On May 29th, 2005, a wedding took place in Haifa. It wasn’t just any ordinary wedding, but the marriage of two men, Liran and Yuval. In that time, the ceremony was groundbreaking, like any other wedding but with one important adjustment: both the grooms broke a glass, that represented the purity of their love and pride, and symbolized an important idea: “We are shattering conventions and prejudice—we too are allowed to publically proclaim our love.” Today, five years later, Yuval’s inspiring wedding speech has started a conversation about marriage in the gay community and the whole country, and with around sixty-six thousand views and over ten thousand people sharing it on Facebook alone—there’s a lot to talk about.
Yuval, 31, works in advertising and his partner Liran, 34, is the program manager for radio station ECO99FM. They have been together for almost ten years. “When we arrive in a new place we introduce one another as ‘my partner,’ not ‘my husband,’ and add that we are married. I don’t like the word ‘husband’ even when it refers to a man who marries a woman. We married because it was important for us to recognize and put a seal on our relationship together with all of our family and friends, and not to give up on the dream of marrying someone you love. We signed a civil union and went to Itai Pinkas in the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality to receive an official partnership document from the city. I have everything I could want except for my full rights,” Yuval sadly added.
“Like everyone says, this was always a part of me. From a very young age I remember it. The path towards accepting and understanding was different in my case because I had an early experience, when I was only 14, that was related to sexuality. The first person that I shared my feelings with, my teacher, took advantage of me sexually. This was a very meaningful and important experience for my personal development and my process of self-acceptance. It wasn’t until I was 19 that the case came to court. I remember myself when I was around 11, lying in bed like many others and begging God to please, please make this go away. As a boy who grew up playing soccer from age six, the word ‘gay’ to me was a curse to shout on the field. Only later did I make the connection between my feelings and this ‘curse.’ As a boy that grew up in a very ‘macho’ home, I felt that it was something defective. At age 17 I decided that my choices in life were up to me and me alone, and that they would have to accept me as I was. That year I had my first meeting with the gay community, after a girl from high school approached me and introduced herself, she apparently understood who I was immediately. She told me I was cute and suggested that we go to an incredible party that there was every Friday in Tel Aviv. She described it a really cool place, very fun, with lots of dancing and cool people. She didn’t say “gay party” but it was clear from her description that’s what it was, and I immediately liked her. The idea enchanted me even though I had never before been in any bar or club, or gone to a party. I agreed to go with her and a week later I was in the first gay party of my life. When I walked in I was shocked. I already knew that were more people like me, but despite that, to see it with my own eyes after all the years that I closed myself off and repressed my feelings was a life-changing moment for me. After that, I became more extreme in my outer appearance, I exaggerated a little as if to shout: “I’m gay, get used to it!” In general, in my opinion, this type of exaggeration comes from the fact that we live in a world that imposes on us prohibition after prohibition all our lives, and then suddenly, when you understand that actually you can do whatever you want, that anything is possible, everything breaks out at once, especially when you’re a teenager who’s concerned with definitions.”
“I didn’t tell my parents and didn’t really intend to. There was that story with the teacher, but that was nonconsensual, and they saw it as nothing more. When I was 15, my parents asked me if I was gay, and I denied it. They only found out later, when I was 18 and met someone who became my first love. It was a typical teenage first relationship. Everything was secret. I would sneak out of my house to meet him, we sent love letters to each other, and I would wait until everyone else fell asleep every night to call him. One day, fate intervened (or perhaps I did as well)—I read a letter that he sent me and left it out on the carpet in my room, in a fairly noticeable place, and went out for a while, no more than twenty minutes, to a friend who lived nearby. By chance, my mother went into my room, read the letter, and that night sat me down for a conversation. My parents were in total shock. Their reaction was that you are absolutely not ‘like that.’ My father was horrified and retreated into himself, he said he didn’t want to hear any of it. My mother said that it was her fault and invented endless psychological justifications for ‘the mistake.’ For the first time, today’s Yuval showed himself—‘You say I’m not? Wait until I show you just how much I am.’ This was the pinnacle of egotistical adolescence: the teenager who will do whatever he wants and couldn’t care less what it does to his parents. My parents were horrified by the thought that I was in a relationship with a man, and then one day my boyfriend disappeared completely, like the earth had swallowed him up. None of his friends would talk to me, I couldn’t ask his parents, and after six months of teenage suffering I found out he was in southern Israel. A few years later he got in touch with me and we met again. He showed a letter that he wrote me on the day that he disappeared, and that’s how I discovered why: my father went to him, threatened to kill him, and demanded that he leave me immediately and disappear. I think that because my outing to my parents came because of my love for him, I had more strength and desire to fight for it, to clash with them and pay the price. I had terrible fights with my parents, and even spent two nights sleeping on the streets once when I ran away from home. It’s unbelievable that these are the same parents who today are praying together with me and my partner for a child to be raised with us, two men.”
“First of all, the letter was written totally spontaneously at two in the morning before the wedding. Liran went to sleep and I stayed awake, thinking that tomorrow I am going to get married and my father won’t be there for the happiest day of my life. There were so many things that I wanted him to know, to tell him, the guests and the whole word, a message—so I wrote it all down. I’m sure someone showed him the speech, but my father never talked to me about it. I never told him that I was getting married, even though during that time he at least outwardly lived with the fact of my homosexuality with some degree of faltering acceptance, and already had a good relationship with Liran. The wedding is something that I still don’t talk to my father about too much. He ignored it, and as far as I’m concerned that was his answer. I have no reason to come to him now about it. He wanted only the family to know, to hide my relationship, keep it a secret. I gave up on a lot of things in my life for my family’s sake, but it never crossed my mind for even a minute to give up on my wedding because of him. The opposite, I wanted him to see that it’s really not something exceptional or terrible, and to be there sharing it with me. Today, I feel like it’s unnecessary to bring it up. My mother is very proud of me. I read to her letters that people sent in reaction to the speech, and it really touched her. She remembers how she felt about the whole issue at the beginning compared to where she is today. My sister was proud of me too. My little brother, who’s 24, has also always been proud of me and says so often, but his privacy is important to him and so he’s been less happy about his older brother’s sudden fame.”
“I think that the speech helped promote a societal change, of accepting the different. In the beginning I didn’t expect more than 200 views, just my friends and social circle. I couldn’t believe that it reached tens of thousands of people. At the beginning, I dreamed that I would get an email from parents or a child saying that I had helped them, and as far as I was concerned, that would have been more than enough. But what I received were tens of emails, tens of messages on Facebook, phone calls, people coming up to me at parties, even once on the street. People cried, laughed, told me I had changed them, youth came to me and said they had shown the video to their parents and that it changed their opinions. I also received responses from heterosexuals who had never met a gay person in their lives, saying that it caused them to understand that GLBT are people too with the same goals, desires, and range of feelings, that they are human beings with family like everyone else. The viewers understood that GLBT are discriminated against. In my opinion that was the greatest reward, that more than made up for sacrificing my privacy. Only now, five years later, I feel that our wedding gave the message that we dreamed of then.
“There were, of course, also those who said that the exposure of my father in the speech was a forced outing and a public humiliation. I waited for my family. I didn’t publicize the speech immediately, only after five years. Our parents go into the closet as soon as we come out, and I always tried to respect their pace, sometimes successfully and sometimes less so. I want to say to whoever thinks this that to accept intolerance in the name of tolerance is simply an enormous failure of understanding. We can’t be tolerant about lack of acceptance when it affects our rights and way of life. It’s important in general to be open-minded and patient with parents’ ‘coming out of the closet,’ but not when they ask you to abstain from doing basic things, like marriage, establishing a home and so on. Then it’s necessary to help them understand and change.”
“A child. A child. A child. That’s been the focus of our lives for the past five years. We wanted a child and began with the endless processes and different thoughts on the way. The last development was a year ago. There was a surrogate pregnancy with twins that immediately took hold, but then two weeks later one of the twins miscarried, and the other after four weeks. The second time, the pregnancy didn’t take hold, and at that point we ran out of money to keep trying. This was after two very hard years. It’s a difficult obstacle course that many homosexuals know and go through, and unfortunately many times at the end of it are left without a child and without savings, but still with that desire and need. We desperately wanted a child, and also met two women to consider joint parenthood, but that wasn’t for us. We also looked into adopting and discovered a terrible world. They don’t easily give a child to a gay couple. At the time we checked, only in Guatemala was it possible for a man to adopt a child, but it is intended for straight men who can prove that they have a reason to adopt. It’s very difficult. They show you an album of the orphanage. I remember looking at the pictures and seeing tens of children who were abandoned like unwanted packages, outside a rundown building playing in the sand. The conditions aren’t good at all and your heart just breaks in two and you ask why? It’s the law subjugating millions of children who need a home, millions of same-sex couples who marry to raise and love a child. In a perfect world, they would let the two come together. But the adoption process requires investigating the personal lives of potential parents, and providing proof and witnesses that you are straight. We agreed to do everything but weren’t accepted beause of our “young” age—the authorities were suspicious immediately, why would a straight man in his thirties want to adopt a child? He has time. We live with this reality, it is with us every day. I hope that the future generation of GLBT won’t need to go through this.”
“These are everyone’s rights. I am in a period of inner turmoil. I am thinking about how I am doing my part in creating a struggle that is different from the struggle that exists today. The video proved the usefulness of public relations and we need to understand that the way to legal recognition requires progress in public recognition as well, that one is necessary for the other. At the same time, I think that more than the pride marches, the activists, the supporters, the vital organizations that do holy work, and the wonderful services that so many do for the community, we need to begin to make noise and demand the rights that we deserve. Unfortunately many GLBT live in a social bubble that is made up of various small, accepting circles: they accept me at the corner store, in my building, at my local pub, at work, on Facebook. There is an atmosphere of openness and acceptance and we are all taking part in this lie, until the day comes when you’re in love and want to get married, or you’re desperate to have a child and you want a family, or you want to buy an apartment, and then you discover that your rosy world was essentially bullshit, because at the end of the day you live in a country according to whose laws you are an outcast and discriminated against in some of the most basic rights of man and citizen. We need to move on to a stage of demanding our rights and connect with groups who have the same problems we do: all those who support civil marriage, those who are not legally Jewish as well as the secular, straight couples and singles who need surrogate mothers, and more… We are all united by a similar agenda and we can join hands in a shared struggle. Do not forget that besides the change it caused in people and the empathy and love it awakened, the video also made the voices of the ignorant heard through the comments and talkbacks, and serves as a reminder of how long a journey remains ahead of us.”