We love the same way you do

We love the same way you do
Mr Desmond Charles (left) and Mr Wong Yun Onn (right), who got married last year in New York.

SINGAPORE - Yesterday, thousands gathered at Hong Lim Park for the annual Pink Dot event, celebrating the freedom to love.

Yet, Singapore is still deeply conservative. Benita Aw Yeong speaks with two homosexual couples who tied the knot even though their unions are not recognised here.

It was literally love at first sight for Mr Desmond Charles and Mr Wong Yung Onn.

The men - who are 36 and 50 respectively - caught each other's eyes when they crossed paths at a mall in Tampines six years ago.

Then strangers, they felt an "instant connection" after chatting over a cup of coffee - at Mr Wong's invitation.

Like many couples, they wanted to tie the knot after dating for some years, except that they are both men.

As same-sex marriage is neither legal nor recognised in Singapore, the couple flew to New York last June to get married.

The wedding - which cost them about US$3,000 (S$3,750) - included the cost of formal outfits, the marriage licence fee and a donation to the church they had their ceremony in.

The amount did not include air fare, food and accommodation for their two-week trip, which featured a honeymoon at the Niagara Falls.

Mr Charles, who runs Despoke Artiste Management, says the preparations and process to get his marriage registered overseas was relatively fuss-free.

But their journey to tying the knot was far from smooth.

Friends turned against Mr Wong, a business development manager, when they found out that he was gay and dating Mr Charles.

"His long-time friends, especially those from the army, said that I used a witch doctor or drugs to get him to be with me.

"I was hurt. It wasn't like I put a gun to his head to make him be with me," explains Mr Charles, who is more expressive than the reticent Mr Wong.

When Mr Wong revealed his sexuality and relationship to friends, some rejected it and requested that Mr Charles did not come along when they met up.

He felt a level of disappointment.

"Honestly speaking, being gay doesn't change my basic principles. It doesn't mean that I've changed to the point where I cannot be a good friend or reliable friend.

"I'm still the same person. I just expected them to give a listening ear, meaning you listen completely before you make any comment. "They were making comments, like 'this (being gay) wasn't who I am'," recalls Mr Wong.

While Mr Charles' family was generally accepting and open towards his relationship and sexual orientation, Mr Wong's father took some time to come around.

Eventually Mr Charles won him over by spending time with him on a fishing trip to Mersing, Malaysia.

He is heartened by the support of Mr Wong's mother, who is in her 70s.

"Before we left for New York, she gave us her blessings at the airport. She gave us a red packet and asked us to show her the photos. I'm very grateful," he says.

He maintains that there is no difference between homosexual and heterosexual relationships.

"There is no difference. Love is love. Does it really matter who you're going to love?"

Their relationship, says Mr Charles, goes through the usual ups and downs like any other relationship. But one thing is for sure, they say.

"Apart from death, I don't think there's anything that can separate us."

Religion is another difference between them - Mr Charles is Catholic and Mr Wong is Buddhist.

But they both make the effort to understand each other's religion and respect the different rituals and special feast days.

And yes, they do take part in each other's religious observances.

Reflecting on a reputation that the gay community has for being promiscuous, Mr Charles says of his own wedding vows: "Any man, whether gay or straight, who says they won't look at other people after making their vows is lying.

What is most important is staying true, being honest and communicating with your partner.

"Once you find someone you really love, the thought of cheating may cross your mind, but it is immediately replaced with the thought that you don't need to do that," he says.

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