Two gay inmates have made history by tying the knot inside a Cyprus prison after one of the men got himself sent back to jail twice to be with his lover.
Former heroin addict Kevork Tontian, 34, and his Brazilian drug-smuggling lover Wemson Gabral da Costa, 30, met during a game of bingo and their relationship blossomed when they were granted leave to attend Cyprus’ gay pride parade.
Tontian, a Cypriot, was so besotted that after he was released two years ago he broke the law to be reunited with Da Costa and after release a year after that, he again got himself sent back to the prison in the capital, Nicosia.
Now the couple, who share a cell and work together in prison’s archive, have become the first to get married behind bars in the EU.
‘We dare, we dare, we asked. There is no shame. Love has no shame,’ Tontian said from inside the prison walls with Da Costa sitting beside him.
A drug-related offense landed Tontian in prison back in 2015. He battled his addition and overcame it, saying that he’s been drug-free five years now.
Da Costa’s journey to Cyprus was a complicated affair, Tontian said. Also rejected by his family because of his sexual orientation, Da Costa lived on the streets and prostituted himself to made ends meet, Tontian said.
It was an appeal by his ailing grandmother for money for medical treatment that led Da Costa to his incarceration.
Da Costa confided his problem to a friend, who offered to pay for his grandmother’s medical expenses if he would act as a ‘mule’ and smuggle drugs to Cyprus. His arrest at Cyprus’ Larnaca airport resulted in a five-year prison sentence.
Throughout their courtship, prisons authorities have been supportive, even when all wasn’t smooth sailing, Tontian said. Inmates who verbally accosted the couple were transferred to other wings.
Their decision to formalize their bond through a civil union was a product of their desire ‘to get closer to one another,’said Tontian,
Tontian said Cyprus’ Prisons Director Anna Aristotelous and her deputy Athena Demetrou helped do some of the legwork in gathering the appropriate paperwork for the civil union ceremony.
And despite some delays chalked up to the country’s red tape, the ceremony – replete with a wedding cake – took place last week in front of prison staff and a handful of inmates who are friends of the couple.
Aristotelous said the ceremony is a reflection of the facility’s respect for human dignity, diversity and sexual orientation of all inmates.
‘The anachronistic perceptions of a few stood as no obstacle for us or to the equal treatment of all,’ she said.
Da Costa is currently undergoing hormone therapy at the Cypriot capital’s general hospital as part of a potential sex change.
Tontian and Da Costa are due to be released at the same time in June and they say they’ll continue their lives together in Cyprus – as the spouse of a Cypriot national, Da Costa has the right to stay.
But the couple plans many trips abroad, including prolonged visits to Brazil where they hope that Da Costa’s family will embrace them.
Tontian’s message to other other inmates wishing to formalise their relationship is simple – ‘dare.’
‘Parents won´t be with us our whole lives, at some point the parents will leave,: Tontian said. ‘They should do it, they should dare. If they lose their family, so be it. At some point the family will regret it.’
Same-sex couples in Cyprus can enter into a civil union which gives them the same rights and privileges as a married couple except that they are not allowed to adopt children.