Get Me to the Church on Time
Most of us settled into our relationships, homes and lives long ago and in most cases are already well-established; having done so without the legal status afforded others. We built our families, celebrated new traditions and made our commitments. Though not recognized by the state, they were just as strong, if not stronger. Some of us did it with our birth families, others with families chosen, but no doubt filled with just as much love and no less promise.
What an amazing opportunity we have right now, a chance to celebrate and commit anew! We have once again achieved legal status in California, so painfully lost back in 2008 - a moment in time that left many LGBT citizens feeling betrayed and disheartened.
[The Supreme Court’s striking down of key portions of DOMA also mean that married couples around the nation may now participate in the benefits and protections of marriage at the federal level -- something explicitly denied same-sex families since the law was passed by Congress in 1996.]
That was then and this is now... and I think I hear the happy sound of sweet bells ringing. Who’d have thought we would get so excited about something so "straight?"
That’s just it though, it’s a delightful tradition and a chance to celebrate with the ones and the one you love. What you might ask do I love most about it? That we can do what we have always done best: Create our own rules...
LGBTQIA2s, IT’S TIME TO PLAN YOUR WEDDING!
I contacted one of the country’s leading experts on LGBT weddings, Bernadette Coveney Smith for advice. She’s a delightful, married lesbian with an amazing business sense (her company 14 Stories is booming) and a ton of information on how to make your nuptials the best for you and yours.
She recommended starting at least nine months in advance, but also acknowledged, "Of course that’s usually not what happens, but that’s best case scenario." She mentioned that the main challenge when dealing with shorter time frames are the locations, "I’m sure planning in California has a strong sense of urgency, so probably in the coming months there will be many Friday and Sunday weddings, since the more popular Saturdays will be booked at most popular wedding venues."
First and foremost she recommended the following: And these were absolutes. "Whether you’re straight or gay, the most important thing is that your wedding reflect your own personal style."
SMITH’S THREE MAIN RULES FOR SUCCESS
1. Absolutely do what you want. It’s your wedding, it’s your style, your personality, let that be your only guide.
2. Don’t let mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, BFFs, GBFs or anybody else, impose their ideas of what a wedding should be onto you.
3. Only hire people who you trust. Try to support LGBT resources if you can and build a strong relationship with them.
I asked her to describe the biggest differences between LGBT weddings and their straight counterparts, "Certainly gender roles are different for one thing, or actually the lack thereof. Straight ceremonies rely heavily on traditional gender roles that are very clearly defined. This is not necessarily true for LGBT couples, in many cases there isn’t any emphasis on that whatsoever. It’s really changed the way we think about ceremonies; things like who walks down the aisle first, how do we do portraits, do they see each other before the ceremony or perhaps they even get dressed together, things like that. We get to think about all those straight traditions and re-examine - which is fun - or at least it should be!"
Gender roles are especially unique for the T portion in the LGBT and the ceremonies reflect that. Smith shared this, "A transgendered person might follow more of a straight wedding tradition, or a queer wedding, or anywhere inbetween. It gives us this incredible opportunity for enormous creativity and permission to be unique because there are no rules."
When it comes to customs, it seems that gender roles are not the only thing that has changed. The whole concept of how a ceremony works is being re-thought, I asked Coveney Smith what some of her most common observations were on this topic. "In the ten years that I have been doing this, there are enough things that I have seen happening in ceremonies so consistently, that I would absolutely consider them the beginnings of gay wedding traditions." She shared more examples: "Things like offering guests a glass of Champagne or cocktail as they arrive, just before the ceremony begins, which helps to take the edge off. It lets everyone know that it’s intended absolutely as a celebration. If we can set that tone early and can get everyone’s emotions heightened during the ceremony, there is a greater sense of release at the reception. It gives everyone all that much more of a reason to celebrate.
"Another is the use of two aisles instead of the single center version, with the couple walking down at the same time. Having the more formal portraits done before the ceremony, using a sign up board instead of the traditional guest book, a place guests can express their love and support, something framable once the ceremony is over."
We discussed the significance of what it means to get married and what couples can do to make sure that the event is special and those things to watch out for.
"People get so totally focused on the party after, they tend to overlook the ceremony. In my opinion, every same-sex marriage is a historic event. They are still relatively rare and should be a commemoration. This is especially true when compared to the number of straight weddings held every year, about 2.5 million as compared to less than 20,000 LGBT ceremonies." She continued, making this point: "I really love it when same-sex couples put a great deal of thought into the ceremony and don’t treat it as an afterthought. It is my belief that the more powerful and meaningful the ceremony is, how much thought is put into it, the more wonderful the reception will be after."
Another topic of great concern, is how to choose an officiant for the ceremony. With so many challenges regarding religious affiliations (or lack of for that matter), it can be very confounding. Smith’s thoughts on this were clear and heartfelt. "When a couple wants a meaningful ceremony and are not religious, or are perhaps are an interfaith couple, I generally direct them to what is called a celebrant." This is someone who is professionally-trained to handle unique situations, "they are essentially non-denominational ministers who have been trained in world cultures, different and various rites of passage; not just western-style marriage, well beyond that." Smith explained further, "Their job is really about telling the story of the couple for the wedding and to the guests. Integrating the personal background of each and what ever cultural traditions they choose to incorporate. It’s wonderful because no two celebrant’s weddings are ever alike."
Religion is a topic that many LGBT couples grapple with, particularly when it comes to families who are not supportive because of it. "I have had more experience with that than I wish I could say I’ve had. Unfortunately it comes with the territory." I happen to mention that I participated in a ceremony in which the mother of one of the brides was very difficult, very hostile. After long discussions, they actually asked her to stay away if she couldn’t be supportive."
Unfortunately for her she did; luckily however her father was much more loving. Bernadette agreed with her choices whole-heartedly, "The wedding should be about the people getting married. When there is stress about a certain family member or a guest, it takes them out of the moment and that’s just not right. You don’t want to look back on your day and have memories of discomfort and difficulty." I loved this next part she shared: "I feel that it’s my job to protect the people that I am planning for, it is part of making it a special event for the couple, who should be the focus, not the unsupportive parent or whomever it might be. It’s just not worth it."
I asked Bernadette to tell The Rage Monthly readers her favorite wedding story and this is what she shared: "My favorite is about my former clients, one of whom was a M to F transgender woman. She ’came out’ when she was about 50 years old and then transitioned. She was married to a woman during the process and her wife stood by her through the whole thing - sadly, she ended up dying of cancer later. After a time she began dating again, met a woman online and fell in love. She came to me and asked me to ’help her become the bride she had always wanted to be’ - it moved me to tears. It was just so touching because she was so nervous, she didn’t know anything about what she wanted or what the roles should be."
The delightful story continued: "Things like shopping for her wedding dress made her so anxious; her shoulders were too wide, her hips too small, her hair wasn’t right... and she was so afraid of discrimination. It ended up being one of the most powerful experiences for me as a planner because it changed my perceptions on gender." Smith continued, "When it came time for the wedding itself, each of the women were walked down they aisle by their fathers who were probably in their 80s. Seeing these women both in their 50s, come down the aisle with them, with the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus singing, during a transgender, lesbian wedding - in a church by the way - was mind-blowing and amazing."
What a marvelous picture that story paints, leaving us with a perfect representation of how beautiful any wedding can be, no matter with whom, no matter where, no matter how... all you really need is love.
Bernadette Coveney Smith has been featured on BBC, CNN, National Public Radio, the Today Show and in the New York Times, Washington Post, Travel and Leisure, among others. She authored the book "Gay Wedding Confidential" and also developed the first gay wedding planning app for iPhone and Android. Her latest book, "The Lesbian Couple’s Guide to Wedding Planning" is due out soon. She regularly speaks about gay weddings around the country. For more information on her schedule or to get a consultation, go to her website at 14stories.com
WEDDING PLANNING IN 15 STEPS, BY BERNADETTE COVENEY SMITH
1. Figure out if you are having attendants. Make your guest list, stick to it and create guest list rules. Things like; are kids, co-workers or exes invited?
2. Figure out how much you can afford to spend and where the money is going to come from. Then revisit the guest list and trim if necessary.
3. Have a conversation with your partner about non-negotiables that each of you may have about your overall wedding vision. For someone it may be a beach ceremony. For the other it may be getting married by a rabbi like my brides in the photo above, who wanted both. And so forth. Know each of your non-negotiables.
4. Hire a gay wedding planner to take care of the rest of these steps for you!
5. Find a gay-friendly wedding venue that meets your criteria for non-negotiables, guest count and budget.
6. Shop for your wedding outfits and for your wedding party, when applicable. Coveney Smith has a great line of non-traditional tuxedos for women at fourteenstyle.com
7. Block hotel rooms near your wedding for out of town guests.
8. Make a wedding website and send out "save the date" cards.
9. Hire gay-friendly wedding professionals who only do one wedding per day (photographer, officiant, band, DJ, etc).
10. Spend time thinking about colors, themes, design, layout, flow, personal details like favors, etc.
11. Hire more gay-friendly wedding professionals who do more than one wedding per day (florist, cake maker, caterer etc.).
12. Send out invitations, collect responses and figure out seating.
13. Create a very detailed "wedding day schedule" and get it to everyone hired to be involved with your day.
14. Have a rehearsal!
15. Get married!