Gay Couples Rush to Wed Before Brazil’s New President Takes Office
SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Just hours after Jair Bolsonaro won Brazil’s presidential election in a landslide victory for conservatives, Carolina Zannata and her girlfriend called the closest public notary and set a date for their wedding.
Gay marriage has been legal in Brazil since 2013, and Ms. Zannata said she and Aline Foguel had not been in a hurry to wed. But the triumph of Mr. Bolsonaro — a far-right politician who once declared “I’m homophobic, with pride” — changed their calculations.
“We got scared,” said Ms. Zannata. “We need to take advantage of our hard-won rights because we might not have them afterward.”
On Jan. 1, Mr. Bolsonaro will be sworn into office, and high on his agenda is making good on his campaign pledge to defend “the true meaning of matrimony as a union between man and woman.”
Once president, he will have the power to act on his promise. His party will also become the second-largest force in the lower house, thanks to an outpouring of support at the ballot box in October.
Legal experts say that the Supreme Court would almost certainly strike down legislation that reversed the legalization of same-sex marriage, but it is not clear how long the process could take.
“There could be attempts to make same-sex marriage illegal, but the Constitution will prevail,” said José Fernando Simão, a professor of civil rights and family law at the University of São Paulo. “It’s natural for there to be concern. This is a community that has been ultra-marginalized in the past.”
And so, in early December, Ms. Zannata and Ms. Foguel gathered friends and family for a simple wedding ceremony at the notary’s office, followed by a festive lunch. They joined a wave of same-sex couples rushing to the altar out of love, but also fear or in defiance of what the incoming government might do.
Four of the five ceremonies at the notary’s office that Saturday morning were same-sex marriages.
According to the notary association Arpen, the number of same-sex marriages across Brazil surged 66 percent in November. In São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city, there were 57 same-sex weddings in just the first 10 days of December, compared with 113 for whole month of December 2017.
Mr. Bolsonaro, for years a minor figure in Congress best known for his outbursts against women, gay people and black people, managed to turn Brazil’s rampant political corruption and violent crime into an election opportunity, billing himself as the candidate who would restore law and order.
He also won over many voters with his culturally conservative agenda. While campaigning, he accused previous left-leaning governments of distributing “gay kits” in schools, a reference to sexual education materials that he said “perverted” students.
For many in the L.G.B.T. community, the biggest fear is that Mr. Bolsonaro’s fiery rhetoric has fueled a new era of intolerance and intimidation that could potentially lead to violence.
“People now have this open homophobic discourse that they were too embarrassed to say before,” said Ms. Foguel. “I’m so afraid of reliving a past that I thought we had already conquered. I’ve had panic attacks.”
The polarized elections set off a wave of politically motivated attacks, generated virulent messages on social media and even led to the creation of a computer game in which players can use an avatar of Mr. Bolsonaro and kill leftists, feminists and gay people.
Ms. Zannata said she had ignored the darkening mood until a video surfaced showing throngs of soccer fans of Palmeiras, a team based in São Paulo, chanting about how Mr. Bolsonaro, then a candidate, would kill gay people.
Ms. Zannata, a passionate Palmeiras fan, had always gone to their games, she said.
“They’re machista, but I was accepted,” she said of the other fans. “Now I’m afraid to go to the stadium.”
Sensing the possibility of a change in legal rights, Maria Berenice Dias, the Brazilian Bar Association’s head of sexual diversity, encouraged same-sex couples “who want to get married to hurry up and formalize their union before the end of the year.”
As gay couples flocked to public notaries, support flooded in on social media and at hastily arranged weddings.
“I feel a lot of solidarity,” said Rossanna Pinheiro, a supplier of karaoke party packages who decided to donate her equipment for ceremonies and to organize volunteers. “People are doing this out of fear, without enough money even for the marriage papers. I wanted to help.”
Cake-makers, wedding planners, photographers and disc jockeys have come forward, offering their services for free, while gay rights activists have organized a series of group weddings.
At a recent ceremony, organized by volunteers at a converted factory in São Paulo, four couples that had cobbled together their weddings in less than three weeks gathered at the altar.
“We’re going to resist,” said Victor Silva Paredes, 23, before walking down the aisle with his father. “We fought for these rights and we’re not going back into the closet.”
For Noah Beltramini, a transgender man, it was a moment of happiness but also just one pressing step among several. He is rushing not only to get married but also to officially change his name and gender identification, as a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year permitted.
“It wasn’t something I was worried about before,” he said. “But with Bolsonaro I feel completely vulnerable.”
In many ways, the group wedding was very traditional, with brides in white gowns, a volunteer band playing love ballads and a towering, multitiered cake to be devoured. But it was also clearly a political statement.
“Love doesn’t have race, color, sex or gender,” the wedding officiant declared. “Today is the day everyone will respect your decision.”