It’s a Saturday in June 1901 and a handsome groom and his pretty bride are getting married in the Catholic church of San Jorge in A Coruña, Spain. As the occasion demands, Marcela Gracia Ibeas wears a traditional wedding dress while Mario Sanchez Loriga is dressed in a smart suit. But this apparently conventional marriage is not quite all that it seems. And when the truth is revealed, the Catholic Church will be shocked to its core.
Marcela Ibeas is marrying in her real name. Mario Loriga, however, is posing under an assumed identity. For “he” is not Mario. The groom’s real Christian name is Elisa and that, of course, is a woman’s name. In fact this lesbian couple are engaged in an elaborate deception so that they can be married in church. And catholicism definitely did not approve of same-sex marriage, a position it holds to this day.
The immediate reason for their wedding was Ibeas’ pregnancy. In the strict Catholic culture of Spain, she needed a husband. So she turned to her lesbian lover who pretended to be her cousin from London so that the two could wed. In truth, Ibeas and Loriga had met some years previously when they were both training to be teachers in A Coruña. Subsequently, they had lived together as a couple.
So that Loriga could assume her new identity, she and Ibeas had pretended to quarrel and separate. And then Loriga had reappeared on the scene as Mario, the cousin from London. Apparently this Mario was based on a real character, a cousin of Loriga’s who had perished in a shipwreck. And their charade was convincing enough for them to become the first same-sex couple to be wed in a Spanish Catholic church.
Unfortunately, their ruse was revealed by a local newspaper that had somehow got hold of the story. The couple were forced to flee, first to Portugal and then to Argentina. After the explosion of publicity surrounding their wedding, the story of the couple becomes obscure. It seems that Ibeas did give birth to a girl. The last sad footnote this groundbreaking couple’s story is a report of Loriga’s suicide in 1909. But their legacy lives on in the shape of the 2019 movie Elisa & Marcela.