“If someone is gay and searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” —Pope Francis
You’ve reached another interesting stage in life when you’re asked to stand as ninang (sponsor) at a wedding. But when you’re asked to officiate in the union of two lesbians in a ceremony that borrows from all faiths of the world?
Not only is that an honor, it makes you feel like you’re the high priestess who leads the chorus in the aria “Casta Diva” from the Bellini opera “Norma.”
Over a year ago, godchild Jennifer Patricia A. Cariño and her partner of four years, Karen Lee Hizola, came to the house to ask if I could unite them in marriage. For their wedding theme they had “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in mind.
Right away I crossed out the characters of Titania and Helena—I was too old for them. I didn’t think any forest green color would suit me.
Such were my petty concerns that I almost overlooked the seriousness of Jenny and Karen’s intentions. I asked around how I could be authorized as officiant. It turned out this wasn’t necessary—the ceremony was purely symbolic, not legally binding yet as same-sex marriages here still don’t have the nod of either the Church or the State.
What a ceremony it was! Select family and friends filled the Justina Garcia function room of Hill Station in Baguio. A thousand white paper cranes the couple made hung over our heads like a benediction. In Japan, it is believed that a wish is granted if you make 1,000 paper cranes.
When the couple made their entrance in their twin black suits to the strains of The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” the women and other gays in the room teared up. Jenny and Karen went around the room hugging everyone present before settling down for the ceremony.
In full force
Karen’s Cebu-based family was there in full force. Jenny’s Baguio cousins, Allan and Chico, and their parents were present, while her mom and sisters in the US sent a video message that quickly had the bride in tears.
Mother Luisa A. Igloria, a multi-awarded poet, with Jenny’s younger sister, Trixie, drafted the commitment ceremony that served as my guide.
I included in the readings Corinthians 13: 4-7, my favorite biblical verse about love. It turned out to be Karen’s fave, too: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Luisa and Trixie did their research on how different cultures regard marriage:
“In Welsh weddings, the bride is given a wooden spoon that the groom has carved for her. Cajun couples jump over a broom to signify their union. Among the Aetas in Zambales, the ritual of marriage is as simple as the couple eating together from the same plate. Among the Tausug, music is played to invite the entire village to come and witness a couple’s union.
“In the Buddhist tradition, we are reassured that ‘Nothing happens without a cause’ and that when two people come together in love, that tie has not come about by accident but is the result of souls coming together again and again after many past lives. Their tie, therefore, cannot be broken or dissolved.”
Another thing that distinguished the ceremony from all others I’ve attended is the overflowing poetry from East to West read aloud to the congregation.
But what broke the dam for others was when Jenny and Karen read their respective vows to each other, the former through a veil of tears. As she read her words, Chico’s sobbing served as ambient sound.
Jenny, support services director of the company Raise Global Services, poet and graphic designer, began by describing how she grew up feeling different from others.
“I was awkward, painfully shy, tremendously unsure of my place in the world. I already knew at a young age that I was different from the other girls I knew; I just didn’t know how to verbalize exactly what that difference was. Even though I didn’t have the words to make sense of who I was, I simply knew that I was gay.
“It wasn’t until later on that I realized that the world wasn’t always kind to people like me. So I tried for a long time to be ‘normal.’ It has taken me years to be able to say, ‘Yes, I am proud of who I am’ and to believe and live that in truth. I felt that it was essential for me to give emphasis to this story because in all honesty, I never dreamed I would ever find my happy ending. It terrified me to think that I might never find the kind of joy and love that I have with you…
“You are the most loving, inspiring, kind, intelligent, funny and beautiful woman I have ever met. You constantly challenge me to keep on learning from life and to keep growing. When I find myself overwhelmed by all I face in my day to day, you always find a way to make me smile. You are my best friend, my every day…
“I choose you. To stand by your side and sleep in your arms. To be joy to your heart and sustenance for your spirit…”
Karen tried to lighten things up by addressing Jenny with their mutual term of endearment, “Berber,” short for “gibberish,” the sound they made when they woke up one morning.
She said, “We’ve been through so much—mahirap, matamis, malungkot, masaya. But I’m just a girl standing in front of a girl, asking her to love me. Seriously though, Jenny, I can’t not love you. You are a wonderfully strong person. Despite the difficult times you’ve been through, you’ve remained such a good and kindhearted person…
“Thank you for your perfect paella and your palabok na favorite ko and for the meal that sealed the deal, and for cooking callos for my family, our family. Kaya I have never been more sure about anyone in my life.
“I promise to always be your friend, to try to always be kind to you. I will love you even when you don’t love yourself, and I will help you find reasons to. I promise to always put us first… You will always have a safe place in me.”
In the Pride month of June, recalling the words Jenny and Karen said to each other is a reminder to couples everywhere that love is all there is. As the queer poster proclaimed: “For anyone who will have to deal with unsupportive family this Pride month, congratulations, I’m your family now. Stay hydrated, eat your veggies and support yourself. I’m proud of you!” —CONTRIBUTED