way to the altar accompanied by their mothers, families of choice, best friends, or totally solo. If that’s not feminist, I don’t know what is.

Wedding Traditions With Surprisingly Feminist

2. Same-Sex Marriage

Whether you’re a lady marrying a lady, a dude marrying a dude, or any variation thereof, same-sex weddings are pretty feminist by their very nature. Gender equality is about equality for everyone, including the LGBTQ community, and same-sex ceremonies flip the traditionally heteronormative wedding script on its head.

Wedding Traditions With Surprisingly Feminist

3. Writing Your Own Vows

Even though lots of couples stick to traditional vows, some choose to write their own as a way to make their ceremony unique. It’s an opportunity to let everyone know how much your partner means to you — and anything that gives women a voice is absolutely feminist.

Wedding Traditions With Surprisingly Feminist

4. Bachelorette Parties

Let’s get this out of the way: Historically, bachelor parties were super sexist for a number of reasons, not least because they specifically exclude women. Furthermore, they’re based on the notion that men are “giving up” something by getting married, which is why they deserve one last night of debauchery before tying the knot. It’s not exactly feminist.

Nonetheless, the rise of bachelorette parties in the 1960s finally gave women the chance to celebrate their sexuality with their own pre-wedding festivities, complete with penis straws and male strip clubs. Sure, they’re not every couple’s cup of tea, whereas it is one of the few wedding traditions in which men and women are on relatively equal footing.

Wedding Traditions With Surprisingly Feminist

5. The Wedding Party

Wedding parties are customarily divided by gender: The bride chooses women, and the groom chooses men. However, recent decades have seen a shift in our choices for wedding parties; these days, it’s not uncommon to see women in the groom’s party or male bridesmaids. Lastly, tradition appears to be shifting to allow you to choose people you’re close to, no matter how they identify.

Wedding Traditions With Surprisingly Feminist

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Utah Gay Wedding Expo Connected Couples

Utah Gay Wedding Expo Connected Couples

Jason Langlois and Will Bladh are in the early stages of making plans for their summer 2017 wedding, and they don’t expect their excitement pierced by the pain of being rejected by a venue, florist and photographer who have a legal right in Utah to refuse to serve a gay couple.

That’s why they took part in several hundred people at a gay and lesbian wedding expo in Salt Lake City aimed at connecting couples with businesses who want to make it known they’re open to doing same-sex weddings.

“We don’t have to worry about, ‘Will they or won’t they,'” said Langlois. “It’s a group of businesses that are LGBT friendly.”

With a string quartet playing on one side of the exhibit hall and pop music on the other side, gay and lesbian couples chatted with businesses showing off fancy wedding cakes, fun photo booths and elaborate floral arrangements.

Karl Jennings and Chris Marrano were in search of a cake baker and photographer for their June wedding. They said they’ve had a heterosexual friend helping them make wedding plans by calling ahead to businesses to make sure they’ll do a gay wedding. That wasn’t an issue.

“We know that whoever is here isn’t going to turn us away because we’re gay,” Jennings said. “It’s very relaxing and makes you want to give people business here. I want support people who want to support us.”

Utah is one of 29 states where it is legal for businesses to refuse services to same-sex couples, according to the Human Rights Campaign. A proposal to change that law died last week in the Utah’s Republican-controlled legislation. There are no estimates of how often it happens, however most gay couples know somebody who has been refused.

The Salt Lake City event was the first of kind since gay marriage became legal in Utah in 2013, said Michael Aaron, the show organizer and publisher of QSalt Lake, a magazine that caters to the LGBT community.

Utah Gay Wedding Expo Connected Couples

For wedding-related businesses, gay marriages represent a growth market. Gaining a toehold requires spreading the word you’re open to LGBT weddings — and not just doing it for the money, said Annie Munk, who along with her wife Nicole Broberg rents photo booths for weddings.

“Couples need to feel comfortable with the person they’re working with and know that’s not going to be any judgment, or awkwardness or whispering behind the counter,” said Munk, owner of Utah Party Pix.

Same-sex weddings have been happening at a brisk pace over the last three years as judges declared gay marriage legal in a number of states, including Utah in December 2013, and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court in the summer of 2015.

As of last fall, an estimated 486,000 same-sex couples were married — more than double the figure in 2013, according to the Williams Institute, a LGBT-issues think tank based at UCLA’s School of Law. That figure represents 45 percent of all same-sex couples.

Even if no hard figures exist yet for how big the wedding industry has become, the Williams Institute estimated in 2014 that making gay marriage legal across the country could generate a total of $2.6 billion across the country within the first three years.

The LGBT population has an estimated buying power of $884 billion annually, according to a report from Witeck Communications and the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

Utah Gay Wedding Expo Connected Couples

The rise of gay wedding expos, which have been around for more than a decade, is reflective of corporate America’s expanding embrace of the LGBT market, said Beck Bailey of the Human Rights Campaign.

The LGBT population has an estimated buying power of $884 billion annually, according to a report from Witeck Communications and the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

The Salt Lake City expo marked another step into the public sphere for an LGBT community in Utah that was relegated to the shadows, due in large part to a conservative culture rooted in a Mormon faith that teaches its members that acting on homosexual attraction is a sin.

The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still opposes gay marriage and recently drew the ire of gay rights advocates for banning baptisms for children living with gay parents.

Utah Gay Wedding Expo Connected Couples

Nevertheless, the religion has made strides in recent years to become more accepting of gays and lesbians — including backing a law in 2015 that protects gay and transgender people from housing and employment discrimination, in the course of protecting the rights of religious groups and individuals.

Last November, Salt Lake City elected its first openly gay mayor: Jackie Biskupski. “Having an event like this out in the open shows how much we’ve changed,” said Sophia Hawes-Tingey, a transgender woman representing the Utah Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. “Six years ago, there would have been a lot of public complaints. I haven’t heard one at all this time.”

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Lesbian Wedding Writers To Hit Broadway

Lesbian Wedding Writers To Hit Broadway

David Hein and Irene Carl Sankoff, the married couple that wrote My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding are headed to Broadway with their newest musical.

Come From Away will open on Broadway in 2017 after it completes pre-Broadway runs in D.C. and Toronto. According to the true story of Gander, Newfoundland, the tiny town whose population temporarily doubled when 38 planes were forced to land there on Sept. 11, 2001, the musical has been workshopping and playing to great acclaim. But, it’s normally an uphill battle to get a Broadway run and it could not have happened to nicer people.

Lesbian Wedding Writers To Hit Broadway

My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding was still in development in 2010 when it took Rochester by storm and became the second biggest selling show in CenterStage history. At that, the show resonated with audiences at a time when the gay marriage discussion was still a heated debate topic. My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding went on to great success in regional theaters around North America. Rochester audiences should be proud of their contribution to the development of new works like this. JCC CenterStage looks forward to bringing Come From Away to our stage, yet will have to wait until after the Broadway run.

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Lesbian Daughter Wedding

Archbishop Desmond Tutu's Lesbian Daughter Wedding

What calls for special attention is that Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s daugther, Reverend Mpho Tutu has married her fiancée in a private ceremony in Oegstgeest a town and municipality in the province of South Holland in western Netherlands.

Mpho’s partner, Furth is a South African HIV/AIDS activist, who has also campaign against poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia.

She is a professor in paediatric infectious diseases at the Vrije University in Amsterdam. At that it is the second time both Tutu and Furth have married.

After holding a civil union ceremony in the Netherlands, the couple will marry in South Africa later this year.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu's Lesbian Daughter Wedding

Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu fondly dubbed the Arch and his wife Leah celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary by renewing their vows at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town.

Moreover, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who led a decades-long fight against racial discrimination in South Africa, says the oppression of gay people around the world is the “new Apartheid.”

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Perhaps A Same-sex Marriage Will Make The Couple Sent To Jail

Perhaps A Same-sex Marriage Will Make The Couple Sent To Jail

While Sanjida left home to study, she met the person she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. The only problem — her partner was another woman, and same-sex marriage is not accepted in Bangladesh. Currently, in place of finding happiness, she’s facing criminal charges.

In January 2013, Sanjida, a 20-year-old Bengali Muslim woman, travelled from her village in southwestern Bangladesh to a small town, to continue her studies. Her father, a schoolteacher, had chosen to send her to college so she could aid lift the family out of hardship.

The town of Pirojpur, where Sanjida moved to study Bengali literature, resounds with rickshaw bells, the Muslim call to prayer and Hindu temple hymns.

Sanjida heard of a room for rent in the family home of a Hindu potato seller, Krishnokanto. Impressed by Sanjida’s studiousness and “good character,” he asked her to help his youngest daughter, Puja, with her studies.

Even if Krishnokanto’s family liked her, they found her openness and the way she dressed in jeans and T-shirts a little odd for a young woman from such a traditional village.

In April 2013, during the Bengali New Year festival, Sanjida was in charge of taking a group of girls to the fair. When it was time to leave, she went into 16-year-old Puja’s room.

Same-sex Marriage

“She was brushing her hair in front of a fan. She asked me to sit on the bed. Her back was turned toward me,” Sanjida remembers.

“She was wearing an olive green blouse and petticoat. The back of the blouse had two strings that were hanging loose. At that instant, I fell in love with her.”

First off, Sanjida kept her feelings to herself. But later on that day something happened that convinced her Puja had similar feelings for her.

“She said to me, after we wandered around the fair, ‘Can I have a picture taken standing next to you?’ I said ‘Yes.’ She went to stand on my right. Then before I could think of anything, she just kissed me and asked a friend to take a photo,” Sanjida says.

“It stirred up something inside me.”

The young women knew their love would not be accepted in their conservative, provincial town, so they made plans to elope.

Three months later, in early July, they took a rickshaw to the town’s 17th Century temple complex, surrounded by a lotus pond. There, standing before the moss-covered Shiva temple, the girls exchanged garlands of flowers and married, with the gods as their witnesses.

Sanjida marked the parting of Puja’s hair with vermillion powder or shindur — the emblem of the married Hindu woman.

According to one of the priests at the temple, even such a simple wedding — if carried out between a heterosexual couple — would indeed have been valid, according to an old Hindu marriage tradition known as the Brahmo way.

In the full belief that they had been married before the gods, Sanjida and Puja headed for the Kocha river, and took the ferry to Barisal, where they hoped to hide from the wrath of their respective families.

They both knew that they had broken all cultural boundaries.

Same-sex Marriage

Puja’s father was tipped off that the girls had been seen on the back of a motorbike, heading in the direction of Barisal. Hence, after searching the town, he went to the police and said: “Sir, my daughter has been abducted.”

By the time the police had organized a search party, however, the girls had already crossed the river and arrived in Barisal. There they rented a room with a family.

“This is where we started our married life, and spent the most blissful week and a half together,” Sanjida says.

The landlord of what Sanjida describes as their first “love house,” an observant Muslim man, fondly remembers his young tenants.

“(The relationship) is not in our religion and is not acceptable. But personally I thought it was great love. I’d never heard of anything like this before, but when I saw two women so much in love I had to accept it.”

But Puja’s family would not accept it. For them the love story was a lie.

“She was given tea, there was something in it that made her unconscious,” insists Puja’s sister, Shipra.

Hearing that the authorities were looking for them, the fugitives set off again, this time for the capital, Dhaka, where they found a room in a block of flats in the north of the city.

In late July 2013, about three weeks after they had left Pirojpur, Bangladesh’s elite police force, the Rapid Action Battalion or RAB, arrived at their door. They arrested Sanjida and swiftly transferred her to Pirojpur’s local police station. Puja was returned to her family.

“Because there is no precedent of such a case of two women — let alone from Hindu-Muslim background — running away together and claiming that they have married, the police and even Sanjida’s lawyers didn’t know at first how to deal with it,” says Farida Begum, director of the Bondhu Social Welfare Society, an umbrella body for Bangladesh’s LGBT groups.

If they had been men, they could have been tried under Section 377, a colonial rule dating back to 1850, which criminalises “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”.

Nevertheless, this does not apply to women, therefore instead Sanjida was charged with the abduction of a minor, an offence with a lengthy prison sentence.

Had Sanjida been a man, the couple would have been considered married, and the fact that Puja was 16 would not have mattered — in Bangladesh, two out of five girls will be married before the legal age of 18, according to the UN.

Sanjida too had been married off to a much older man before she finished high school, but was able to divorce him before the time came to go and live with him. Perhaps, that contributed to her decision to rebel against her family and her culture and come out so publicly.

For two-and-a-half months she was held in a cell, before being released on bail.

Of all the harsh treatment she experienced in prison, the most humiliating was an intimate inspection.

“Female police officers were sent to check if I was a woman or a man,” she says. “The officer just started touching me everywhere.

“That was the most shameful moment in my life, so shameful that I wanted to commit suicide. Three times they did the same thing. Everyone was mocking me. Some inmates were saying, your face is so innocent, why is your mind so ugly?”

However the Bangladeshi media felt more sympathy with the young women, reporting their adventure as a daring and romantic love story.

Puja gave journalists a statement: “If a boy can love a girl, why can’t a girl love another girl? Why can’t a woman marry a woman if they are in love?” She explained that she and Sanjida went to Dhaka to set up home together.

Her family, though, denies Puja ever said this.

Sanjida took me to the remote village on the edge of the Bengal delta, where she grew up and where her conservative Muslim relatives still live.

The home has no electricity or running water. Her mother, sitting on the floor and chewing pan, a betel leaf mix, said that her youngest daughter was different from her other three children.

“She was sick when she was younger — a djinn [spirit] lived with her. We took her to lots of religious men for treatment. They gave her amulets to wear with prayer parchments inside.”

Her father’s silhouetted shape came into focus across the hyacinth pond as he returned home from the school where he teaches.

All he said was that by not finishing her degree, Sanjida had let him down. He refused to talk about his daughter’s sexuality.

Other members of the family, though, were more candid.

“She said that she loved another woman — tell me, what can two women do in bed?” asked her first cousin, a young hafez who has memorized the Koran.

Her uncle, a former soldier, said: “There’s no djinn or anything, she has a man problem — hormone issues, that’s what this is about.”

At this point, Sanjida snapped and shouted at her uncle, ignoring her father’s imposing presence.

“I am not a man, nor will I ever be. I am 100 percent a woman. If my country ever legalizes same-sex marriage, I’ll be the first one to come forward.”

This is a 23-year-old Bangladeshi woman from the back of beyond, openly proclaiming a sexual orientation that defies all traditional norms.

Bangladesh was once a more tolerant place than it is today, before a puritanical form of Islam spread across the country, followed by fatwa-inspired violence and the mindless killings of bloggers. In rural parts of the country, there was a kind of “live and let live” philosophy. This was the Bangladesh Sanjida’s and Puja’s ancestors would have known, and which, perhaps, is still reflected in her younger brother, Baizid.

Even though he says it was hard to accept his sister’s sexuality at first, currently “I have come to terms with it,thus has our mother … even our father is OK with it — his love for his child is stronger than his conservative views.

“I have never seen a case like hers before, but have now read on the internet that there are others like her and not just in Bangladesh.”

Same-sex Marriage

In December, thousands of people took part in the World Human Rights Day rally, in the capital, Dhaka. Among them were many gender rights and gay rights activists who see Sanjida as a hero. They want equal rights for sexual minorities and a change to Section 377.

Who would have thought a young woman would inspire so many with her honesty and her extraordinary courage? Sanjida is Bangladesh’s natural-born pioneer of gay rights.

“I didn’t know that what I felt was called being a lesbian,” she says. “I had not heard the word until gay rights groups helped me in prison.”

All of Sanjida’s attempts to contact Puja were sabotaged by Puja’s family. The last flicker of hope vanished when Sanjida heard that Puja had been married off to a policeman from her community.

Thus that love story ended in failure, and yet Sanjida has fallen in love again with another young woman, Arifa. And she continues her journey with resilience and single-mindedness, finishing her degree during working for a human rights organization — and waiting, one day, for her trial to end.

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Christian Couple Reject To Pay $13,000 fine For Host Lesbian Wedding

A devout Christian couple who were fined $13,000 for turning down to host a lesbian wedding at the farm where they live and work did indeed break the law, a New York court ruled.

Cynthia and Robert Gifford have been battling Melisa and Jennifer McCarthy ever since the women contacted them in 2012 asking to get married at Liberty Ridge Farm in Schaghticoke, New York.

And in August, an administrative-law judge ruled that the Giffords had violated state law by discriminating against the couple and ordered them to pay the fines, however the Giffords appealed.

The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court said the Giffords are free to express their religious beliefs still repulsed that their rights were being violated. The court ruled against the business owners 5-0, in terms of Fox News.

Christian Couple Reject To Pay $13,000 fine For Host Lesbian Wedding

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Fined: Cynthia and Robert Gifford, pictured, have been fined $13,000 for rejecting to hold a gay wedding at their upstate New York farm, although religious institutions in the state can legally refuse to hold them.

New York law exempts some religious-oriented institutions from having to accommodate same-sex weddings, but a business that serves the public is in violation of the state’s human rights law if it discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation.

‘The Giffords are free to adhere to and profess their religious beliefs that same-sex couples should not marry, but they must permit same-sex couples to marry on the premises if they choose to allow opposite-sex couples to do so,’ Judge Karen Peters’ wrote in her decision.

Christian Couple Reject To Pay $13,000 fine For Host Lesbian Wedding

The New York Civil Liberties Union represented the McCarthys, who found a different venue for their ceremony after several months.

Rather than comply with state law, the Giffords have chosen not to host wedding ceremonies on their farm, according to the farm’s website. They do still host receptions. It is unclear if they would host a reception for a same sex couple.

Gay marriage became legal in New York on July 24, 2011. It became legal nationwide on June 26, 2015, following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

‘New York chose to guarantee a society where lunch counters would serve black and white customers and businesses would not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and all of us benefit from these protections,’ said Mariko Hirose, senior staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union and lead counsel on the case representing the McCarthys, according toThe Advocate.

Christian Couple Reject To Pay $13,000 fine For Host Lesbian Wedding

‘We’re glad the court upheld longstanding laws against discrimination, and we’re proud of the McCarthys for standing up for equal treatment of all New Yorkers.’

Back in 2014, when the case first broke, the farm-owning couple denied they were discriminatory.

Speaking out: The couple, who married at a different venue in 2013, were devastated, their lawyer said.

‘We respect and care for everyone!’ Cynthia Gifford, 54, told the New York Post. ‘We had an openly gay man working for us this past season. We’ve had a woman who’s transitioning to be a man. We don’t discriminate against anyone.’

Meanwhile, when Melisa McCarthy – then Melisa Erwin – contacted Mrs Gifford in 2012 and asked to have their summer 2013 wedding at the farm, she said no.

‘When we asked why it was just, “That’s what my husband and I decided. We’ve been married a long time and it’s great you’re getting married and all, but you can’t do it here”,’ McCarthy told WNYT at the time.

Gifford was unaware that Jennifer McCarthy had recorded the conversation and the same-sex couple filed a formal complaint with the state Division of Human Rights.

After the case became public, the farm suffered a backlash and they have been forced to lose some employees due to financial hardship, the Post reported.

Angry messages posted on the venue’s Facebook page at the time suggested the McCarthys were not the only gay couple to have been denied access.

Christian Couple Reject To Pay $13,000 fine For Host Lesbian Wedding

‘Apparently if you are a same sex couple, you are not welcome as this place discriminates,’ wrote one user, Denine Dorniak. ‘Gay dollars are just as green as straight dollars.’

The Giffords were eventually ordered to pay $10,000 to the state and $1,500 to each of the brides for their mental anguish.

‘They were devastated when they heard that Liberty Ridge Farm would not take their business because of who they are,’ said their lawyer, Mariko Hirose, of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The Giffords live at the farm with their 18-year-old daughter and 22-year-old son and have hosted an annual fall event there – such as a maize maze and pumpkin patches – for 16 years.

‘We’ve gone from tolerance to compulsion,’ the Giffords’ lawyer, James Trainor, told the Post. ‘State government should not be forcing people to violate their own religious beliefs, nor should they be forced to make a choice between making a living and violating their own faith.’

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Chinese Court Accepts Gay Man’s Lawsuit Demanding Marriage Rights

Chinese Court Accepts Gay Man's Lawsuit Demanding Marriage Rights

Chinese media say it’s the first legal case to focus on the rights of same-sex couples to marry: a gay man has sued a civil affairs bureau in Hunan province for rejecting his try to register his marriage to his boyfriend. A court accepted the case Tuesday.

The local court in Changsha, in central China’s Hunan province, was responding to a filing made in December by Sun Wenlin, 26, who says an official in Changsha refused his application to marry his partner thanks to their union wasn’t between a man and a woman.

Chinese Court Accepts Gay Man's Lawsuit Demanding Marriage RightsAlso, the police came to Sun’s house, he told China’s Global Times, saying, “The officer kept emphasizing that it is crucial to have a child to carry on one’s family name, but I can’t abide by people imposing their values on me.”

We ought to note that while the Global Times calls Sun’s name a pseudonym, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal cite it as the man’s actual name. Sun tells both of those news outlets that he’s optimistic the court will rule in his favor.

Yae and Ren were married during Tokyo’s Rainbow Pride Weekend in April. One Tokyo ward, or neighborhood, has recognized same-sex marriages, becoming the first place in Japan — or anywhere in East Asia — to do so.

Rights activists increasingly have been pushing for same-sex marriage to be legalized in China, especially after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry. Less than a week after that decision last summer, a prominent lesbian couple held a public wedding ceremony in Beijing.

If you’re wondering about attitudes toward homosexuality in China, consider that until 2001, it was deemed a mental disorder there. Two stories from last October suggest there’s currently a wide range of thinking.

Chinese Court Accepts Gay Man's Lawsuit Demanding Marriage Rights

In the first story, the Chinese People’s Daily ran a story under the headline “Top 10 Gay and Lesbian Celebrities in China.” But weeks later, the same news outlet reported on a gay man who was committed to psychiatric care after he came out and sought to divorce his wife.