They met online and began a virtual relationship which allowed them to see each other every day in spite of physical distance.
A few months into this relationship, they planned to meet in Havana, they slept the night together and, the next day, Shellys Mayara received the proposal that would take her to the altar, going against those who don’t believe that same-sex marriage is an option for Cuba.
Theirs wasn’t the first symbolic gay marriage on the island. The Aire de Fiesta team have been organizing marriages between men and between women for several years now.
Other weddings have just been a rebellious artistic performance. However, this is the first same-sex marriage to be held after it was announced that the new draft Constitution might include a broader sense of the concept of marriage (the union between two people instead of the union between a man and a woman) with Article 68, which seems to be the most controversial of all.
“Riley and I met on an online application and it was really incredible. I knew that I was going to marry this woman immediately and that we were going to be a really happy couple. It was the same for her, we felt a great connection. She is a very fun person, but she’s also very focussed at the same time, there was instant chemistry.”
This is how Shellys Mayara remembers it, who goes by the name Shellys Maya. She looks like a model, but she’s really an actress. Her hair hangs down by her shoulders and she is wearing a long, white dress. Anyway, she clarifies: “I didn’t graduate because I had a lot of work coming through. Three years ago, I made a soap and I have worked with FAMCA (Faculty of audiovisuals of the Superior Art Institute) students, but I have especially worked in independent films because it moves away from cultural policy and is what I like the most. I have also worked in theater, I studied at La Colmenita for three years when I was a young girl.” She is now 26 years old and has been brave enough to get married in Cuba at a time of the public constitutional debate, which could result in the legalization (or not) of same-sex marriage.
Why in Cuba, in spite of still not being able to get married legally?
“All of my family is in Cuba and her family, who are living in Kansas, the US, came over. Our friends also came.
“From the very beginning, our idea was to have a wedding with a seaside theme, with shells. But, a hurricane happened to come when we were planning to have the wedding, but we weren’t afraid of the unexpected.
“We kept the same date we decided on in the beginning and we didn’t know that it would coincide with the constitutional debate and this process of popular discussion which has proven to be very strong and against passing Article 68.
“What’s going on? We don’t want to impose anything on anyone because people have the same attitudes they have been taught. History, culture, sometimes the government, have all taught us to say NO to people like us, they punished and abused us, although many people have forgotten this and now they want to convince the elderly that homosexuality is OK. So, it isn’t their fault because after this dogma was instilled in them, they are now trying to take a step backwards like a crab. This is why there is reluctance, even in people of my generation who were raised by their grandparents and share their mindset. There are other people who do realize that love is love (for a dog, a cat, woman, dog, old person, young person, whatever) and nothing can stop it.”
Children and the specific concept of family, the alleged original “design” has been centered around arguments of people who are against Article 68, what do you think?
“Family is whatever you want it to be. You come into this world in a family unit, but there are many different ways to have a family.
“In relation to children, it really is hard for a couple like us to have them because we would have to undergo very expensive procedures in order for our child to have both our genes; it’s a very complex situation but it doesn’t stop being valid.
“People who love each other want to have children together a lot of the time. You grow and mature as a couple and need children. Why can’t we have them? Because we are a gay couple? No, is it any different because we are both women and sleep together?
“We are going to have children, we have chosen names and thought about their Latin and Irish features, because of Riley’s heritage. We want to have two of our own children and adopt another one so as to help society.”
You got married, but laws in Cuba don’t allow you to, so this ceremony of yours is purely symbolic. Do you hope to get married legally?
“We will get married in the United States and we will live there and in Europe for work reasons. Her family are in the US and mine will be in Europe and Central America. We have been planning this for a year. She has her business, I have mine which is a make-up and textile company. I have an organic cosmetics line that I am going to launch in February.”
What is the Cuba you want for your children to have a connection with, even if they don’t grow up here?
“Of course, I would want Article 68 of the Constitution to be passed and that the Family Code changes and is more inclusive; that we look at ourselves more than at others because… why does what makes us happy make you suffer? Why does it concern or bother you?”
How was your upbringing like?
“My family was always open but politically correct, which means that they never expected me to be gay.
“They had a hard time assimilating it, they did not want the subject to be discussed in the house. That’s why I went to live alone at age 18, until my parents, my uncles, everyone – because we are a very close family -, realized that it is my life and that it does not make me a worse person, nor do I relate with malicious people.
“But, of course, everyone is afraid of what they do not know. If you tell them that you are gay they imagine you with a tremendous attitude,” she says while gesturing and concluding:” but no, everyone is attracted to something different.”
“In the case of Riley, my sisters-aged 15 and 9, accepted her from the beginning and were the ones who mediated with the rest of my family. It was natural, and my mother genuinely realized that nothing bad was happening, that I would not marry someone I did not love, so on the day of the wedding we did not have anyone to officiate and my mother decided to offer, and my two sisters translated to English.