Same-sex marriages from the U.S. to Lebanon

A conversation about the differences in same-sex marriage in the United States and Lebanon

Earlier this year, Fida Chaaban, editor in chief of RAGMAG magazine in Beirut, Lebanon, reached out to Kirsten Palladino for her magazine’s wedding issue in order to include the weddings of the LGBTQ community. Instead of doing a typical Q&A, we decided to do a dual-magazine conversation of sorts, discussing the challenges faced by LGBTQ couples planning a wedding in the Middle East and the United States. What you see below is an email exchange between Fida for RAGMAG and Kirsten Ott Palladino, our editor in chief and co-founder of Equally Wed.

RAGMAG magazine is a monthly magazine based in Beirut, Lebanon. Its publisher, Gina Gabriel, and editor in chief, Fida Chaaban, are both ex-pats living in Beirut who have relocated from Western countries. Gina and Fida are Lebanese by heritage and use RAGMAG as a platform and vehicle for frank discussion and toeing societal boundaries in the Middle East. The magazine cover current events, science, fashion and all the rest of it, but we are primarily concerned with educating our readers about outdated mores and debunking taboos. We hope to continue to be a voice of change in Lebanon and the Gulf countries. Follow RAGMAG on Twitter @RAGMAGLebanon, Facebook Facebook.com/RAGMAGMagazine, Pinterest pinterest.com/ragmag and on its website, ragmag.co. You also can follow Fida directly on Twitter at @fidachaaban.
kirsten-palladino-headshotKirsten Ott Palladino for Equally Wed: It’s completely legal to have a gay wedding anywhere in the United States. Vendors might decline to be involved and some relatives may break your heart by not responding to the invitation but your friends, who in the LGBT community are often more like your blood family anyway, are the ones who will lift you up and celebrate the lifetime commitment you and your partner are making.

ragmag-editor-fida-chaabanFida Chaaban for RAGMAG: On our side of the world, you can probably count on your friends and sometimes even your family to attend. You won’t get any legal acknowledgement of the union in Lebanon or anywhere else in the Middle East, but you can say your vows in a private ceremony. There was a gay wedding staged as sort of a protest in Dubai, but all the participants got arrested and we aren’t sure what happened to them after that. In Lebanon, there is a bit more of a live-and-let-live attitude, but you always run the risk of police harassment—it is, after all, illegal. You can be discriminated against in Lebanon for being gay—you have little to no legal recourse if you were to be, say, fired from your job. We actually don’t even have civil marriage in Lebanon so it’s kind of mind blowing to even think of this government passing a bill legalizing marriage between same-sex couples. You cannot, as an interfaith heterosexual couple, get married without the religious establishment, so imagine the challenges gay couples face.
KOP: In the U.S., states are allowed to decide whether or not they’ll legally recognize same-sex marriage. So far, we have eight out of 50, plus the District of Columbia. Gay couples can have wedding ceremonies anywhere they please though, except in many churches. Even though our government was founded on the ideals of separation of church and state, it is religion that gay-marriage foes lean on to defend their fears and outright hate. Many religious leaders have lost their jobs or faced serious questioning for officiating same-sex ceremonies. Thankfully, they’ve made the choice to stand on the right side of equality.
FC: I have to say I am really shocked that only eight out of 50 states have legalized gay marriage. As a Canadian, frankly, it floors me. I thought I knew my neighbours better than that but I digress since I am speaking to you about the Middle East. You mentioned standing on the right side of equality. I wish I could even tell you that I know of one Lebanese cleric, Christian, Muslim or Druze (Lebanon’s three main religions) who hasn’t promised holy damnation for our LGBT community. Never mind standing on the right side—here there is only one side and I promise you that you will not find a single religious establishment that doesn’t attack the LGBT community regularly. The official (and sadly unofficial) religious stance here is hellfire and brimstone. I don’t know if that will ever change. According to gay friends of mine, murders of gay men occur with little or no police investigation. That’s a whole other story, but I have often wondered if the clerics who officiate at the funeral services of these murdered men are aware they are officiating over the bodies of homosexuals. They won’t do a gay wedding, so will they do a gay funeral? I guess I am thinking out loud now.
KOP: That’s a really good point about how a gay funeral is worthy of presiding over, but a gay wedding is not. A wedding is a wedding, no matter who’s saying “I do” as long as they’re consenting adults, right? In the U.S., one of the points that the opposition has is that if their particular state begins issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, religious institutions will be forced to perform gay weddings. For this reason, most states, such as New York, retain a religious freedom clause, allowing anyone to refuse to take part in a same-sex wedding if they have religious objections. It was this clause in New York’s law that allowed some Republicans—and even some Democrats—peace of mind to vote yes for marriage equality last June. For me, I don’t mind the clause since I wouldn’t want to be married by anyone who opposes my marriage, nor retain the services of a wedding vendor who doesn’t believe I should have the right to marry the person of my choosing.
FC: I agree with you about not wanting someone to officiate over my ceremony who doesn’t wholly support the couple being married! This is something that any straight or gay couple should understand: I don’t want you to perform the service if you don’t support the ideology behind that service. You make an interesting point about vendors. Do they realize the huge economic implications of recognizing same-sex couples? In Lebanon and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC) which includes hubs like Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi and Muscat, I think vendors would largely shy away from promoting themselves to same-sex couples since they would fear community backlash and loss of heterosexual clientele, not to mention possible police and governmental harassment. To this I suggest that if you are the first wedding vendor to break that mould, you will gain a huge niche clientele with referrals by tens. Wedding vendors: Business sense dictates you think about your opportunity cost so how much money are you potentially missing out on with the LGBT being your biggest untapped market? Maybe I should open a company and do just that!
KOP: I completely agree that accepting business from LGBT couples simply wanting to commit their lives to each other definitely has an economic draw. However, coming from a lesbian’s perspective, I really only want to work with vendors who support marriage equality, not just making money. It’s something my straight friends don’t really grasp until I explain to them that a business pandering for the LGBT market’s cash but not proud of its involvement with our community isn’t helping anyone. I don’t want a hotel to just take my money. I want to feel as warmly welcomed when my wife and I request a king bed at check-in just as the hetero couple that checked in before us. If a company and its staff isn’t truly inclusive and interested in equality for all, their true colors will shine through eventually.
FC: It’s true, I guess I am so used to seeing it as a “something is better than nothing” scenario. But something isn’t better than nothing and certainly not when people’s rights are at stake. The other day the Huffington Post tweeted an article about the current situation in Iraq. Being “emo” makes you a target for Death Squads as being emo and gay are largely associated there, due to what seems to be ignorance and confusion mostly. Ali Hili, London-based Iraq LGBT Leader, condemned both the killings of course and the lack of U.S. response. There’s a particularly disturbing video and in the same article Hili suggests that the Interior Ministry of the Iraqi government is in on it. I keep trying to think about weddings and get circumvented back to funerals. I think our conversation has depicted in sharp relief the differences on my side of the world and yours—as a resident of the Middle East, I’m concerned about Death Squads and Eternal Damnation, and you’re concerned about the wholehearted support from the establishment and people in general. I think at the very least, the images that you’re sharing on Equally Wed show us that LGBT unions can be CELEBRATED, not just acknowledged and safeguarded. I know I’ve learned a lot from our exchange—I hope our readers will as well.
KOP: I’m a pretty emo gal, I suppose, in terms of my heart is easily disturbed when others aren’t treated fairly. So my heart breaks for anyone anywhere who can’t be who they are in their own home, in their workplace, in their place of worship and even in their country. There is such a difference between our worlds, Fida. I’m so glad we talked about some of the differences. I do believe that conversations help open minds and hearts, and I hope more people will continue to fight the good fight with pushing boundaries and working toward equality for all.

Photos: RAGMAG covers: Odette Kahwaji and Christian Harb for RAGMAG Magazine; Fida Chaaban by Jason Zamora for RAGMAG Magazine 


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed within the confines of Viewpoints, our opinion-based forum, are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Equally Wed, Palladino Publishing, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.