LGBTQ

Strangers Invited Me to Their Lesbian Wedding and Taught Me What Love Means

They travelled from the Philippines to New Zealand just to tie the knot.
12 May 2020, 12:03pm
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The happy couple. All photos from the writer.

This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.

I always thought that the first lesbian wedding I attend would be my own. But destiny had something else in mind. Little did I know that with a little help from the internet, I would become an official witness for a couple within minutes of meeting them for the first time.

They found me on Instagram. I received a precarious message from a stranger who simply said, “Are you from Auckland?” It was a private account and we had no mutual friends. All I could see was a small profile photo: a woman smiling. I felt a little more at ease knowing that I won’t get unsolicited dick pics but was still afraid of getting catfished. I was bored, so I replied.

“Hi, yes I live in Auckland,” I said. In hindsight, I’m glad I did. The woman’s reply went:

“I’m wondering if you’d be free on Monday. We are from the Philippines, my partner and I are getting married, we don’t have a witness and we need two, can you please help us?”

It was an exciting proposition to make a difference in these people’s lives but I quickly snapped back to reality. What if it’s some sort of scam, or worse, a trafficking situation, or worse, a skillfully elaborate heist of the New Zealand reserve bank involving Dali masks, cool red overalls, and cities as code names?

My paranoid mind went through various possibilities, including that last Money Heist situation, but my curiosity and recent binge of the show Love is Blind, got the better of me. So against the little paranoid voice in my head, I said yes.

The wedding happened five days later. On my way there, I got stuck in the morning rush hour and was confronted with thoughts about how unromantic the wedding was. Where were the flowers and frilly dresses? What about the beach or mountain view for photos? Most of all, where were the friends and family to share it all with?

How, exactly, was a lesbian wedding supposed to look like? I had no idea. While I pride myself in having seen all the greatest LGBTQ content available to me, I could not picture a real-life same-sex couple getting happily married. Romanticising marriage is a heteronormative luxury I can’t afford, and I don’t mean this financially.

I arrived at Auckland’s Department of Internal Affairs building five minutes before the 9:30 AM wedding. An official from the registry office hastily ushered me to the room where the ceremony was to be held.

It was a large meeting room that was just as bland as the building it was in — jarring white lights, boring birch-coloured walls, 30 empty chairs, and an office desk for the signing. The mandatory New Zealand flag was the only pop of colour.

This was where Janine and Nica got married. I met them as they stood in front of the officiant, minutes before saying “I do.” It was over in 10 minutes, right about the same time I realised how beautiful it all was, even without all the frills.

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Despite their simple marriage, Nica(left) and Janine(right) were no doubt overwhelmed with emotions.

It was pure love that fuelled Janine and Nica to spend gruelling weeks applying for a visa and go on a 10-hour flight to a foreign land, just to get married. Of course, for them, it’s not just a wedding. Same-sex marriage is still non-existent in the Philippines and the conservative Catholic country likely won’t legalise it anytime soon. This hit close to home since there is also no marriage equality in Singapore, where I’m from. According to the New Zealand government, up to 47 percent of all same-sex marriages and civil unions in the country are couples from overseas.

For Janine and Nica, this was one of the few ways they could declare their love and commitment to each other after eight years together. The couple, like many in conservative cultures, struggled to gain acceptance from family and friends. Despite being together for almost a decade, Janine’s parents still disapprove of their relationship; she is forced to keep it under wraps. This made the legality of their union even more significant.

“It's the unexplainable feeling that I am finally, legally married to the love of my life,” Janine told me.

Only 30 countries currently have marriage equality. For LGBTQ folks from other places, like Janine and Nica, getting married in a place like New Zealand is not only a declaration of love to each other but the first time they are acknowledged by the law and social institutions.

As their marriage is not recognised in the Philippines, the couple has future plans to move to a country that is more accepting of their relationship.

“I feel secured knowing that I have the legal right for decision-making. Especially in times of an emergency,” Janine said.

I’m lucky and thankful to have been a part of it all because I now have a picture of what a lesbian wedding can look like. In this instance, the reality may not be as fancy, but its significance resonates far more than I imagined.

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My partner and me (second and first from right) with the married couple (first and second from left).

Janine said that she had contacted several others before me, all of whom turned her down. She found me through the #Aucklandpride tags I used on some pictures I posted on Instagram. Who would have thought that hashtags could lead to profound real-world experiences?

Janine and Nica left New Zealand just a day after their wedding, but the experience of meeting them and witnessing their love will stay with me for a long time.

Noreen M. Wong is a queer content creator from Singapore and is currently based in New Zealand. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.