The necessity to pretend to be a man has been for many women the only chance in a past where prejudice and unfairness were affecting their free will heavily. James Barry for example, who cross dressed for a lifetime in order to become a doctor or Rena Kanokogi, who in the 50’s was hiding her feminine sex so that she could attend Judo competitions. Such as many sports and professions were precluded to the female gender, so the homosexual marriages were strictly forbidden, almost everywhere up until recent times.

Marcela Gracia Ibeas and Elisa Sánchez Loriga were born between the end of the 1800 and the beginning of 1900. Their story is an example of what kind of difficulties a gay couple had to go through in the past. The two girls met up at school, in the College of La Coruña, where its students were trained to become primary education teachers.

Their friendship became soon a more intimate relationship and Marcela’s parents, noticing that their daughter’s relationship was turning into something socially unacceptable, decided to send her to finish her studies in Madrid. The two women then completed their academic path, one at La Coruña and the other in the Spanish Capital.

The two lovers rejoined when Elisa was nominated teacher in Couso, small Parish of Coristanco, at La Coruña. Not too far from there, in Vimianzo in the village of Calo, Marcela had found a position as a teacher . Elisa and Marcela decided to move together in Calo where Elisa was working; in 1889 though, Marcela was transferred to Dumbría while Elisa remained in Calo, yet the two kept in touch until Elisa managed to be transferred as well where Marcela was living.

In 1901 Marcela became pregnant by an unknown man and the two women tried to get married. It is not clear whether Marcela planned that pregnancy as a justification for a wedding with Elisa or if the ceremony was instead the shotgun wedding. Either way the solution they came up with was certainly original.

Elisa took on the male role, made up a past as a man and became Mario

To create her own past as a man she drew inspiration from a cousin of her who died in a shipwreck. She went to Father Cortiella, priest of San Jorge, and told him that he was raised in London, so he/she was baptized on the 26th of May 1901 as well as receiving the Holy Communion. Cortiella, completely unaware of the real identity of Mario, married the couple on the 8th of June 1901.

The church of  St. George, Igrexa de San Xurxo of La Coruña, where Elisa and Marcela got married. Picture by Zarateman shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons

The ceremony was brief and frugal, and the presence of witnesses made the celebration effective. Mario, i.e. Elisa, and Marcela spent their first night as a couple in the small hotel of Corcubión, along the way to San Andrés.

but as it is well known, rumours spread quickly

The marriage started to be labelled as “without man” and the journalist got interested in the story. After the scandal blasted by the newspapers, Mario and Marcela lost their jobs and the priest wanted a doctor to verify the sex of the supposed man in the couple. Mario accepted and when the doctor gave a verdict, the husband tried to be recognised as a hermaphrodite whose double sexuality had been evaluated in London. It was all useless though as the priest excommunicated Mario and Marcela and they were chased by the police.

Below: picture of Marcela and Elisa after their arrest. Public domain picture

The couple tried to find shelter in Portugal in Oporto, where on the 18th of August 1901 they were arrested, put on trial and then absolved. Right in Oporto Marcela’s daughter, Pepe, was born. In order to avoid the extradition in Spain, the women moved to Argentina, specifically in Buenos Aires,  where they settled ffor good.

A couple of years after their arrival into the Argentinian capital, Elisa under the name of Maria, married Christian Jensen, rich Danish immigrant 24 years older than her. Marcela was introduced as her sister under the name of Carmen, and the couple settle down at Jensen’s house with the little Pepe.

the deceit did not have long life there either though

Elisa did not want to consummate the marriage with Christian and the man sued her to the authority, accusing Elisa to not be a woman. At this point Elisa easily proved her female sex with 3 different medical examinations and the marriage was not cancelled.

As it often happens though, as soon as trials, purchases, births and weddings end, the stories of people vanish with them. It is not clear what happened afterwards to the two women in love with each other.

In 1909 the Mexican Press reported the news that Elisa had committed suicide in Veracruz, but the news was never confirmed. After a century one descendent is left: Graciela Moure. The girl explained to The Telegraph that she discovered the homosexual relationship of her grandmother through the Netflix film, which has come out in 2019. Below, the trailer.

Even after one century the papers of that marriage have never been nullified by the Church or the civil registers so it represents the very first legal wedding between people of the same sex ever celebrated after the Roman Empire.

Although what happened to the two women it is not a popular story, what is left from the words of such a tale is the bravery and love that, despite the law and the public opinion of the time, will always be part of the history and therefore shared and told throughout the future.

Matteo Rubboli

I am a publisher specialised in the digital distribution of culture and founder of the portal Vanilla Magazine. I don't wear a tie or branded clothes, I keep my hair short so I don't have to comb it. That's not my fault but just the way I've been drawn as...

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