In India she knows lesbian couples who have been married in temple ceremonies, even though same-sex couples can’t legally marry. Yet ironically, finding an open-minded priest in the Netherlands seemed impossible.
“As a child, I didn’t even dare to accept myself,” says Anita, explaining why it’s so important to her to marry her girlfriend Angela. “I felt lower than a dog. I couldn’t even dream of my life how it is right now. Now, I am allowed to be myself, to live together with a woman. So why should I not be allowed to dream of a traditional wedding?”
Anita (33) is an Indian from Surinam, a former Dutch colony in South America with a sizable Hindu population. She moved to the Netherlands not long after the first gay wedding took place there in 2000, hoping to find a more liberal climate than in her native Surinam. But she soon became disappointed by her own ethnic community. “Everywhere I met with resistance”, she says.
Shiva, half man, half woman
For some Indo-Surinamese people, religion is part of their objections against same-sex relationships, but to Anita, Hinduism is the source of her strength and inspiration.
“Have you seen that image of Shiva in which he is half man, half woman?” she asks. “That is my god. People who object are scared, because they don’t know any better.”
During her first few years in the Netherlands, she found it hard to meet other lesbians with her kind of background.
“The parties I went to were mostly white and mostly male. And when I did see another Indian-looking woman she would be too ashamed to even make eye contact. The community here is small, you know, you don’t know who you can trust.”
Accepting their daughter
It’s hard to believe that this cheerful, confident woman once attempted suicide because she was so unhappy with herself. When they first found out Anita was a lesbian, her parents were ashamed. But it was her growing depression that persuaded them finally to accept their daughter for who she is – and to help her by moving the entire family to the Netherlands.
At first this was an emotional experience. “I grew up in a culture where women are worth less and on top of that I’m a lesbian. After moving to the Netherlands I experienced a third source of insecurity, of belonging to an ethnic minority.”
But Anita’s life finally turned around, and she became a well-known activist campaigning against discrimination.
Temple ceremony - but low key
In meetings with local Hindu priests last year, Anita took the next step: she asked them if they would be willing to marry same-sex couples. To her surprise, it turned out that one of them already had – but well away from the public eye.
“I had to search for 13 years to find out that it has happened,” she says. “The priest told me that the couples themselves chose to keep it low key, out of fear and shame.”
A completely traditional wedding would be difficult, she was told, because of the fixed ceremonial roles for the man and the woman. But the priest would be willing to bless Anita’s relationship with Angela, in a temple ceremony with their families present. It’s an acceptable alternative, the women find. “A wedding is essentially a blessing, so why push to do it the ‘straight’ way?” says Anita.
Confirmation of who I am
Now she knows it’s possible, Anita’s in no rush to tie the knot. This is partly for the sake of her family. Even though they accept her sexuality, they don’t fully understand the need for a Hindu ceremony yet.
When the time is right, Anita is not planning to keep her wedding a secret. It won’t be a media circus either, or a tool of activism, but certainly she will send a picture to the press afterwards. “It will be an extra confirmation that I am allowed to be who I am.”
How do you feel about same-sex marriage? And what about same-sex religious wedding ceremonies? Tell us here or on Facebook.