Out in the World: Beauty queens reveal secret romance in wedding announcement on Instagram

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Thursday November 3, 2022
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Mariana Varela and Fabiola Valentin shared a kiss on their Instagram post announcing their marriage. Photo: Via Instagram<br>
Mariana Varela and Fabiola Valentin shared a kiss on their Instagram post announcing their marriage. Photo: Via Instagram

International beauty queens Mariana Varela and Fabiola Valentin tied the knot at the city courthouse in San Juan, Puerto Rico October 28.

The couple kept their relationship a secret for two years. They occasionally posted photos of hanging out together appearing to be "close friends." The beauty pageant couple revealed their love to the world in a 30-second Instagram Reels post that drew pageant contestants' and fans' surprise.

The post features Varela and Valentin's love story in different destinations, the proposal, flashing engagement rings, and their wedding set to Puerto Rican singer Jay Wheeler's "Lugar Seguro (safe place)," on their individual profiles.

"After deciding to keep our relationship private, we opened the doors on a special day," reads the caption in Spanish.

The post went viral, with each of them ratcheting up nearly 300,000 reviews and nearly 10,000 congratulatory responses from fellow pageant contestants and fans.

Varela, the former Miss Argentina, and Valentin, the former Miss Puerto Rico, met at the Miss Grand International 2020 competition in Thailand representing their countries. They both placed in the top 10, reported CBS News. MGI is an international beauty pageant based in Thailand.

"MGI brought together a beautiful union," commented Ghanaian singer and beauty queen Abena Akuaba, who won the 2020 MGI beauty pageant.

Varela responded to the well-wishes in an Instagram story, "Thanks for all the love! We are very happy and blessed."

Tokyo issues same-sex partnership certificates

Tokyo opened same-sex union registries November 1 and the city received 137 applications three days later, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike said, reported Agence France-Presse.

The Japanese capital's move came seven years after Tokyo's Shibuya district first recognized same-sex partnerships in 2015. Since then, more than 100 local governments legally recognize same-sex relationships in Japan, according to the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at New York University in New York. The Associated Press reported that less than one-fifth of Japanese municipalities recognize same-sex relationships.

Unlike civil unions or civil partnership registries in other countries, Japan's civil union certificates are not legally binding and don't grant similar rights for couples. Tokyo's certificate grants same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual married couples to apply for public housing, access to medical information, and it allows them to be beneficiaries on auto and life insurance policies.

Tokyo's goal is to reduce the challenges same-sex partners who are 18 or older face while living their daily lives.

Holding a certificate with Tokyo's Governor Yuriko Koike's signature at a news conference in Tokyo November 1, same-sex partnership recognition advocate Soyoka Yamamoto said the certificate legitimatizes her relationship with her partner, Yoriko, who uses only her first name. She won't have to make extra efforts to explain the women's relationship when renting an apartment, going to the hospital, and designating inheritance, which is now covered by the policy. The certificate does not recognize same-sex families or protect their children, reported the AP.

Japan's LGBTQ movement has gained momentum in recent years, but it is the only G7 nation that hasn't legalized same-sex marriage, and queer Japanese people continue to face discrimination and live in the closet. The country lacks legal protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

Japan decriminalized homosexuality in 1881. Yet, being gay remained taboo throughout the 20th century into the 21st century in the East Asian country. Like for many LGBTQ people around the world, the internet was instrumental for Taiga Ishikawa, Japan's first gay member of parliament, in connecting with the gay community.

The new policy falls short of granting equal marriage rights to same-sex Japanese couples. Some Japanese marriage equality advocates hope that Tokyo's recent recognition is another step toward same-sex marriage in the East Asian country.

Japanese people are ready for marriage equality. A 2021 NHK poll found that 57% of Japanese were in favor of same-sex marriage, while 37% were against it.

Binational lesbian couple Miki and Katie (who only wanted to be identified by their first names), who have a child together, hope the certificates will somewhat make their relationship a bit more legitimate.

"I feel that Japanese people's level of understanding toward same-sex marriage is now high enough," Miki told AFP.

Ishikawa is confident that Japan will legalize same-sex marriage during his term in office, he told the Bay Area Reporter during his visit in San Francisco in September.

However, not all jurisdictions or politicians agree with recognizing same-sex couples.

Courts have issued conflicting rulings on same-sex marriage. Last year, a Japanese court ruled that it was unconstitutional [LINK: https://www.ebar.com/story.php?303258] to deny marriage to same-sex Japanese couples. In June, an Osaka District Court ruled a ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional.

In 2020, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations publicly stated prohibition of same-sex marriage is a serious violation of human rights in light of the constitution, according to APCOM, a Bangkok-based nonprofit organization that focuses on health rights of men who have sex with men.

Lawsuits seeking marriage equality are at various stages in the courts.

Ishikawa's election came during a wave of progress for marriage equality in Asia. Otsuji introduced the "Marriage Equality Act" and the "LGBT Discrimination Act" in June 2019. A month before that Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.

The late former prime minister Shinzo Abe opposed legalizing same-sex marriage. (Abe was assassinated in July.) In May, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Kazuo Yana, a three-term member of the House of Representatives, said at a private party meeting that LGBTQ people go against the preservation of the species, participants told the Japan Times. Eriko Yamatani made an anti-transgender comment days before Yana's anti-gay remarks, the paper reported. (LDP is a conservative party, despite its name.)

LDP and its coalition party, Komeito, declined to debate Otsuji's bills, reported Reuters.

Thousands rally in Prague, call for protection of LGBTQ people

Thousands of LGBTQ and allied Czechs stood in Prague's Wenceslas Square October 26 in solidarity with queer Slovakians, calling for better protections for LGBTQ people and their families. The rally, themed, "Together Against Violence," was Czech LGBTQ activists' second response in the wake of last month's deadly shooting outside the gay bar Tepláreň in Bratislava, Slovakia's capital, October 12.

The evening demonstration attracted LGBTQ activists, politicians, and celebrities, and happened on the same day that the two victims, Matúš Horváth, 23, and Juraj Vankulič, 26, were buried in Slovakia, reported the Associated Press.

Police found the suspect, Juraj Krajcik, 19, the son of a prominent member of the far-right Vlast party, dead with what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound October 13. Krajcik reportedly posted anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ comments along with statements about the shooting on Twitter.

Bratislava police suspect the shooting as an act of terror rather than a hate crime because the suspect planned to target politicians, including Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger.

"A terrorist intentionally killed LGBTQ people," said Czeslaw Walek, one of the organizers, reported the AP. "Only by accident did he not kill more."

Adela Horáková, one of the leaders of Czech Republic marriage equality organization We are Fair, slammed Czech and Slovakian governments past and present for ignoring the rights of LGBTQ people and for allowing prejudice against them to grow, reported Radio Prague International. She pointed out that the Czech government hadn't passed any protections for LGBTQ Czechs for 16 years since the Central European country passed civil unions. Since then, members of parliament have blocked legislation for marriage equality and protections for same-sex families.

Horáková blamed these negative attitudes toward the community and government actions in the Czech Republic and Slovakia for leading to the shooting at Bratislava's gay bar. These actions, she argued, fueled hate and discrimination among the public, RPI reported.

The AP reported that police presence was heightened at the demonstration after authorities detained a man who threatened to use a gun against LGBTQ people at the square.

More than 17,000 people signed a petition calling on the Czech government and parliament to approve legislation that would amend current anti-discrimination laws to include LGBTQ people by November 4, Walek told the AP. The petition launched by Prague Pride and a coalition of more than 20 human rights organizations October 19 also includes a clause demanding that Czech leaders legalize same-sex marriage.

The rally's speakers included Tepláreň owner Roman Samotný, Czech Senator Miloš Vystrčil, Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib, Klára Šimáčková Laurenčíková, the government commissioner for human rights, and others.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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