in the beginning
Cathy and Leah
Who: Cathy Renna, thirty-eight, and Leah McElrath, thirty-nine.
When: Saturday, November 22, 2003.
Where: Seaman's Church Institute, New York City. Eighty guests for a sunset family-style dinner
at the institute. A southern-Italian combination of steak, chicken, and pasta platters.
The Sound of Music: Pop singer Randi Driscoll performed. "She's a little like Sarah McLachlan,
but not as depressing," says Cathy.
The Sound of Silence: No DJ. "We didn't want someone announcing the couple," says Cathy.
First Dance: "You Are So Beautiful."
The Way They Wore: Leah wore a custom-made cream-colored dress, which Cathy didn't see until the day of the wedding. Cathy wore a cream-colored tux jacket with black slacks.
In Attendance: Cathy's sister and Leah's stepfather did readings.
Noticeably Absent: Maids of honor, bridesmaids, flower girl, ushers.
Holy Matrimony: The officiant is an elder with the Church of Christ in Washington, as well as an
ordained Southern Baptist minister.
Holy Surprise! He's also gay.
What They Overcame: Convincing Cathy's mother it was a real wedding. "As much as she loves Leah, when it came to a wedding she had to gradually accept it. Once she got involved with the planning, she started to come around. Then she turned into the typical Long Island Italian mother and wondered if we paid the caterer in cash, if we'd get a discount."
Afterglow: A simple Sunday brunch with close friends.
Honeymoon G-Spot: Two weeks at a beach house in Provincetown, dog in tow.
Parting Words: "The wedding wasn't political," Cathy says. "It was along the lines of Quaker
thinking, the idea that you ask for support from your community."
Chances are, there will be many different kinds of people picking up this book. Some of you will have, no doubt, already found the love of your life, and have just decided to cement your relationship with a gay wedding ceremony. Others will be somewhere in the midst of planning when you come to the realization that you need a little help along the way. There might even be dreamers among you, those of you who have either recently come out or are still struggling with your sexual identity, but know that a "marriage," legal or otherwise, is part of your life plan, like a house in the suburbs, two children, and a dog. Among you there might even be a parent, brother, or best friend of a gay man or woman who hopes that this book will make an honest, committed partner out of your gay or lesbian loved one. Finally, this book is for all of you, with love at heart and an open mind.
In a world that is not always so kind, we want to create something that is, above all, honest and positive. It's our goal to help you through the stages of what will, undoubtedly, be one of the most memorable times of your life. As you follow your heart on the way to wedded bliss, you'll be spreading positive energy throughout the world. Embrace yourselves, embrace your love, and enjoy the ride.
Let's get something, um, straight, right away. We're not going to tell you that relationships are perfect, or that getting married means you're headed for utopia. Which means, for starters, that we're assuming those of you planning a wedding have already slept with your partners. If you haven't, for God's sake put this book down and get to it. Just like you don't buy the car before taking it on a test drive, you never say "I do" until you can say "We've done it." And even if your union brings you memories to last a lifetime, that doesn't necessarily mean you'll spend the rest of your lives together. Sadly, 50 percent of heterosexual marriages end in divorce, and there's no indication that this statistic is going to change anytime soon. There's also no magical statistic we can give you to reassure you that the percentages will be any different for homosexual unions. And though much progress has been made in the past few decades-progress that needs to be celebrated and cherished every day-you'd be unwise to believe that, by having a wedding, homophobia will erase itself from the world, that those friends and relatives who haven't spoken to you since you announced you were gay will finally come around, or that you'll never again be discriminated against, be called a dirty name, or deal with any of the myriad other obstacles homosexuals face.
The good news is that, since you've made this decision knowing all of the above-it's highly unlikely you've decided to merge your lives because one of you is "in trouble"-you're making this decision because you're in love and truly do want to spend the rest of your lives together. This is not only the strongest argument for the support of legalized same-sex marriage, it's also the biggest reason why you should feel proud about planning a ceremony with friends and relatives. In one of the twenty-first century's first phenomena, gay men and women are becoming the New Romantics, the true pioneers in the next generation of married life.
So, Why a Wedding in the First Place?
Yes, you're in love, but why should that encourage you to celebrate with a wedding? Same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in the United States, and you probably already live with your partner. Assuming you invite more than two people to the ceremony, and serve something other than pigs-in-a-blanket and beer, you're going to be spending a lot of money on this event. You're also going to have to deal with most of the headaches that "real" marriage planning involves. Besides, it's not as if Tiffany's will lock you out unless you sport wedding bands, or Sandals is on the verge of allowing same-sex couples to honeymoon at its Caribbean resorts. Finally, why on earth would you want to join a club that has, since the beginning of time, refused to have you as a member?
At first glance, it looks as if you're getting none of the perks and all of the pain. Yet judging by the numbers of same-sex ceremony notices in newspapers these days, the commitment ceremonies that have been recorded since Vermont passed a civil-union bill in 2000, and the remarkable dash-to-the-courthouse elopements in San Francisco, a heck of a lot of you want to get hitched.
The answers are more conventional than stereotypical views of gays and lesbians would lead you to believe.
Of all the couples we interviewed for this book, there were two answers
to the question "Why a wedding?" that sprang up most consistently. The
first was that a ceremony affirmed the relationship to family and friends;
you were publicly identified as life partners who would be there for each other in sickness and health. We heard reports from couples that, after their ceremony, their immediate families started treating their unions as "marriages," by, for example, including partners in holidays and other major events they might not otherwise have been invited to. Some couples told me that their spouses were now asked to attend office parties and company picnics. There were even stories of no longer dealing with annoying "water cooler" chatter like, "So when are you going to finally settle down?" (even though the ones they were "settled down with" were already known to everyone at the office). Marriage ceremonies, legal or otherwise, legitimize relationships in the eyes
of those whom many believe are the most important critics of all, friends
The second answer that came up most was children. Gay men and women around the country expressed the notion that if they solidified their relationship with a ceremony, their children, current or planned for, natural or adopted, would feel more like they were part of a traditional or "real" family. That ring on your finger or that blessing from a rabbi holds an incredible amount of sway when starting a family of your own. Guys have told me that, after a ceremony, their children felt more comfortable calling each partner "Dad." The same goes for women, who are much more likely to be in a situation where one partner already has kids from a previous marriage. Once a "marriage" is celebrated, the children feel much more comfortable calling their new mother "Mom." Having a wedding celebration will not solve all of your domestic issues-children will undoubtedly face those times in their lives when other kids ask why "Suzie has two moms"-but it's certainly a step in the right direction.
There's another reason, however, that we suspect more and more gay
couples are deciding to wed. Traditionally, men and women are taught at
a very young age that, someday, they'll meet the man or woman of their dreams, fall madly in love, get married, and have a family. This ideal isn't
just a theory; it's expected. When parents and teachers and friends and relatives speak of this future, they speak of it in wondrous terms, the "rock" on which society rests and, most important, the single most critical criterion for becoming an adult.
So when these same children realize and accept that they are gay, many are torn not just by the immediate challenges-coming out, facing prejudice-but also by the other obstacles to fitting in that they will have to face. For many, this starts as early as high school, when other kids are dreaming about that first kiss, cheerleading and football practice, and the prom-all rites of passage in high school. True, many of you did participate in those activities, but most likely under the guise of a "normal" student. In other words, if you wanted to be a contributing member of society, you had to lie.
Marriage isn't all that different. While college tends to be a bit easier for gay men and women to cope with, not to mention a time to experiment-images of frat guys waking up with each other after beer blasts, and sorority sisters French-kissing as "practice" abound in coming-out stories-postgraduation life focuses more on the prospect of commitment. It's often the first time
gays and lesbians have to come to terms with their sexuality on every level. Sadly, the desire to marry, to have children, and to be offered what has been, indeed, promised to them keeps many men and women in the closet for
years. They often get married, have children, and keep their true sexuality hidden from their spouses, their families, and, to the extent that it's possible, themselves.
Gay weddings, and, if and when it becomes legal, gay marriages, are the first step toward allowing homosexuals the opportunity to lead "traditional lives." One of the most ironic things about the gay-marriage controversy is that this so-called scandalous and radical movement is, for many gay couples, a desire to be anything but scandalous and radical. Furthermore, the most outspoken opponents of same-sex unions are the same people who generally label homosexuals "degenerates" or "perverts," and who never tire of stereotyping gay men and women as promiscuous beings whose only goal in life is to have as many sex partners as possible. Gay men and women who seek commitment ceremonies, whether through civil unions, domestic partnerships, or just a walk down the aisle, simply want what they are entitled to-a husband, a wife, a home, a family. And they're on their way.
Dreams Really Do Come True
And they lived happily ever after is one of those expressions we've all heard since childhood. It's associated with the princes and princesses in those wonderful fairy tales where, after a long series of trials and tribulations, the couple finally unite for all eternity, with a castle for a home and birds chirping around their heads.
While this certainly describes Gay Day at Disneyland, to a certain extent it probably describes the two of you. You've made the commitment to have a wedding, you want to spend the rest of your lives together, and you've been through your own trials and tribulations, fights and doubts, perhaps even a breakup or two.
However well intentioned those fairy-tale notions are, they've left out the details. In short, you have to have a plan. One of the things most couples, gay or straight, realize after deciding to wed is that they have no idea how to proceed. They're aware that they have to pick a date and location, and they know they have to figure out who's coming, and that guests will probably expect something to eat and drink. As the wedding planning begins, however, a
million other questions start swirling around their heads. Should it be a big
ceremony? When do we book a caterer? How do we go about writing the invitations?
Since you're a gay couple venturing into uncharted territory, it's likely that you've got even more questions, and fewer resources to turn to. Who leads during the first dance? Who makes the first toast? Do your lesbian attendants have to wear dresses, even if, for some of them, it will be the first time they've worn a gown since the high school prom (ironically, the same night they realized they were lesbians)?
Not to worry: What everyone has in common while planning a wedding is that, no matter what route they go, whether a traditional church wedding with two hundred guests or a backyard bash with only twenty close friends, is that they want to do it right. They want to make sure everyone has a good time, and that they understand the proper etiquette so that no one is offended. Most important, they want it to be a beautiful affair that everyone, not just the two of them, remembers for years to come.
All these issues will be addressed in the upcoming chapters. What's important to know now, is that while planning might seem mind-blowing at first, you'll discover that if you stick to a schedule and devote a certain amount of time each day to your ceremony, you'll do just fine. And even though there seem to be ten million bridal magazines at your local bookstore, not to mention zillions of websites, it's really the meat and potatoes that you need to understand, and that is what this book is all about. Mainstream bridal books can be extremely helpful, and even gay people look at them for ideas. However, you should know that, while who leads the recessional at a Protestant ceremony as opposed to a Jewish affair might take up an entire chapter in a traditional wedding book, it's very unlikely the issue will be as imperative in a gay wedding. Also, many women who read bridal publications are doing so mainly to look at the ad pages for wedding-dress ideas, as opposed to the wedding tips inside.
Excerpted from Gay and Lesbian Weddings by David Toussaint with Heather Leo. Copyright © 2004 by David Toussaint with Heather Leo. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.