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How to plan an absolutely fabulous same-sex wedding

Wednesday, Feb 8 2006
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From locating a gay-friendly rabbi to finding a smokin’ tuxeda for you and your wife-to-be, planning a same-sex wedding can present many hurdles not found in the hetero world. Where to hold the ceremony, for a start. “We had to find some place really private because we don’t want any gawkers,” says Dion Carlo Tretta, an advertising executive living in Silver Lake. Tretta is marrying his longtime boyfriend, Rob Richardson, in May, and as self-appointed wedding planner (“Rob is the typical dude, so I have to take care of all the organizing”), he’s experienced firsthand just how straight-centric the wedding industry can be. For example, most inquiry forms on hotel Web sites specifically ask for the names of a bride and a groom. “I just ended up putting in Groom No. 1 and Groom No. 2,” he shrugs.

And what about those wanting a traditional cake-flowers-and-confetti affair? Where do you find cake toppers with two brides or two grooms? What do you call a bride in a tux — a bridegroom? If you’re two femmes, how do you decide which lady walks down the aisle first? And if the father of the bride is supposed to pay, what happens when there’s no bride, just two grooms? It’s enough to make etiquette heir Peggy Post’s head spin.

Post, great-granddaughter-in-law of the original grande dame of manners, Emily Post, updated recent editions of Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette to include sections on same-sex nuptials. “One of the biggest questions couples ask is what to call the ceremony,” she said. “There are so many options out there.” Voguish terms currently in circulation include “Commitment Ceremony,” “Relationship Covenant” and “Permanent Partnership Ceremony.” But many couples are keeping things simple and going with the traditional “wedding.” As one married lesbian put it: “I consider ‘commitment ceremony’ a kind of Jim Crow term, separate and profoundly unequal. The government may not recognize I had a wedding, but my wife and I do.”

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Yes, lest we forget, gay marriage is still not legal in California. Whereas a straight couple can drive to the Elvis Chapel and be spiritually and legally bound for life in five minutes, the state of California frankly couldn’t give a damn about your elaborately planned gay wedding, how long you’ve been together, or how solemn your vows are. If you get in a car accident and are put on life support, your “spouse” still has no right to make any final decisions.

But Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender (LBGT) couples who want to commit can become “registered domestic partners,” which grants them certain marital benefits, like insurance coverage, and family and bereavement leave. That’s what Lizanne Deliz and Jennifer Underdahl, who live in Los Feliz, did. Deliz, 33, a graphic designer and member of the gay performance troupe The Miracle Whips, and Underdahl, a visual-effects coordinator, have been together for five years. They met, aptly, at a wedding. “I thought it was a one-night stand, and then I started falling in love,” says Deliz. “It was totally dramatic and totally dykey.” She moved to Los Angeles from New York in June 2001 to be with Underdahl and the couple became engaged.

Underdahl had already given Deliz a ring when, in February 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom declared gay marriages legal. They made the pilgrimage north and got in line outside City Hall. “We ran into friends who had been lining up for three days,” remembers Deliz. “We ended up getting married by this woman named Christmas with a peace barrette in her hair.” A few months later, their wedding license, along with 4,000 others, was deemed invalid by the California Supreme Court. Now their status as domestic partners also hangs in the balance; currently in circulation are 12 ballot initiatives aiming to revoke gay couples’ rights to domestic-partnership status in California.

Several states in the U.S. have already gone ahead and outlawed domestic partnership for gay couples. Texas is one of them (the ban took effect in November 2005). But this is where attorney Elissa Barrett and author Zsa Zsa Gershick held their wedding in June 2003. Barrett and Gershick live in North Hollywood but got married in Houston, where Barrett grew up. It was, according to Barrett, the city’s “first society Jewish lesbian wedding,” and quite the topic of conversation among the ladies who lunch. “They were fascinated,” she says. “Were we going to kiss? Were we going to dance together in front of everybody?”

Their wedding was a lavish affair, costing tens of thousands of dollars, with Barrett in a Vera Wang–inspired gown and Gershick looking like a Jewish Fred Astaire in a tux, tails and kippah. “There were lots of lookie-loos hoping for a freak show,” says Barrett. “But people came up to us after, saying, ‘Wow, that was just like a regular wedding!’ I think some of them were expecting us to wear flannel shirts and drive off in a truck or something.”

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