Edmonton same-sex wedding video sparks conversation in Sri Lanka

An Edmonton couple’s wedding video is going viral in Sri Lanka and sparking conversations about same-sex marriage in a country where it is still illegal.

Sithara and Jenn Fernando were married in October 2019 in a hybrid ceremony of the western tradition and the Poruwa ceremony, a Singhalese ritual involving both families that takes place on a decorated, wooden platform. 

“One of the things that was really important to me, and Jenn, was basically that we wanted to show that you can be queer and still celebrate your culture,” Sithara said in an interview with CBC’s Radio Active.

“My parents, who are immigrants who came to Canada in the 1980s … have just been incredibly supportive of my happiness, and of my union with Jenn, and of being able to share our culture together.”

The wedding video was posted to YouTube in November that year, where it has now been viewed more than 600,000 times. 

The video recently started making the rounds on social media after being posted to a Sinhala-language Facebook page last weekend, where it has garnered almost 7,000 shares.

Sithara said it came to her attention Tuesday morning with a call from her mother. Her parents were getting phone calls from people in Sri Lanka, commenting on the wedding and congratulating them.

“[It is] pretty shocking for us,” Sithara said. “Me and Jenn, were sort of happy when the video went up and a few hundred people viewed it and then we sort of forgot about it.”

Sithara Fernando, left, wore jewelry and a sari worn by her sisters during their weddings. (Dave Brosha Photography)

The social media discussion is more divided, with a portion of the almost 5,000 comments on the post claiming a same-sex marriage is incompatible with Sri Lankan culture.

But Sithara notes there are plenty of comments about how things need to evolve.

“It is also really encouraging to see that our little wedding video is starting conversations in places that we never sort of thought these conversations could happen,” she said.

Same-sex relationships are still criminalized under the Sri Lankan penal code. OutRight Action International, an international LGBTQ human rights organization, notes that although the Supreme Court condemned the laws in 2016 there has been no attempt to actually repeal them.

The couple has received Facebook messages from strangers who said they never knew they could have such a wedding and had talked to their parents about a same-sex marriage.

“Both of us struggled to come out of the closet, both of us struggled to sort of find people in mainstream media or in fringe media that reflected who we are and to be able to be that example for somebody else is a huge thing,” Sithara said.

“I’m super happy that this happened.”

Jenn shares in that happiness.

“It was surprising,looking through some of the comments and just seeing that there’s a discussion there,” she said. “A lot of people were just like, ‘Oh, I don’t know how I feel about this exactly. 

“But these two looks like they’re in love and that’s all that matters.'”

Jenn said it’s a conversation that still happens in Edmonton too but understanding can be gained through that dialogue.

“Love is love,” she said. 

“I’m just so glad that I’m surrounded by people who support me and that people can see that from around the world.”

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