An Argentinian woman searching for more information on her ancestors has made the shock discovery that her great-grandmother was a pioneer of gay marriage whose story has just been turned into a Netflix documentary.
Norma Graciela Moure, who had no more than a name and an old photograph, only found out about the extraordinary family history because of online stories about the Netflix production of ‘Elisa & Marcela’.
To her amazement, typing “Marcela Gracia Ibeas” into Google brought up about 50,000 search results. Many of the stories included a photograph of Ibeas alongside her partner Elisa Sanchez Loringa, who is dressed as a man, taken after their remarkable church wedding in 1901.
“I cannot describe how I felt when I saw the photo of my great-grandmother and clicked on the news story. I froze. I had no idea of that story; I didn’t even get to meet my grandmother,” Ms Moure told the newspaper La Voz de Galicia.
“Marcela & Elisa”, filmed by the director Isabel Coixet and released internationally on Netflix on Friday, tells the story of how two young schoolmistresses fell in love and pulled off a deception that led to possibly the first same-sex marriage in Spain.
The historian Narciso de Gabriel, who wrote a book about the couple, says that Marcela, who was pregnant with an unidentified man’s child, announced to her family that she was to marry a distant cousin of Elisa. Going by the name of “Mario”, the mysterious young suitor claimed to have been brought up as an atheist in London.
Mario was in fact Elisa, who, with her hair cut short hair and dressed in a man’s morning suit, was duly baptised and married to Marcela on the same day.
But soon after their wedding, the two women’s ruse was uncovered, forcing them to flee to Portugal, where Marcela’s daughter Enriqueta was born, and then to Buenos Aires as exiles.
Mr de Gabriel was delighted to hear from Ms Moure after she made her discovery.
“Any time a relative of one of the two women gets in touch, it sparks the hope of shining some light onto the many shadows in this story,” the historian told The Telegraph.
“For example, we still don’t know whether Marcela’s pregnancy was a genuine accident or part of their plan to create a pretext for the wedding.”
Mr de Gabriel says that once in Buenos Aires, the two women worked as housemaids, and in 1903 Elisa ended up marrying a rich old Dane called Christian Jensen. It was not a happy marriage due to Elisa’s refusal to consummate it.
One report has it that Elisa ended up committing suicide in Mexico in 1909, but Mr de Gabriel says he has been unable to confirm this.
“I was fascinated the first time I heard about the story,” said Ms Coixet, who has directed a dozen feature films, including The Bookshop with Emily Mortimer.
“We don’t know what happened to them in the end, and how did they think they would get away with it?”