Two brides and open hearts

Bernardo and Bubut Simon (first and second, far left) lead celebrants at lakeside nuptials. (Photo by Averylin Julian

Bernardo and Bubut Simon (first and second, far left) lead celebrants at lakeside nuptials. (Photo by Averylin Julian

ORLANDO? As in Florida? In June?

My aversion to heat, humidity and intolerance escalated when I realized where I would meet the first day of summer 2017.

I was flying to the second home of Mickey Mouse as principal sponsor at a goddaughter's wedding.  I had held a candle over her when she was baptized in 1988, and now she chose me and my husband to lead witnesses at her biggest moment since she was blessed as Frances Divina Nieva Simon, new Christian.

Why me, I drilled my little sister's middle child, whom I see only at family milestones because we live on opposite ends of the continent.

I'm not sure she knows that I earned a certificate from the state as an intimate partnership peer counselor, but she replied along the lines of "honesty" and "living the real world," undoubtedly in reference to my open circle of friends.

You see, we were sponsoring the wedding of two brides. It so happened that they chose to exchange vows on Pride Month, coinciding with their anniversary.  And the site they selected was the city where almost exactly a year ago someone unloaded his disdain and his gun on innocent people enjoying a night of fun at a club called Pulse. He murdered 50 and wounded scores because of their sexual orientation.

Manicured Orlando seems the antithesis to naturally stunning San Francisco, where the gay community thrives in a welcoming population.

Like my home the Golden State, the Sunshine State is famous for its oranges, a rare commonality between the two.  California has the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who were born male; Florida has, well, Anita Bryant.

All relationships take work, requiring the same healthy dynamics to meet good times and overcome challenges.

Fifty years ago, the then-Florida Citrus Commission spokesperson became the face of the anti-gay movement as she led a campaign to successfully repeal a Dade County ordinance barring discrimination based on sexual orientation.  

Bryant's vitriol against people who are non-heterosexual will not be repeated here.  But while her "crusade" spread across the country, it mobilized the gay community and their allies, triggering a boycott of Florida oranges, ultimately sending Bryant to bankruptcy and divorce. Oh the irony.

Time heals, attitudes shift.

The US Supreme Court on June 26, 2015 ruled 5-4 that states must license same-sex marriages as well as recognize similar marriages performed legally in other states.

Last year home health care manager-data analyst Maria Cristina Diaz took Frances Divina, a jewelry employee, to their favorite getaway, Disney World.  There, Diaz pulled out a tiny box, plucked a solitaire from its velvet nest, dropped on one knee and asked her partner of eight years to make it a lifetime.

"It just got real!" announcements followed, then a "Save the Date." 

Suddenly we were descending on an endless expanse of golf greens dotted by lakes with concrete bottoms; as were relatives and friends from Vancouver, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Miami, Palm Beach, Charlotte, Maryland native Maria's hometown, Baltimore, and Frances' birthplace, Chicago, including her bosom buddies Ashley, Adam and Aliza Julian, Kathy and Kristine Hernandez and Vena Otakan.

The temperature soared, hitting 100 degrees in the shade, hovering at 90 after a downpour.  We bravely primped up for a wedding al fresco.

My biological family is not unique.  Our elders, originally from Quezon, are pious and traditional; our U.S.-born or bred young are law-abiding if often adventurous, but always respectful.  Same with the Diazes, who trace their roots to Nicaragua.  Political instability in the ancestral homeland had driven both clans to this country.  

Whatever their opinions about the occasion, they bore only well wishes for one another and especially for the brides-to-be.

Maria's mother Antonieta Diaz, battling a serious illness in Baltimore, sent her blessings and her sister Yolanda Kranwinkel to walk Maria down the sandy aisle.

Our sibling, who chose to retire in Orlando far from the harsh winters of her previous home, Indiana, is devoted to her faith.  Newly widowed last year when her husband of 52 years passed, she took her niece aside, professed her love, and begged off from the ceremony and reception after consultation with clergy confidantes.

Frances would have loved to share her joy with her namesake, but she put her wishes behind her aunt's sensibilities.  That magnanimity averted heartache. 

Still, Divinia Magbanua opened her sprawling Hampton Estates residence to a bridal shower aptly themed "Healing Moments."  She allowed her Spanish Colonial guarded by life-size angels and statues of the Virgin Mary to morph into a Little Havana, a nod to the honoree, whose father Bernardo Simon Sr., fled Cuba almost 60 years ago after the communist takeover.

Cousin Joyce Magbanua, chums Nalisha Kumar and Renalyn Manson amped up the Latin flair with island touches, presenting guests with hats, fans and hibiscus.

Frances' mother, Maria, or Bubut to kin, took copious photos and videos. Hers was the most moving relationship advice:  To treasure every moment; something she learned almost 40 years ago when her first husband collapsed and died six months after they were wed.  

"I thought he was having an asthma attack and all would be well in a few hours," she riveted her listeners.  "I never saw him again."

Others shared testimonies from unions long and new.

"People evolve," noted our sister Elizabeth, wife of 44 years to Rafael Jubida.  "Be there for each other, adjust to changes, always remember whom you married and why."

"Think about what you say to each other," reminded Frances' big sister, Sasha Alvarez, single but committed.  "Whatever you say sticks, you can't take it back.  Saying sorry does not undo the hurt from words spoken in anger."

All relationships take work, requiring the same healthy dynamics to meet good times and overcome challenges.

The unifying message culminated at the main event.

"This ceremony will not create a relationship that does not already exist between you," asserted Bernard "BJ" Jr., Frances' baby brother, who officiated the waning afternoon rites by Lake Bryan.  "It is a symbol of how far you have come these past few years...of the promises you will make to each other to continue growing stronger as individuals, and as partners."

BJ Simon reminds Frances and Maria to grow stronger as individuals and as a couple. (Photo by Averylin Julian)

BJ Simon reminds Frances and Maria to grow stronger as individuals and as a couple. (Photo by Averylin Julian)

Ordained by the Universal Life Church, the Bay Area transplant from the Midwest, 27, single but involved, stressed, "Marriage is the promise between two people who love each other and who trust in that love; who honor each other as individuals, and who choose to spend the rest of their lives together."

Two years earlier, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy penned for the majority in the June 26, 2015 high court decision:

"No longer may this liberty be denied," he proclaimed in Obergefell v. Hodges.  "No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family.  In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death."  

Those petitioners, Kennedy summed up in the landmark case, sought "equal dignity in the eyes of the law."

FRANCES puts it simply: "Love is love."

Applause and whoops met the pronouncement of Mrses. Simon-Diaz.  A prosecco reception followed in the grand cabaña at Paradise Cove, where doughnut towers flanked three wedding cakes gifted by Frances' Tito Sonny and Tita Vicky Nieva, and revelers of every generation let loose to assorted music genres.  

After eight years, Frances and Maria Simon-Diaz vow to love each other for life. (Photo by Cricket Photo and Cinema)

After eight years, Frances and Maria Simon-Diaz vow to love each other for life. (Photo by Cricket Photo and Cinema)

Inspired by the night's honorees and their family's affirmation, two female guests in matching peach gowns -- both Orlando residents -- locked lips on the dance floor, feeling safe and free to express affection, celebrate their love, family and inclusion.   

Cherie M. Querol Moreno

Cherie M. Querol Moreno

Cherie M. Querol Moreno is a Commissioner with the San Mateo County Commission on Aging and executive director of nonprofit ALLICE Alliance for Community Empowerment. She is editor at large of Philippine News, columnist for Philippines Today USA and contributor to Rappler and GMA News Online.

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