A gay wedding party in Mecca was raided last week by Saudi police after a video of the ceremony went viral.
Footage of the nuptials shows two men dressed in traditional Saudi thobesgarments which resemble long dress shirtsstrolling side-by-side as friends lavish them with confetti. One of the grooms, draped in black, holds an umbrella. His partner, wearing white, is accompanied by a long bridal train.
Police in the holy city claimed on Twitter they were able to identify “the cross-dresser and other people involved in the incident” from the short clip. All members of the wedding party were reportedly arrested in the days following the ceremony.
Authorities have not released the names of those involved or stated how many people are currently in custody. The case is currently being investigated by prosecutors.
The thwarted union is just the most recent strike against gay couples in Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is punishable by death. Although Human Rights Watch reports that the country’s criminal codes don’t enumerate penalties for same-sex relations, the Saudi interpretation of sharia law mandates stoning for those caught engaging in sodomy. Other punishments include flogging, chemical castration, and life in prison.
In 2005, authorities apprehended a reported 110 men at a same-sex ceremony in Jeddah, alleging that the detainees were “behaving like women.”
Two married couples were arrested in Riyadh in 2016 after the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice was tipped off about their nuptials. Local news outlets claimed the four men “held wedding parties attended by other homosexuals” in the capital city. Police subsequently broke into their apartment in a sting operation.
But the government has particularly cracked down on LGBTQ activity in recent years after claiming social media has triggered a wave of homosexuality in the Gulf country. It has threatened the death penalty for anyone coming out online.
In fact, Saudis don’t even have to be LGBTQ to face the wrath of gay panic.
A doctor in Jeddah was arrested in 2016 for hanging a rainbow flag outside his home, despite the fact that he didn’t know the symbol was synonymous with gay Pride. Saudi police arrested a group of heterosexual men at a private party three years ago, claiming that dancing makes people gay. A 14-year-old was taken into custody for dancing the Macarena just last year.
Reaction from the Saudi people to the wedding video, however, was mixed.
One Twitter user took issue with a declaration of gay love in Islam’s holiest city, saying that Muslims must “purge Mecca of this corruption, which stems mainly from foreigners.”
Others felt the ceremony was a sign of the liberalization promised by Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s rise to power. The 23-year-old royal pledged a return to a more “moderate” Islam in an October 2017 speech, one defined by “tolerance” and “kindness.” The country is poised to allow women to drive for the first time in June 2018.
“This is the new Saudi Arabia, under the leadership of Mohammed bin Salman,” one user wrote.