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Weddings: Old meets new on grooms' big day

Despite liberal laws, organizing a same-sex ceremony still has its hurdles


Posted: February 20, 2013

By Emily McDermott - For the Post | Comments (0) | Post comment

Weddings: Old meets new on grooms' big day

Courtesy Photo: Nigel Robinson

South African-born Jacobus du Plessis and Czech native Pavel Pišan tied the knot at the imposing Old Town Hall in the heart of the capital in September 2011.

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In 2011, after six stressful months of planning and preparatory paperwork, 80 guests entered a Gothic room with arched ceilings inside Prague's Old Town Hall, while the first violinist of the National Theater, a flutist and a cellist played an overture from Georges Bizet's Carmen. Live music fulfilled one of Pavel Pišan's lifelong dreams for his wedding, and what eventually culminated with a perfect day was a journey that had started five years earlier.

Jacobus du Plessis, a finance specialist at Monster.com, moved to Prague nearly seven years ago from South Africa. When a friend introduced him to Pišan, Jacobus immediately caught his attention. However, their initial conversations were fleeting and lackluster, until fate - or coincidence - brought them together.

A few weeks after their introduction, the two spotted each other on the metro and then again at the former club Valentino, where they say a few drinks helped nerves subside so the conversation was unrestrained.

"From that moment on, we would see each other every night," Pavel, now 36, recalled.

After meeting in October 2006, the two entered a committed relationship just four months after Jacobus, now 38, had arrived in Prague. And although the Czech Republic legalized same-sex partnerships the same year the couple met, it was not until Sept. 3, 2011, at Old Town Hall that they held their timeless ceremony - and Pavel Pišan became Pavel du Plessis.

Jacobus moved from Somerset East, South Africa, when Monster.com opened a new office. Pavel, who now works for Exxon Mobil, moved to Prague 18 years ago after receiving an offer to dance with the Prague Chamber Ballet upon his graduation from the Brno Conservatory in 1995. Though Prague is a romantic city for many couples, Pavel and Jacobus' union had to overcome some hurdles.

When they met, Pavel spoke Czech, German and French, but hardly any English. This created quite a difficult language barrier for the two.

"We didn't completely understand each other through words," Pavel told The Prague Post. "But we could through expressions." Soon after their meeting, however, Pavel also began studying English.

Due to his noncitizenry, Jacobus had to continuously file forms and request documents from South Africa in order to legally enter a partnership with Pavel. The process was completed with less than a month to spare before their set date.

It seemed it would be smooth sailing, but when it came time to reserve the only locale able to host a same-sex ceremony, the Old Town Hall was unavailable on the couple's preferred day. With one week to go to the big day, Jacobus' wedding band had yet to arrive.

Finding a venue to host their ceremony proved difficult because while the Czech Republic was the first post-communist country to legally recognize same-sex partnerships, marital rights for same-sex couples remain a topic of discussion.

Registered partnerships - what Jacobus and Pavel have - enjoy similar rights to marriage, such as spousal privilege and hospital rights; however, the pair cannot jointly adopt, nor can they receive widower's pensions or joint property rights. Many traditional venues will not, or cannot, hold same-sex partnership ceremonies.

Jacobus and Pavel say they did not find these limitations problematic.

"Being 'married' doesn't bring anything more to a relationship," Jacobus said. Pavel continued, "We don't need to adopt any kids. … We don't suffer from it at all."

On their wedding day, Jacobus and Pavel each donned traditional black suits, silver ties and white shoes for their partnership ceremony. They entered the Old Town Hall to Nino Rota's melodious theme of Romeo and Juliet.

Jacobus' parents flew in from South Africa for the ceremony, and Pavel's mother came from Brno. The law mandated that an English translator be present because Jacobus is neither a native Czech speaker nor a Czech citizen, but as a result every guest, despite language barriers, was able to enjoy the ceremony.

An artistic friend who designed the couple's blue-and-gold invitations also handcrafted corresponding stands that were placed on each table inside Pavilon Grébovka to display the reception's menu. Long-stemmed gladiolus flowers, cut into thirds, stood alongside the menus and gold napkins.

At the pavilion, anything more elaborate would have distracted from the old, wooden hand-painted interior. Through the couple's choice of architecturally intriguing buildings, they were able to maintain a classic, simple and visually pleasing aesthetic for both the ceremony and reception.

"When I look back now … I'm really, really happy," Pavel said.

"It was perfect. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way," Jacobus added.


Emily McDermott can be reached at
features@praguepost.com

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