What’s better than a gay wedding in Guatemala?

What’s better than a gay wedding in Guatemala? SEVEN gay weddings in Guatemala. Let me back up.

My reporting partner Mitra Kaboli and I have been working on a story about a sex workers union here called OMES (the acronym in Spanish stands for Organization of Women Overcoming). We interviewed the head of the union, Samantha Carrillo, to learn more about how they started organizing. Since their foundation in 2016, they have been working to decrease the stigmatization and institutional abuse of sex workers throughout the country.

But running a union requires money, and in Guatemala, that can be hard to come by. So the women of OMES have used their creativity to fundraise over the years. Aside from selling homemade ice creams, running a hostel above their offices and catering events around the city, Samantha and her colleagues partner with a local lesbian rights organization to host and cater gay weddings at the OMES office. (Side note: this partnership is facilitated by the fact that Samantha identifies as a lesbian and has two wives, one of whom runs the lesbian collective. Yeah I know. It’s a lot. Mike Pence would be all aflutter.)

Mitra and I had the incredible luck to be in town during one of the two days a year that they organize these ceremonies.

Every February (because of Valentine’s Day) and June (because of pride month), OMES ladies pitch bright red tents in the garden behind the office, set up a makeshift altar draped in a rainbow flag, line up rows of chairs, and sprinkle the center aisle with rose petals. When Mitra and I arrived last Saturday, they were already on their second of seven weddings. The ceremonies are short: a processional down the aisle to ‘here comes the bride’ music, a short speech by the minister, an exchange of tear-jerking personalized vows, an exchange of rings picked out moments before, and of course, a kiss. The couple wraps up the festivities signing a large commitment certificate and taking photos. One couple went the extra mile of hiring some mariachis to play them out.

Six out of seven were lesbian pairs, but we also witnessed the union of two men, dressed to the nines in suits with matching green bow ties. Some of the couples were joined by family and friends, others came totally alone. Many LGBTQ people in Guatemala are closeted—often fearing family rejection or outright violence. The ceremonies at OMES are symbolic, because gay couples still cannot legally marry here. But in this secret garden, on this day, they could share their love for each other openly.

– Katie Schlechter