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May 13, 2020

Marcela and Elisa: Incredible Story of the First Same-Sex Marriage Took Place in Spain, 1901

Although gay marriage was only legalized in Spain in 2005, two women, Marcela Gracia Ibeas and Elisa Sánchez Loriga, have already succeeded in officially saying “I do” more than 100 years before. Their marital joy, however, didn’t last very long: their deception was discovered and the women were forced to flee.

Marcela and Elisa met while studying in the Teacher-Training College for Teachers in A Coruña, where the future teachers of elementary education were educated. Their friendship gave way to a more intimate relationship. Marcela’s parents, seeing that the friendship was growing beyond what was socially permitted and fearing a possible scandal, sent their daughter to Madrid. Time went by and both, one in A Coruña and the other in Madrid, finished their studies.

They were reunited again when Elisa was appointed as a temporary teacher at Couso, a small parish of Coristanco in A Coruña. Nearby, in Vimianzo, in the village of Calo, Marcela established herself already as a superior teacher. As a consequence of the same, they decided to live together in Calo, where Elisa worked. In 1889, Marcela had to go to teach classes at Dumbría while Elisa remained in Calo, but they stayed in contact until Elisa moved to the town where Marcela lived.

In 1901, Elisa adopted a masculine appearance, fabricated a past, and was transformed into Mario. For this invented past, she took as reference a cousin of hers killed in a shipwreck. Furthermore, she made up that she had passed her childhood in London and that her father was an atheist. Considering this last circumstance, Father Cortiella, parish priest of San Jorge, baptized Mario on May 26, 1901 (furthermore, he received first communion), and subsequently married the couple on June 8, 1901 after the publication of the banns. The marriage ceremony was short; the sponsors bore witness to its validity; and the couple passed the night of the wedding in the boarding house Corcubión, on the street of San Andrés.

Marcela and Elisa after the wedding.

Finally, the neighbors could not remain indifferent as before, with what was at the moment known as a “marriage without man.” The couple were exposed by Galician and Madrid newspapers and, as a consequence of this, both quickly lost their jobs, were excommunicated, and were issued an arrest warrant.

The two women fled to Porto, where they were imprisoned, tried, and later released. They fled to Argentina after the Spanish government demanded their extradition from Portugal.

Marcela Gracia Ibeas and Elisa Sánchez Loriga after their arrest.

Before leaving Porto for the Americas, Marcela gave birth to a girl. After they landed in Buenos Aires, Elisa (under the alias of Maria) married Christian Jensen, a man 24 years her senior, in 1903. Marcela, under the alias of Carmen, stayed there with his sister and her daughter.

Elisa refused to consummate the marriage with Christian. He became suspicious, and he tried to have the marriage annulled on the grounds that Elisa wasn't, in fact, a woman. This claim was never substantiated: Three medical examinations confirmed that Elisa was a woman. Since the marriage was between a man and a woman, and therefore valid, no charges were brought against Elisa. After this time, there is no further record of Marcela and Elisa.

The wedding, according to the Diocesan Archive, is still valid, as neither the Church nor the civil registry annulled the marriage certificates, so this is the first recorded same-sex marriage in Spain.

The story of Marcela Gracia Ibeas and Elisa Sánchez Loriga was the basis of the 2019 film Elisa & Marcela, directed by Isabel Coixet. Thanks to the film, recently, an Argentine lady, Norma Graciela Moure, discovered she is the great-granddaughter of Marcela who went by the name Marcela Carmen Garcia in Argentina.

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