Exclusive: ‘In Georgia, gay men are told they cannot wear chokha because they are not “men”. I wanted to challenge that.’
A same-sex couple is making history by marrying in the chokha, a traditional male wedding outfit from Georgia.
David Shubladze, 31, an activist from Georgia, married 41-year-old Matthew Gandolfo, from New York City.
The couple married in their home in Queens, NYC on 27 November.
They are the first to have a same-sex marriage in the traditional costume, a formal coat symbolizing masculinity, strength and conservative tradition in the former Soviet nation.
Same-sex marriage is not legal in Georgia
Speaking to Gay Star News, Shubladze said: ‘In Georgia, gay men are told they cannot wear chokha because they are not “men”.
‘I wanted to challenge that. Not to assert my “masculinity”, but to assert my right as a Georgian to wear a garment that every other man has the right to wear for his wedding.
‘Perhaps it will give hope to our sisters and brothers in Georgia that one day soon they will have the right to celebrate their own wedding and find happiness in their homeland.’
Same-sex marriage is not legal in Georgia, a country whose population considers itself 98% religious.
How did the couple meet?
A LGBTI rights activist, Shubladze and friends founded the first gay organization in Georgia. After lobbying parliament to adopt hate crime laws that include the LGBTI community, which was passed in 2012, the charity went from strength to strength.
They offered legal assistance free of charge, as well as counseling, and raised awareness among gay youth.
But Shubladze wanted to travel and live in the US, which he did in September of 2015.
The couple met when Shubladze was working in a bagel shop and café in spring 2016. Gandolfo, a piano teacher, would always go to the music store next door and would stop in for a coffee.
And while they didn’t talk for a long time, Shubladze saw his future husband’s picture on a dating app. They met and Gandolfo planned a whole day in Manhattan for their date: boating in Central Park, museums, and a cute sandwich shop for lunch. But mostly they walked, talked, and fell for each other.
Planning the wedding with a Georgia theme
‘Matthew asked me to marry him this past summer while we were vacationing with his family,’ Shubladze reveals.
‘It was a beautiful week spending time on the beach with his brother and sisters, nieces and nephews, and Mom and stepdad.’
The wedding was small, and held at their home in Queens.
‘We invited a few close family and friends,’ Shubladze said. ‘We cooked some Georgian traditional dishes and hung a few lights. It was very simple and sweet.’
And because it was Georgian themed, they wanted to wear the chokha.
First time two men have worn the chokha for their own wedding
‘I chose to wear Georgian traditional dress because it is my heritage,’ Shubladze said.
‘The chokha’s history stretches back to the 9th century, and is a symbol of hyper-masculinity and conservative traditions which are commonly used to repress my sisters and brothers from the LGBTQI community.’
By challenging that, they decided to make a little bit of history.
‘Yes, it is the first time two men have worn the chokha for their own wedding. If that makes history, then so be it. There is always a first for everything, and I hope being the first will make it easier for others.’
But while Shubladze might love spending time in the US, with the couple going on a cross-country trip for their honeymoon, he says he will never forget about Georgia.
‘I am hoping Georgia passes equality on all fronts.’
He hopes one day Georgia will make progressive steps for the LGBTI community and other minorities.
‘I am hoping Georgia passes equality on all fronts,’ he says.
‘Marriage is a small part of a larger fight for equality as a whole.
‘According to the Georgian constitution, church and state are separate, but – in practice – the church wields much power and influence on Georgian politics. On 17 May 2013 (IDAHOT), the government did not step in to resist the throngs of followers of the Georgian Orthodox church, who attacked a peaceful demonstration for human rights.
‘There is much work to be done in loosening the grip of the Orthodox clergy and their hateful influence on Georgian society, which gives rise to sexism, racism, homophobia and all forms of xenophobia.’
‘We are already married in Georgia’
But as Shubladze notes, the couple’s opposition have to face facts.
‘According to international law, we are also a married couple in Georgia,’ he said.
‘Even though Georgia does not have same-sex marriage, it recognizes legal marriages from around the world.
‘Therefore, whether those who oppose us like it or not, we are already married in Georgia.’