In 2005, Spain legalized same-sex marriage. It’s also ironic considering that the Philippines was a Spanish colony for 333 years and yet, our government still can’t consider amending the law. Why? Because of our predominantly Catholic nation.
Before I digress even further, let’s talk about Isabel Coixet’s film, Elisa y Marcela, which was recently added to Netflix’s library. It tells the story of the first lesbian marriage in 1901 Spain. Just like any old-school conservative nation, homosexuality wasn’t welcomed with open arms in Spain. So, Elisa Sánchez Loriga pretended to be a man named Mario to convince the parish priest of A Coruña in Galicia, Spain to marry her and Marcela Gracias Ibeas.
They pulled off the plan before they were found out, forcing them to flee to Portugal. However, they were also imprisoned in Portugal for false identity (Elisa) and being an accomplice to the crime (Marcela). Their story was also in all the papers back then, calling their union a “marriage without a man” and something human beings wouldn’t do. (Wow, people in the 18th to 19th century were A-holes.)
The film later showed them moving to Argentina and living the rest of their lives there. According to Narciso de Gabriel’s book, Elisa e Marcela—Alén dos homes, Marcela had a daughter (it’s implied in the movie that a Galician man impregnated her) before leaving Portugal, and Elisa married a man 24 years her senior in Argentina.
Historical accounts stated that there were no further records of Elisa and Marcela’s lives after moving to Argentina. But what is known is their marriage was never annulled.
Elisa y Marcela received lukewarm reviews after premiering at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year. But one can’t deny the importance of this story, especially since Spain has a history of criminalizing homosexuality in the mid-1900’s. According to Theresa Pyrce’s article, “Homosexuality’s History and Cultural Impact in Spain,” many homosexuals were reportedly sent to either prison or correctional camps, and were subject to physical and mental abuse.
The film didn’t show any form of conversion therapy, but the treatment of Elisa and Marcela was still sad and scary. When they were younger, Marcela was forced to study in a boarding school in Madrid far away from Elisa. After reuniting and living together in Galicia three years later, their neighbors would throw rocks at them and their house.
You can argue that their marriage was an act of defiance against their government and religion. However, you can’t help but empathize with them because, even in the present, same-sex couples would marry in other countries.
For Filipinos, it’s especially difficult because same-sex marriages done abroad aren’t recognized as valid here. Fortunately, there are churches like MCC that welcome same-sex marriage in the country. But it’s also not guaranteed that they will receive the same benefits and inheritance rights as heterosexual couples.
Elisa y Marcela shows the hardship of every same-sex couple, be it in Spain or other countries. It encompasses generations and notions that only a man and woman can marry each other. As Ana, Marcela’s daughter, asked in the film, “Was it worth it? The mockery, the marriage… was it worth it?”
If you look at the world now and the amount of people continuously fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, the bravery of the people like Elisa and Marcela makes it all worth it.
Photos courtesy of Netflix
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