The Fascinating Story Of Marcela And Elisa

Same-Sex Marriage In 1880

In 2005 marriage between two people of the same sex was legalized in Spain but a century ago two women deceived everybody and got married in a Catholic Church. This is the true story of Marcela and Elisa.

Marcela (left) and Elisa (right)

Marcela Gracia y Elisa Sánchez met each other in 1880 while they were studying to become teachers in A Coruña. Marcela was just 18 and Elisa was four years older. Their friendship slowly turned into something deeper. They fell in love. Marcela’s family found out and decided to send her to Madrid so she could continue her studies and forget about Elisa. However, as soon as she graduated, she came back to A Coruña and reunited with Elisa when they both started to teach at the same school in a rural area.

Marcela Gracia

The Plot

Years later they decided to come up with a plan to get married. Elisa leaves for a while and comes back as a man, Mario Sanchez. They came up with a story in which Mario spent his younger years in London and he is now back in his hometown. They start going out in public as a couple and on June 8, 1901, they get married in San Jorge’s church in A Coruña.

San Jorge’s Church in A Coruña

Exposed, Arrested And Fleeing

But, when they went back to the small village where they both worked, neighbors became suspicious and days later the local newspapers made this headline: “A Marriage without a Man”.

The couple was exposed and harassed by the press, they lost their jobs, were excomulgated and were issued an arrest warrant by authorities. They were able to flee to Portugal where Elisa would keep her male identity but changed her name to Pepe. They lived as a married couple for two months until August 18, when they are arrested and sent to jail. The Portuguese press covers the story and takes sides with the couple so they are released from prison days later. Despite of this support, Spain requests extradition and the Portuguese government accepts. Before the extradition takes place and with the help of some supporters they are able to flee again, this time to Argentina.

Marcela and Elisa in Oporto, Portugal

A New Life Full Of Surprises

New life, new identity. Elisa (Mario/Pepe) is the first to arrive in Argentina calling herself Maria. Soon after comes Marcela, now called Carmen with a baby, her daughter, who was born in Portugal on January 6.

But, who was that girl that was born six months after the marriage?

There are two different hypothesis:

  1.  The first explanation was given by Elisa in an interview with the Portuguese press. According to her, Marcela got pregnant by a young man who refused to accept paternity so Elisa came up with the marriage plot to help Marcela with the pregnancy.
  2. The second has no evidence to back it up but it may be that they loved each other so much that Marcela got pregnant so they could both be parents.

A New Twist

Soon after they are both settled in Buenos Aires their story takes another turn. Elisa (Mario/Pepe/Maria) marries a man 20 years her senior. The marriage does not end well as she refuses to have sexual relationships with her husband and he files for divorce. What did Elisa do after her failed marriage? What happened to Marcela and her daughter? All clues about their lives end here but their story keep fascinating readers. There are several books and a movie about these mysterious women.


Ivan Fernandez Amil

Pablo Esparza

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