Romantic spring elopement at the Top of The Rock in New York City
Since the passing of marriage equality in 2015 here in the United States, many of us queer folx, especially younger generations and those of us who can more easily navigate the gender binary, are growing accustomed to having the civil right to marry the person we love.
It was a battle many of us actively participated in by canvassing, protesting, lobbying, fundraising, and politically backing pundits who suggested they were pro-queer rights. We put ourselves on the line in our homes and communities, with our families, friends and employers so that young queer people would be able to daydream about their futures like their hetero-identified peers.
Of course, there are many among us in the LGBTQIA+ community who, like the radicals of the post-Stonewall past, feel that our pursuit of marriage equality was and is an assimilationist endeavor that distracts us from more pressing issues in our community.
Well, from where I stand both as a queer person and a wedding officiant, I say both things are true. And while I can discuss all the fine points both for and against marriage as an institution worth joining, I’d like to focus on a love story instead.
When Mela met Claris
Earlier this year, I met Claris and Mela, a gorgeous couple that came to NYC from the Middle East for a small elopement ceremony.
They currently reside in an incredibly rich and modern Muslim nation ripe with work prospects and opportunities for financial security. Work and a chance at a better life are what catapulted Claris and Mela to leave their native country of the Philippines.
And it was in this land, among circles of friends and acquaintances that these two would discover an unexpected romance.
Claris and Mela have each had their own journey of self-discovery and came to terms with their queerness at different points in their lives and in different ways. And while all identities and expressions of gender and sexuality are all valid; in the end, love knows no limits or boundaries and can blossom even in the most unlikely places. Love manifests however it manifests.
Crossing Borders for Love
Mela and Claris have lived a lot of life already. They are pioneers in their respective families, both for being the ones that left home to unknown lands and for living their truth as out queer people among their inner circles of family and friends.
As is the story of many immigrants, they are a source of financial support for loved ones back in the Philippines; so, their success affords sustenance to many. Take a moment to consider this experience. It is a story that exists here in the US right now for many immigrants; people trying to make a better life for themselves and in doing so lifting up a family and community both here and in their countries of origin.
Imagine meeting the person you want to build a life with, in a country that will deport you or jail you or kill you because being queer is a crime. You found your person, someone you can trust and who has shown up for you and has the same values as you, but being with them can lead to expulsion, incarceration or even death.
What do you do? Where do you start?
You do exactly what the LGBTQIA+ community does all around the world and what we’ve been doing throughout history—we take the crap we’re given and make rainbows out of it any way we can, any chance we get. Why? Because we are worth it; our love is worth fighting for and celebrating.
In the end, regardless of whether or not we actively engage with the socio-political sphere that our relationships are thrown into, the desire to pursue our own happiness is universal. And although Claris and Mela’s marriage certificate will not be recognized where they reside, they took the bold step to commit to one another because they are ready and don’t want to have to wait for antiquated laws to change; nor should they have to!
They have plans. Big plans! Together!
While the Philippines’ Supreme Court upheld the ban on same-sex marriage this year, hope is alive and well as the archipelago consistently ranks among the top queer-friendly Asian countries.
So, while the Middle East will take longer, we look forward to the shift in mindsets and policies and laws in the Philippines. I predict that by the time Claris and Mela return, their marriage will be recognized and perhaps another wedding party will take place – maybe a vow renewal?
Romantic Risk-Takers: Traveling High and Landing on Top
When I first met Claris and Mela via video chat for their ceremony consultation, I quickly gathered that they were a dynamic twosome. They oozed a sexy charm and affectionate vibe that I enjoy seeing in queer partnerships.
When I met them in person on their wedding day, I saw their magic live and it was heartwarming. They looked fabulous together; Mela in a tailored wine-colored suit and Claris in a lovely white dress; both in comfy white sneakers, the perfect shoe for all occasions for these world travelers.
Now, if you’re looking to step up your romance game, pay attention here, kiddos. When Mela decided to profess her love for Claris, she took her out for dinner at the top of the tallest building in the world. She memorized and recited ‘What The Person You Deserve Is Like’, a Thought Catalog article and told Claris that while she wasn’t that person yet, she would do everything in her power to be that someday for her.
Mela chose the tallest building because she said she wanted to be as high as Claris makes her feel. She says Claris spoils her on an everyday basis with creature comforts and sweet gestures that make Mela feel loved and supported and like she can do anything with Claris by her side.
So when it was time to get married, their choices were very personal and tailored to them. For starters, they chose the location based on their shared passion for travel and an attachment to tall buildings.
Although there was overcast that morning and you couldn’t see much of anything, it didn’t matter. They simply shifted their expectations about the weather. Instead of being distracted by the views, they were focused on each other and the camera captured that playful, sexy vibe of two lovers on top of the world!
In addition to the incredible energy between Claris and Mela, their guests were amazing! Claris’s mom was present to represent the family. Friends, most of whom were also queer, had traveled near and far to witness their nuptials and cheer them on.
On top of that, they chose to work with me and Once Upon A Vow to create a custom ceremony and officiate their wedding because they were looking for vendors that they’d feel comfortable with given their identities and experiences. They chose an elopement package that included a queer photographer, Judson Rappaport, with whom I partnered to ensure Claris and Mela’s day was executed not just with professionalism, but with love.
As queer vendors, Judson and I, have a deep desire to be resources and support for our LGBTQIA+ family because we understand first-hand some of the specific challenges and fears that come from engaging with a largely heteronormative, far too gender-conforming and still heavily white-washed wedding template.
Claris and Mela’s wedding was a queer treat that filled our queer hearts! For us, it’s about using our businesses, our services, our talents to reach and support our queer fam and elevate the beautiful love stories within our community.
With that said, while marriage may not be everyone’s cup of tea and while the institution remains problematic and exclusionary, we want our queer hopeless romantics and practical lovers alike to have access to all the privileges and benefits marriage affords them.
I also want our queer millennials and elder Gen-Zers who want to celebrate their unions to know they can do it differently. A love party can include a legal marriage certificate, but it doesn’t have to; just like it doesn’t have to be limited to a commitment between just two people.
Finally, I want to express my gratitude for Mela and Claris and all the queer couples from other countries whom I’ve had the pleasure of marrying, especially those who come from places where same-sex marriage and even queerness is illegal. I want our global LGBTQIA+ community to know that you have queer family in the wedding industry eager to embrace and celebrate your queer love.
Mela and Claris’s vows:
“Yes, bubu, I love you! I love you because you are my best friend, my home, my soulmate. You are my greatest blessing—the partner I prayed for—the one I thank Him for every day. If not for you, I wouldn’t know this version of me—the one motivated to do more and be better for us. You bring out the best in me, baby taba, because I want to be the best for you.” —Mela
“I’ll be your queen if you feel like being my king. Your chill buddy and best friend. I will be your safest place; your sense of comfort. And most of all, I want you to know that even if we run out of tall buildings and new places to see, I will love you just the same. It doesn’t matter where we are. With you, my heart is finally home.” —Claris
Photographer: Judson Rappaport Photography
Officiant: Once Upon a Vow
Location: Top of the Rock
Karla A. Villar is a wedding officiant and love storyteller at Once Upon A Vow. She is the queer immigrant half of a sister celebrant team in the New York/New England area. She’s currently settling into Boston where she’s loving living in love and spreading love through storytelling, education and celebration.