Which Traditions to Keep?


Most of us have been to a bunch of straight weddings and now that you're planning your own gay wedding, it seems obvious to look to those straight weddings for inspiration. After all, it's what we grew up knowing.  I've been talking to a bunch of couples lately who are struggling with what traditions to keep and what to ditch when planning their own wedding.  

Let's start by examining some of the traditions we've seen over the years:

...couple doesn't see each other before the ceremony, an often religious ceremony, photos during cocktail hour, a long break between the ceremony and reception, the wedding party introduction, the first dance, father-daughter dance, mother-son dance, dinner, toasts, dancing, line dances, garter toss, bouquet toss, cake cutting, yadda yadda yadda...maybe a Horah for good measure...

I've planned hundreds of gay weddings and I can tell you that we skip a bunch of these things!! SOMETIMES my couples will do a first dance and cake cutting, but that's about it! If parent dances happen, they typically happen spontaneously, rather than to a specific song. Formal photos typically happen before the ceremony.

As far as I'm concerned (and most of my clients agree), when it comes to these elements, turn them on their head! Why introduce the wedding party? It's your day and you may not even have a wedding party. Why do photos during cocktail hour when you can enjoy a cocktail with your closest friends and family?

And if you really want to be traditional, consider some Gay Wedding Traditions - yes, there are some!

What traditions are you keeping and what are you ditching?

(photo by Kat Hempel)

Traditionally, At a Gay Wedding

When I'm asked by a reporter, a prospective client, a curious acquaintance, or a stranger at a cocktail party, "What's the difference between a straight wedding and a gay wedding?", my response begins with, "Well, traditionally, at a gay wedding..."

That's right - there are gay wedding traditions, mostly at the ceremony.  Let me explain further.

There's a strong and palpable feeling of triumph and celebration at gay weddings.  But before that feeling actually sets in, many of the guests who have never before attended a gay wedding simply don't know what to expect.  So the guests start out with a great deal of anticipation, are a little nervous, excited, curious.  We like to help them relax.  Traditionally, at a gay wedding, guests are greeted before the ceremony with champagne and sparkling water.  This can last for 5-30 minutes before the ceremony begins and sets the tone of something a little bit different but definitely celebratory and fun.

Then comes the processional...and not your typical Wedding March, the Bridal Chorus or Trumpet Voluntary with a massive wedding party.  Traditionally, if there is a central aisle, the couple walks in together holding hands.  If there is no central aisle (often), the couple walks in from two different directions each accompanied by their family and/or wedding party, and meets in the middle.  And the music?  How about "All You Need is Love", "Ribbon in the Sky" or another contemporary piece with meaning to the couple?  Sometimes this piece is played live and sometimes it's the recorded version of the song.  Our processional is "Your Precious Love" by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

example of a Foundation Covenant, designed by
Modern Ketubah

Following the processional, the guests remain standing, champagne in hand, for the opening remarks and tradition of "Validation & Affirmation" - which is essentially a brief introductory blessing/toast.  Then the guests sit and the ceremony proceeds as you might expect but with often a bit more emphasis on the history of the couple.

Later in the ceremony, after the vows are exchanged, the officiant asks the couple to sign the Foundation Covenant.  This document is inspired by the ketubah, Quaker wedding certificate and other sacred documents and is an art piece that the couple, and later the guests sign.  We work with two producers of Foundation Covenants - custom and modern art pieces.

The couple then recesses out to a contemporary/pop song and take some time alone (no receiving line), adapted from the Jewish tradition of the yichud, while the guests sign the Foundation Covenant as witnesses to the marriage.  The Covenant is often later framed as art (and conveniently can serve as a guest book.)

If it sounds like gay weddings are fun, it's because they are!  I seriously hear from a guest at almost every wedding I plan that "this is the best wedding I've ever been to."  Have you seen anything especially fun or outside the box at a gay wedding ceremony? 



Top 5 Ceremony Readings for Gay Weddings

I say this all the time, but my favorite part of gay weddings is the ceremony.  We've fought for the right to legally marry, and the ceremony is the chance to truly celebrate that, in a personal and meaningful way.  Many same-sex couples travel to New York for gay weddings and I hope they take the care to craft a beautiful ceremony which brings out the waterworks in friends and family.  If you're looking for someone to help with that, hire a Celebrant to write the script for you and officiate! 

Here are the top five most commonly read readings at gay weddings in Boston, New York and throughout New England, based on my experience witnessing hundreds of gay wedding ceremonies:

5.  An excerpt from the Judge Vaughn Walker ruling which was the first judge to overturn Proposition 8:

“Marriage is the state recognition and approval of a couple’s choice to live with each other, to remain committed to one another and to form a household based on their own feelings about one another and to join in an economic partnership and support one another and any dependents. ...

The right to marry has been historically and remains the right to choose a spouse and, with mutual consent, join together and form a household. Race and gender restrictions shaped marriage during eras of race and gender inequality, but such restrictions were never part of the historical core of the institution of marriage. Today, gender is not relevant to the state in determining spouses’ obligations to each other and to their dependents. Relative gender composition aside, same-sex couples are situated identically to opposite-sex couples in terms of their ability to perform the rights and obligations of marriage under California law. Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals…  

They seek the mutual obligation and honor that attend marriage… seek recognition from the state that their union is ‘a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred.’”  

4.  From Touched by an Angel, by Maya Angelou:

 We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love's light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

3.  Excerpt from Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman, our celebrated gay writer:

The day when I arose at dawn from the bed of perfect
health, refresh’d, singing, inhaling the ripe sweet breath of autumn,
When I saw the full moon in the west grow pale and
disappear in the morning light,
And when I wander’d alone over the beach, and undressing bathed,
laughing with the cool waters, and saw the sun rise,
And when I thought how my dear friend my lover was on
his way coming, O then I was happy,
O then each breath tasted sweeter, and all that day my food
Nourish’d me more, and the beautiful day pass’d well,
And the next came with equal joy, and with the next at evening came my friend,
And that night while all was still I heard the waters roll slowly continually up the shores,
I heard the hissing rustle of the liquid and sands as directed to me 
whispering to congratulate me,
For the one I love most lay sleeping by me under the same cover in the cool night,
In the stillness in the autumn moonbeams his face was inclined toward me, 
And his arm lay lightly over my breast – and that night I was happy.



2.  The Art of Marriage, author unknown

 A good marriage must be created.

In the art of marriage the little things are the big things –-
It is never being too old to hold hands.
It is remembering to say ‘I love you’ at least once each day.
It is never going to sleep angry.
It is having a mutual sense of values and common objectives.
It is standing together facing the world.
It is forming a circle of love that gathers in the whole family.
It is speaking words of appreciation and demonstrating gratitude in thoughtful ways.
It is having the capacity to forgive and forget.
It is giving each other an atmosphere in which each can grow.
It is finding room for the things of the spirit.
It is a common search for the good and the beautiful.
It is not only marrying the right partner –-
It is being the right partner.

1.  Excerpt from the Goodridge v The Massachusetts Department of Public Health ruling (written by Judge Margaret Marshall) that first legalized gay marriage in Massachusetts: 

Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations....Without question, civil marriage enhances the "welfare of the community." It is a "social institution of the highest importance." ...

Marriage also bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family.... Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life's momentous acts of self-definition.

What readings are you having at your gay wedding ceremony?

Scouting the Field - Great Venues in NYC for a Gay Wedding

We were thrilled to be asked by Next Magazine to give the rundown of some amazing locations in New York City for gay weddings.  Gay wedding planning in New York is super fun in the right venue...check out this article to read more about my top picks.

PS - one of our clients was in the same issue, for the engagement story.  Read about Brian and Toby's engagement here.

Crafting the Perfect Toast for a Same-Sex Wedding

My friend Fiona posted to Facebook this morning that she's been asked to give a toast on Saturday at her friend's gay wedding. She was looking for words of wisdom and inspiration.  She asked questions like "What do you think love is?" and "What would you say at a marriage toast?"

Great questions!  My only rules for toasts are:  1) don't have more than 4 people toast (2-3 is even better); 2) remind them to keep the toast under 3 minutes; and 3) ask people in advance lest there be an accidental "open mic"!

So, back to my friend Fiona - she received some good suggestions including:

  • "To love and be loved right back is the most precious thing in your life"

  • the Hugh Grant's toast from Four Weddings and a Funeral, in particular, I like when he speaks of his awe and wondrous disbelief at two people finding someone to love for the rest of their lives when the world seems bent against it happening.

  • part of the Goodridge case that legalized equal marriage in Massachusetts. There is an incredibly beautiful part about what marriage really is about.

  • "When the roaring flames of your love have burned down to embers, may you find that you've married your best friend."

I've been asked to give several toasts at friends wedding and I've always enjoyed it...my MO is to say great (but funny) things about each partners as individuals, then great (but funny) things about them as a couple, then kind and sweet well wishes.  And keep it under 3 minutes!

What would you say if asked to give a speech at a friend's same-sex wedding?

Gorgeous Invitations by Ladyfingers Letterpress

We work very hard to cultivate a curated list of wedding professionals with whom to partner.  Among other things, we expect them to deliver innovative work in a timely, professional manner, and be strong supporters of LGBT rights.  Ladyfingers Letterpress is one of our favorite companies.  This Rhode Island-based company is owned by a married lesbian couple who consistently go above and beyond for our clients.  When the boxes arrived on Saturday with invitations for two of our upcoming weddings, I was totally blown away.  They even sourced leather pouches, painted the edges and printed on it for a truly spectacular result.  

PS - the Ladies even designed our 14 Stories business cards and did our website redesign (which is kind of a secret because they try to stay away from web stuff, but we have such a good relationship with them, that they agreed). 

Check out these stunning invitations below!

Gay Weddings at the National Cathedral

I grew up Catholic, and I'll never forget what happened the first time I went to Mass after I came out. I was home from college for Thanksgiving and the priest stood at the front of the church and told the parishioners not to let their children attend an upcoming workshop on HIV prevention put on by the high school because it "condoned homosexuality." I walked out and never went back (except for some weddings and funerals), and it's been nearly 20 years. 

Unfortunately little has since changed with the Catholics. Many people see the Episcopal Church as the closest thing there is to the Catholic Church. Which is why their increasingly progressive stance on same-sex marriage gives me hope. This week, the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. announced that same-sex marriage ceremonies could be performed there. The National Cathedral is the second largest Cathedral in the country and dubbed by Congress as the "National House of Prayer." It's a symbol of Christian faith in America. And now it lets the gays marry. 

 If that's not a step towards equality, I don't know what is. What a year it's been. 

I have worked with hundreds of same-sex couples, many of whom, like me, are "recovering Catholics." We all seem to have some baggage. There's something so powerful about the rituals we grew up with, the Sunday rituals where we know when to sit, when to stand, what to recite, what to sing. And when rejected by that institution, it's a little bit debilitating for many of us. I've planned very very few same-sex weddings in churches, but those are absolutely amongst the most emotional ones for me. 

I'm hopeful this move by the National Cathedral will cause many other dioceses to follow suit. The Episcopal Church has become increasingly progressive in the U.S. and is the largest U.S. denomination to support same-sex marriage. We all know Bishop Robinson was named the first openly gay Bishop of an Episcopal diocese in the U.S. when he was named New Hampshire Bishop in 2003. Several other dioceses in New England have permitted same-sex marriage for a few years now. And last year, the Church itself said that priests could bless same-sex relationships - not the same as marriage but we'll take it. 

 But until this week, the National Cathedral remained silent. But when they spoke, they spoke with eloquence and inspiration, "We enthusiastically affirm each person as a beloved child of God--and doing so means including the full participation of gays and lesbians in the life of this spiritual home for the nation." Amen to that.

Jason and Dimitri's New York City Gay Wedding

The week of Hurricane Sandy was one of my most professionally challenging weeks.  We had worked very hard for six months on an extraordinary New York City gay wedding for two amazing men, Jason and Dimitri.  We were in the home stretch, the last week of the wedding, when we all heard that Hurricane Sandy was going to be serious business.

I'm generally a pretty optimistic person so I was confident that the hurricane wouldn't impact our wedding, set to be on the 14th and 21st floor of the Chelsea Arts Tower, in a beautiful space called Glass Houses.  But like many people, I was surprised by the magnitude of Sandy's impact.  Glass Houses was fine, except for some flooding in the basement, but what we learned on Tuesday was that the power was out.  With a wedding on Saturday we didn't know when the power was going to return.  

Jason and Dimitri had many guests from out of town and also plans for a two week honeymoon in Brazil two days after the wedding.  Rescheduling the wedding would have been very difficult so we agreed to explore some alternate venues.  I presented some office space and a few cool raw spaces as backup options.  Unfortunately one of the raw spaces was over the bridge in Long Island City and the other was cost-prohibitive.  The bridge was daunting given the traffic that week and with subways in rough shape, we were looking at one option:  a pretty ugly office space.  

The cost of that was also quite high (about $20,000) so Jason decided to ask whether his law firm's conference floor was available...it was and I orchestrated the move from Glass Houses to a Midtown Manhattan office building.

We were very fortunate that all of the fabulous wedding vendors we'd hire were still available and committed to Jason and Dimitri.  The photographer's parents lost their house and were out of town, so she was personally dealing with that, but still made it to the wedding.  The DJ had no power and no gas in his car but he made it.  The bartenders' bar was literally under water but they made it.  The floral designer's warehouse was without power and inaccessible.  And on and on...I was so impressed by the efforts of this amazing team.

And the wedding itself?  It was great!  We beautified an office space with tons of uplights and pipe and drape.  We added a beautiful white dance floor, great lounge furniture - and you'd never know we were in an office building. 

I was so impressed not only by the vendors but that most of the guests were also able to make it.  We had a few drop-outs because of travel issues or hurricane damage but overall, most guests came.

The Huffington Post also tells this story with an interview with the grooms.

What do you think?

Special thanks to the amazing team:

And if you'd like to help with Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, please click here to visit Occupy Sandy.

How to Get Married in Maine, Maryland and Washington

Now that marriage equality is the law in Maryland, Maine and Washington, here's the rundown on how to get married (note:  you must be 18).  Now, go gay weddings!!!

Maryland

  • First date to apply:  January 2, 2013
  • Waiting Period: 48 hours after license is issued
  • Witnesses:  None
  • Blood Test:  None
  • Divorce Decree Required:  Yes
  • Fee:  $35 and up
  • Where to Apply:  Circuit Court's office in the county in which you plan to marry

Maine

  • First date to apply:  December 6, 2012
  • Waiting Period:  None
  • Witnesses:  None
  • Blood Test:  None
  • Divorce Decree Required:  Yes
  • Fee:  $20
  • Where to Apply:  Town hall where one of the residents live, or if an out of state couple, any town hall.

Washington

  • First date to apply:  December 6, 2012
  • Waiting Period: 3 days after license is issued
  • Witnesses:  2
  • Blood Test:  None
  • Divorce Decree Required:  No
  • Fee:  $35 and up
  • Where to Apply:  County Auditor's office

Wedding Entertainment Can Take Many Forms

Not long ago, I blogged that gay weddings should never be boring.  Those grooms I was referring to in that post came back to me a few weeks later and announced that they had an idea for wedding entertainment.

Turns out that one of their guests was Yuri Lane, a world-renowned beat-box artist and husband of their friend, Rachel, the officiant.  Yuri provided about 5 minutes of entertainment in the form of a beat-box toast to the grooms referencing their jobs, their dogs, the wedding location (Provincetown) and all sorts of inspired elements.  

Yuri was incredible, deeply memorable, hilarious and brilliant.  I'm sure the wedding guests are still talking about this very unique form of entertainment. All it takes is 5 minutes to get everyone together, build a memory, then fill the dance floor back up for the rest of the night.  It's great advice for not just a gay wedding, but any wedding!

Here he is, doing his thing: