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Like many classic romances, this one starts with love at first sight.

Two years ago, Karol Quesada met Alejandra Torres at work — they were both on the customer service team at Amazon’s offices in Heredia, Costa Rica — and took an immediate, inexplicable liking to her.

The two became fast friends, bonding over Harry Potter and a shared sense of humor. Then came Quesada’s whirlwind realization that she was falling in love. Fast forward two years: deciding to be officially “girlfriend and girlfriend,” melding their homes (Quesada has a 6-year-old son, Julian), and moving in together.

“Everyone is fascinated at how we are always together and we don’t get tired of each other,” Quesada, 25, says of her relationship with Torres, 23. “We literally finish each other’s sentences. We just think the same.”

And, as many classic love stories go, this one was also punctuated by a proposal. On Jan. 1, Quesada filled their apartment with Post-its — they have a habit of leaving sweet messages for each other around the house — to spell out: Will you marry me? Poetry that Quesada had written for Torres lined their walls. “Love Someone” by Lukas Graham floated through the speakers.

Torres said yes. There was just one problem: Same-sex marriage wasn’t yet legal in Costa Rica.

Karol Quesada's proposal. (Courtesy of Karol Quesada)
Karol Quesada's proposal. (Courtesy of Karol Quesada)

That changed at midnight on May 26, when a ruling from the country’s Supreme Court went into effect, ending the country’s ban on same-sex marriage. As a result, Costa Rica became the first Central American country to legalize same-sex marriage — and only the sixth country in Latin America to do so.

Like many others in Costa Rica’s LGBTQ community, Torres and Quesada had known that marriage legalization was imminent. As Javier Corrales, a professor of political science and Latin studies at Amherst College, explains, respecting human rights is “endemic” to Costa Rica. The tides definitively changed in 2018, when a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights said that all abiding countries had to move to legalize same-sex marriage. Coupled with the 2018 election of President Carlos Alvarado Quesada — who campaigned on a pro-gay-marriage platform — this solidified the promise of legalization.

In recent years, entrenched “machismo” culture and religious beliefs have given way to increased LGBTQ rights across Latin America, though the topic remains complicated. Since the international court’s ruling, pushback from Costa Rica’s rising evangelical political forces have persisted, according to Adriana Naranjo, a 37-year-old anthropologist living in San Jose. Even in the middle of the pandemic, these parties “were trying to delay” the ruling from taking effect by proposing new legislation in congress.

The real victory of the legalization, Naranjo says, is that the right to marry “grants other rights,” including financial and health benefits. When Quesada got surgery two weeks ago, for example, Torres wasn’t allowed in the hospital. “If she had been my wife, she would’ve been allowed to be there,” Quesada says.

In the hours leading up to the historic moment, the feeling in Costa Rica was decidedly joyful, though celebrations looked different during the pandemic. Television and computer screens were filled with live streams and recorded messages from high-profile Costa Ricans. Alvarado Quesada told his country, “Today we celebrate freedom, equality and democratic institutions.”

Torres and Quesada tuned in for much of the programming, and stayed up late for the live broadcast of the country’s first marriage between two women, Daritza Araya Arguedas and Alexandra Quirós Castillo. Watching the event on Facebook, Torres and Quesada cried and held each other and cried some more.

“Knowing that we now have the option and we don’t have to wait or go out to another country to do it — I just can’t even express the feeling,” Quesada says.

May 25 was significant for the couple for another reason: A year ago, it was when they’d shared their first kiss after a year-long breakup. They’d dated casually after becoming friends, but Quesada ended things before they got serious. She had never dated a woman before they’d met. “I was kind of confused [about] what was going on,” she says. “I wasn’t out to myself yet.”

Quesada says that, at the time, she was “too scared about what people might think or say,” including her family, who are Catholic. Although most people in Costa Rica are generally outwardly accepting of same-sex relationships, Quesada says, “there are always going to be people who don’t approve.”

After a year apart, Quesada realized she was still in love with Torres. The two reconnected and made things official. To Quesada’s surprise, her parents and grandmother were extremely supportive of the relationship. Her son, Julian, “loves” Torres, and she says moving in together has been “the best decision” of her life. Shortly after Quesada’s own proposal, Torres counter-proposed with a ring in a Harry Potter golden snitch.

Rosa Perez, a 26-year-old saleswoman, and Audrey Torres, a 29-year-old elementary school art teacher, are also celebrating the change in law. The couple, who lives in the small town of Puriscal, Costa Rica, met on Facebook three years ago. When they met in person for the first time, Torres was taken by Perez’s bubbly personality. She says they’re opposites: Torres is the shy one, Perez more social.

In October 2019, Perez proposed to Torres during a getaway weekend in the rainforest. She spread out rose petals on the bed.

Although the couple was confident that same-sex marriage would be legal one day, the official passage on May 26 felt like a big moment. “I’m happy because it’s something I always dreamed of all my life,” Perez says. “She is the love of my life, and I want to marry her.”

Costa Rica legalizing same-sex marriage has important consequences for other Latin American countries too, according to Perez:

“Costa Rica is a very small country, but it’s never stopped fighting for what’s right and for love to win.”

The message it sends, she says, is this: “If other countries keep on fighting too, they’ll get it done.”

Torres and Perez have already started planning their wedding. They’re hoping it will be next January, but they’re unsure how, or if, the pandemic will impact it.

Many couples are now facing the same question. The country, which boasts lush rainforests, pristine beaches and stunning mountain ranges, has long been a popular destination for weddings, according to Nikole Amerling, a lawyer with Diverse Weddings, one of the country’s first LGBTQ-friendly wedding planning businesses. In recent years, in anticipation of legalization, Amerling’s business has been setting up special LGBTQ training for vendors and trying to get a foothold in the community.

Covid-19 has presented obvious roadblocks. However, Costa Rica has been successful in slowing the spread of the virus, and some of the first same-sex weddings were able to find workarounds to social distancing restrictions. Amerling, for one, is optimistic. As she puts it: “When fishermen can’t go out fishing, they fix their nets.” Diverse Weddings has focused on broadening social media outreach as most couples are choosing to forgo larger events for now.

Rosa Perez and Audrey Torres in a shoot for Diverse Weddings. (Tiquicia Shot)
Rosa Perez and Audrey Torres in a shoot for Diverse Weddings. (Tiquicia Shot)

Quesada and Torres hope the pandemic won’t impact their dream wedding date, which is June 12, 2021 — the two-year anniversary of when they officially started dating the second time. They’ve been busy planning since the engagement: putting together a guest list, saving inspiration images on Pinterest. They’ve decided on a theme (Harry Potter); their shoes (Converse for Quesada, Vans for Torres); and what Julian, Quesada’s son, will wear (a white shirt with an LGBTQ flag bow tie).

Being bisexual, Quesada says, she always knew she would have the opportunity to marry — if she fell in love with a man. But since falling in love with Torres, she says, she’s been “counting down the days” until she could make her dream wedding, with her dream spouse, a reality.

“Now that it’s legal here, it almost just makes us want to go ahead and do it right away,” she says. “It’s that excitement of us being able to call each other wife.”

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