Gay Algerians seek 'rainbow marriages' to elude rigid society
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As it does every year, Algeria’s LGBT community celebrated TenTen, its national day of solidarity, on October 10. FRANCE 24 spoke to Amelle, a 31-year-old lesbian about to enter into a marriage of convenience.
Every year, hundreds or even thousands of gay people across Algeria get married in such “rainbow weddings”, because of social and familial pressure. In a country where homosexuality is a crime – punishable by two months to two years in prison, along with a heavy fine – marrying a person of another gender has become the alternative to coming out, when the latter leads to ostracisation from society.
During this year’s TenTen – the Algerian LGBT community’s 11th annual day of solidarity, organised by their advocacy group Alouen – FRANCE 24 caught up with Amelle*, who first told us her story three years ago.
At 31 now, Amelle is getting ready for a new chapter in her life. She is about to get married. Not to a woman – as she could if she lived in a country where gay marriage is allowed – but to Farid *, 34, a gay man.
“I ended up finding a gay man whom I want to marry. I met him two years ago through a friend, he introduced himself to me, and we just had this incredible connection,” said Amelle. She dreamed of finding a man who shared her dream of a family life. And, it turns out, she found a rare pearl. A person with the same principles and – even more importantly – the same goal: of becoming a parent.
Having a child, the 'purpose' of her marriage
“The first thing that was clear for both of us was our shared wish to have a child; I told him that I was looking for a father for my children and that this would be the purpose of our marriage. Being a woman in Algeria is difficult, but being a single mother is even harder!”
Amelle could have decided to adopt, but – as in many other countries – it is a long and drawn out process for couples in Algeria. It is especially hard if you are single. “Before, Farid had taken steps to adopt alone, but as a single man, he didn’t succeed, so we’re going to start a kind of homoparental family,” said Amelle. “There’s no reason why I should have a heterosexual sex life. My gynecologist knows I’m a lesbian and she said she’d organise everything – she knows the whole story.”
As soon as Amelle and Farid agreed what they were going to do, everything went quite quickly. She introduced Farid to her family. “He’s a very nice chap. My family loved him and immediately adopted him as one of their own,” Amelle recalled. He followed tradition by coming with his parents to ask for Amelle’s hand in marriage. They got engaged in March 2017, and are planning on tying the knot in February 2018.
Like Farid, Amelle has never come out. “Other than close friends, no one knows he’s gay – it's a bit like me! I’ve got a few cousins who know and support me. My relatives said it was a good thing that I’m getting married so I can carry on living a quiet life. As for my mother, I’m sure that – even if she doesn’t let on – she knows.” Amelle insists on her happiness, on the “relief” she feels since she got engaged.
Amelle has no trouble with presenting her mother with a watered down version of reality in order to reassure her. Her family dreams of a love story – probably along the lines of a rom com – after she has been single for so long. When they ask the perennial question “are you in love?”, Amelle says right away: “Seeing as I’m getting married to him, it’s obvious that now I’ve found the right person.”
'What happens within my marriage will be no one else’s business'
At 31, Amelle has gained some sort of freedom. Algeria is a patriarchal and staunchly Islamic society, and it leaves little room for her to develop fully. Amelle is still not free to openly go about her love and sex lives, but she now has a little more liberty. What used to be a delicate relationship with her mother has loosened up a bit. “When I went out with girlfriends, she always called to find out where I was, whether or not she knew them," Amelle says. "Now she doesn’t bother me any more. What’s more, when I go out with girls in the future, I’ll tell her that I’m going out with Farid – that way she definitely won’t call any more!”
Amelle does not say much about love. She almost seems to have freed herself from it. She mentions “a few little flings here and there, but nothing serious.” While she still hopes to meet “the right person”, she maintains that her marriage has brought her “satisfaction”. “The purpose of all this is to have a child. I won’t have to answer to anyone any more, and what happens within my marriage will be no one else’s business. As far as other people can see, we’ll be a family like every other. The most important thing is mutual respect.”
To lead happy lives, Amelle and her fiancé will have to lead secret ones. That is a painful choice, but one she accepts. “I’m not afraid,” she insists. “When you have to live a lie because of society’s attitudes – when you can’t get what you want – you take whatever you can.”
*Name changed to protect identity
This article has been translated from the original in French.