Colombia remains a deeply conservative country, where 93% of inhabitants declare themselves practising Catholics, and Catholicism was only abolished as the state religion in 1991. But it has become one of the world’s most progressive nations for gay rights, after a law allowing gay marriage was passed by Congress in 2007.
John Alejandro Rodriguez and Manuel Bermudez were trail-blazers for the new law. Both professionals in their 30s, in 2000 they became the first gay couple to attempt to legalise their union, though Colombian law didn’t yet acknowledge homosexual marriage. Supported by Florence Thomas, a French feminist active in Colombia, Alejandro and Manuel founded an enterprise under their names, with a legal contract specifying the two were living together and that their association reflected their mutual love. The same year, Colombian newspaper El Espectador listed their decision as among the 100 greatest acts of courage in Colombian history, and in 2007 they were among the first couples to take advantage of the new law, thus gaining the same rights as a heterosexual married couple.
But the story doesn’t end there. The happy couple soon became a “trouple,” a three-way love affair, when they included medical administrator Alex Zabala into their marriage. “We were singing together in a university choir,” explains Alejandro, “and we openly started an affair.” Very soon, Manuel fell in love too. “I didn’t wanted to break up their relationship,” explains Alex, “but they suggested we could all live together, like a family.”
“Our ‘trieja’ [a neologism which translates as ‘trouple’] is not a trio,” Manuel Jose Bermudez explains to Colombia Reports. “More than pleasure, we share the responsibilities and costs of a life in common.” Indeed, the three lovers recently bought a house in the Robledo quarter of Medellin, Colombia’s second city, and share a commitment close to that of a married couple – though with differences as well.
Manuel Bermudez is a journalist, university academic, and social leader in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans-gender) community, three reasons for being very concerned about social schemes and their effects on human beings. As a gay man living in a heterosexual society, the model of love he has seen from his infancy is that of a male-female couple.
“Are we to reproduce this scheme, where each one affirms itself in a certain role, as the dominant or the dominated,” asks Manuel, “or can their be another model?” According to him, it is difficult, even for homosexuals, to escape from this form of relationship and its consequences, such as infidelity and dominance. But he thinks that the “trouple” may offer an alternative.
“Being three, it is somehow easier to consider each other as equals, as no predefined social role is available,” comments Manuel, “but it also requires daily work to accept the uniqueness of the other.”
Though always aware of his attraction for men, Manuel has had experience of the traditional couple, since he was married to a woman for four years. “We had sex, of course,” he explains, “but I loved her more as a person than as a woman.” Sexual desire and love, gender and person, two important distinctions for him, for example in the case of men who have sex with other men. Manuel doesn’t like to label them “gay”, unless they really fall in love with their partner.
But what is Colombian church’s response to this unusual set-up? The fundamental position of the Catholic Church on homosexuality is clear: out of God’s plan. Any sterile sexual behavior meant for pure pleasure is a sin.
“Male and female compose the natural couple since Adam and Eve’s time,” Monseñor Ivan Moreno, from the Metropolitan Cathedral of Medellin, told Colombia Reports. “This model is the foundation for our society.” Though acknowledging we don’t have the perspective to judge three unashamed gay men who have decided to move away from God’s plan, Monseñor Ivan remains skeptical about the credibility of the challenging formula.
Regardless of what the church might think, the three have been living together for six years now. And thanks to their shared efforts, the relationship appears to grow harmoniously, just like the neat garden in front of their house.