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In Albania, two women take on a nation with a rooftop wedding

Reuters
Guests attend the wedding ceremony of Alba Ahmetaj and Edlira Mara on the roof of the mayor’s office in the center of Tirana, Albania.

TIRANA (Reuters) – Alba Ahmetaj and Edlira Mara lead ordinary lives in many ways. They brush their twin daughters’ hair before going to school and play battle with them in their flat on weekends. They have matching shoulder tattoos marking their 14 years together.

But in their struggle to be treated like other families, the lesbian couple did something extraordinary.

On Sunday, May 19, at dusk, friends cheered as they stood on the roof of the mayor’s office in the center of Tirana, kissed, exchanged rings and got married.

Their marriage is not recognized by the state; Albanian law does not recognize civil unions between people of the same sex. It has sparked outrage among the political right and the powerful religious community.

But for Alba and Edlira it was a true expression of love, a call for equality and, as far as they know, the first wedding of its kind in the Muslim-majority Balkan country.

“There are two people in love… and now they have completed it with this beautiful ceremony,” Edlira said after the wedding. “Society will never be ready… What does this mean? That I can’t live?”

While much of Western Europe has made progress toward marriage equality, governments in much of the center and east are resistant to change.

In Albania, religion was banned for half a century under communism. Today the country is known for its tolerance among Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox Christians. These faiths are united in their opposition to gay marriage.

When plans for the couple’s wedding became public, social media was flooded with thousands of threatening comments. Police officers guarded the building during the ceremony.

Two days later, opposition parties protested against the mayor over separate corruption allegations. But the speakers also turned on Alba and Edlira, accusing them of destroying family values.

The furor over the wedding was just the latest stage in what the couple say has been a long battle to gain the same rights as heterosexual couples.

When their daughters were born three years ago, the couple said they both wanted to be registered as parents, but the law did not allow that. The children are registered under Edlira, the biological mother.

“Our society is very patriarchal and homophobic,” Alba said before the wedding. “If you see comments on Facebook or Instagram … you will see how little tolerance we have as a nation.”

In the midst of the struggle, the wedding became a bright spot. In preparation, the family blew up balloons in their apartment. On the night of the ceremony, friends helped the couple put on their big white wedding dresses.


The Wider Image2
Reuters
Edlira Mara, Alba Ahmetaj and their twin daughters get ready for their wedding ceremony at the mayor’s office in the center of Tirana, Albania, on May 19.

Holding their daughters’ hands, they walked to the altar through a crowd of friends throwing white rose petals. Around them were the sights of central Tirana and the mountains beyond, shrouded in mist.

They were married by two British ministers.

“We are fighting 90% of the population,” Edlira said. “We both change a lot of things.”

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