At the beginning of 2018, Jesus and John had a big decision to make. They had met through a dating app and had been together for over two years; it’s one of those endearing stories about love overcoming all sorts of obstacles and coming out on top. From language barriers to legal residency woes, there was very little they hadn’t experienced just for the sake of being together.
They’d learned to be together at a distance, with John living in Boston and Jesus in Panama, the country to which he’d immigrated to after his native Venezuela had become unbearable. But the time had come for them to face it, they had to take the next step in their relationship, tie the proverbial knot, and live in the same zip code. And so came the moment of truth, but with same-sex marriages being illegal in Panama and Jesus’ US visa not an option, a big question lingered on top of them: where should they get married?
A few months later, this time in Peru, Jenny was traveling with her brother and father when she met Ingrid. Theirs was more of a torrid affair, a tale of two people with a common desire to travel the world and live life to the fullest. From their first encounter, they were inseparable, and by the time Jenny had to leave, the idea of marrying her Peruvian sweetheart was on her mind.
Marriage became for them the perfect solution for being together, so it wasn’t long before the same issues that plagued Jesus and John also started to arise in their relationship as well: no same-sex unions in Peru, no US visa for Ingrid. So they were forced to answer the same question once again: where should they get married?
Most people already know that Argentina was the first country in Latin America to approve same-sex marriage back in 2010, but what isn’t that well known is that it is one of only a handful of countries in the world to allow for gay marriage between non-residents.
This has not only sparked the arrival of an impressive amount of travelers but also kickstarted an industry devoted primarily to organizing weddings for the LGBTQ community. Laetitia Orsetti is one of those benefiting from this movement, thanks to her wedding planning enterprise called Fab Weddings which has worked with over 40 couples already including, of course, John, Jesus, Jenny, and Ingrid.
Laetitia arrived in Argentina in 1999 at the tender age of 19 wishing to learn Spanish. In Buenos Aires, six months quickly turned into a year, as she then managed to extend her student exchange program and even course her junior year in the city. After returning to her home state of Texas, she graduated and was recruited by Arthur Andersen, months before the accounting firm was charged with obstruction of justice for shredding documents related to the government’s investigation of Enron.
Laetitia saw this as the perfect opportunity to return to Argentina, a country that had captured her heart. “It has an extraordinarily vibrant energy of life and having fun and getting together and making asados and drinking mate. You know it wasn’t just the community but solidaridad with friends, it’s 24/7. You know you can call them in the middle of the night and say ‘Ah, my toilet’s plugged’ and you know they will just come and say ‘ya voy!’. You feel very welcome in Argentina.”
After several years working in finance and other areas, she found her calling thanks to her knack for helping friends organize their weddings and the 2010 ruling that shed a light on what her path could be. She got together with friends, picked some of the top designers in the country, and decided to launch her wedding planning venture with the first wedding catwalk for same-sex partners in the country and possibly even the world.
“It attracted close to 400 people. It was really cool since it kicked everything off. Some people though it would be risky, but afterwards, everybody loved it.” FAB Weddings was about to go big.
The fashion show gave FAB and Leti, as her friends call her, international exposure. It wasn’t long before people from all over the world were getting a hold of the news. Local outlets like La Nación started to take notice and international ones like O Globo and Curve Magazine began to give it global exposure. “I was the first LGBTQ wedding planner, and being the first one you get a lot of press and attention.”
As usually happens with wedding planners, Laetitia started to amass an impressive array of contributors, most of who still work with her to this day: hairdressers, dress designers, photographers and videographers. But her main challenge with her new creation stood elsewhere, closer to the complex realities of the judicial system of Argentina.
“I focus on the legal part of it a lot,” she explains. “The first thing I tried to do was understand the process, because it’s complicated, they change it all the time. What I do is I try and buffer that. So I smooth over the bureaucratic part of it. I have such a great network of people who are helpful, like the Federation of the LGBTQ, or the LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce. I always have someone to call. For an express wedding, for example, if they arrive on Monday and want to get married on Friday, we can make it happen. I know the timing so I don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. It’s very helpful, and it will save couples a lot of time going through us, for sure.”
For Jesus and John, finding Laetitia was quite the breakthrough, and their views about her manage to sum up everything she’s able to bring to the table. John, the more pragmatic of the two, found in her the consummate professional they needed during their exhausting search for a wedding destination. “What FAB offered was dependability and professionalism – there was a lot riding on this. If for some reason things didn’t work out in Argentina, we were going to have a big problem. I found several companies that offered similar services, but from the start it was clear that Fab and Leti were the most professional. She managed to bring a warmth and caring to her work that allowed us to relax and enjoy the experience.”
On the other hand, Jesus had been dreaming about his wedding day his whole life, so there was a lot at stake when he met Leti. In other words, professionalism would have meant close to nothing without some other traits. “John had told me to talk to her and if I wasn’t convinced then we would not go on with it,” Jesus explains. “We arranged a Skype meeting and from the start, I was captivated by her energy. Her kindness, her ideas, her attention to detail, her sweetness… She tends to your needs with love, she listens. She would tell me: ‘We’re going to do this, we’re going to make it!’ and that really made me feel safe in her hands.”
The trust that both sides tend to develop is at the core of FAB, and Laetitia treats this almost as a creed: “We end up going through some very intimate things together, and it really is a bonding process. Most people are stressing and planning all year long, they have so many issues to deal with. But what I offer in Buenos Aires is a ‘llave en mano’ (turnkey) wedding where you don’t have to stress with any of that and just enjoy.”
Besides their actual wedding, John and Jesus also booked other services from FAB, including sightseeing in Buenos Aires and a bachelor party bus, complete with a drag queen as a guide. But in Ingrid and Jenny’s case, time was of the essence, so they decided to go with a quicker service from Leti and her team. “We got the express wedding, but she offered so much more,” Jenny explains. “She was so helpful every step of the way, I think that we definitely were able to put our trust in her. I had read some things from other people that said we would have to stay here for almost three weeks to take care of everything and she was able to do all that for us beforehand.”
Laetitia goes to real extremes for the couples she marries, from finding them witnesses for their ceremonies to accompanying them to their customary health checkups at the hospitals. “She’s got your back, she’s in your corner fighting for you, when all the difficult stuff arises,” Jenny concludes.
Through the years, Laetitia has not only gotten to be extremely efficient at her job, but she’s also had a privileged point of view of the evolution of the Argentine judicial system which, at times, has seemed quite slow and frustrating. “Well, sometimes I’m very surprised about how slow things are, and the lack of customer service,” she explains. “Same thing with how some still judge these ceremonies. Some people at the registry’s office are still sometimes a little bit ‘funny’ and give off some bad vibes, it can be embarrassing. It’s such a shame because we’ve come so far.”
But besides these setbacks, Leti is probably the first one to signal the advancements as well: “I used to wait in the line at the administration desk and wait for three hours as there was just one desk working, and now there’s like 20 people. So it’s definitely better.” All in all, the most important silver lining might just be found in how Buenos Aires has overwhelmingly become a welcoming spot for same-sex couples from all over the world, receiving visitors from destinations such as Sweden, the UK, Australia, and Thailand, among many others.
“I had two guys from Trinidad and Tobago and the Congo, and they wanted a low-profile ceremony. We went to the hospital and mentioned that they were getting married, and everyone started clapping,” Leti concludes. “I mean even in the taxi, and the taxista put like a cumbia wedding song on. I don’t think there’s any kind of discrimination at all.”
For Jesus, the city was filled with opened arms from arrival: “We walked the streets holding hands and never got a bad look from anybody, Buenos Aires was spectacular for us.” Or, as Ingrid puts it: “We felt so comfortable, we never felt weird, we were just two regular people.”