The first time Joyston Moreira came across Sugith Hewage was on a dating app in London.
Moreira’s first impression of Hewage wasn’t too romantic: “I was like, who is this cocky guy in one picture but super happy in another?”
But after matching, the connection was instant. Both men were immediately attracted to each other. After exchanging a few voice notes, and taking some fun potshots at each other, they finally met and dated for about two weeks until Hewage asked him out. He remembers the date: Dec. 15, 2018.
Hewage is of Sri Lankan heritage with Italian citizenship and Moreira is Indian. Like most relationships, theirs faced the most unexpected challenge in the form of a global pandemic.
“We started living together,” said Hewage. “To be with someone 24/7 is not easy, particularly after you’ve had your own personal space for most of your life. But we survived it, and thought to ourselves, what’s stopping us from marrying now?”
Informing both their parents about this, expectedly, proved to be an uphill task. Both of them come from conservative backgrounds where the idea of queer love, let alone marriage, can be a bitter pill to swallow.
“We wanted both our parents to come for our civils,” said Moreira. “While my parents did, Sugith’s couldn’t because it was the peak of the pandemic and we didn’t want to risk their health.”
They feel lucky to be married in their adopted home in the United Kingdom, though their union would not be legally accepted in their home countries of India and Sri Lanka. They saw a marriage in the Metaverse, under Closeup’s City Hall of Love, as an extension of their union — one that could transcend international borders and was universally validated on a public blockchain.
The way Hewage sees it, the uniquely encoded blockchain marriage they have minted over three days will always remain the unifying force of their relationship, regardless of the changing on-ground legal status in their respective countries.
“It is also special that we were one of the few people who could do it,” said Moreira. “It’s giving people an opportunity that there is a union of theirs that is recognised and they can hold on to it, regardless of the homophobia around. This is a space where we can show our affection and love. Even when we go to our countries, we can show people that our love is accessible and recognised in this space.”
In the case of 27-year-olds Gleb Shabanov and Stephanie Leong Lishan, it was their cultural differences that drew them closer – and permanently having their relationship etched in the blockchain world was a “tangible symbol” of their love.
Shabanov is Russian while Leong is of Indonesian-Chinese heritage, and they first met at Leong’s fitness class in Singapore. “It’s not very typical of a fitness instructor to date their clients but it just had to happen in our case,” laughed Shabanov.
From learning Mandarin to bonding over the common values of inclusivity and loyalty, the couple hit the ground running. And the fact that they both described themselves as having a “rebellious streak” also helped in navigating the societal restraints that their respective cultures might impose on them.
“We respect our parents and their values, but studying overseas and moving around the world, we know exactly what we want,” said Leong. “I’ve been living out of my home without getting married for the past seven years – uncommon in Indonesian households.”
For Shabanov, too, it’s all about following traditions that work for them. “So, we love meeting family and friends over a nice Christmas dinner and hanging out with our sweet nephews.”
The decision to get their relationship permanently etched online was thus a natural progression, in keeping with doing things that made sense to them.
“I’ve been in the whole cryptocurrency and blockchain world for a long time anyway,” said Shabanov. “When I pitched this to Steff, she was more than happy to be on board.”
For Leong, it is the unique element of the process that makes it all the more special.
“There are no prying uncles and aunties telling us what to do. It’s just the two of us and this tangible symbol of our love,” she said. “No intervening governments telling us how to go about it either. We hope and know this opportunity by Closeup will give other marginalised couples the chance to validate their relationships. We even got to design our own NFT avatars. Gleb had the whole rock ‘n roll look going. That was so cool!”
This article is written in partnership with Closeup. VICE and Closeup celebrate love and champion closeness of all forms. For similar articles, check out www.LoveForAll.info
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