With same-sex marriage now legal in California at both the state and federal level, gay couples are turning their attention to the real challenge: choosing a caterer. And a florist, photographer, videographer, limo service, tuxedo rental, invitation designer, hairstylist, makeup artist and the 1,001 other elements that comprise a 21st-century wedding.
So on a warm Sunday in November, the first Los Angeles Lesbian and Gay Wedding Expo is taking place at the Los Angeles Athletic Club downtown.
People have questions. For one, they are asking wedding planner Michael Habicht about his skills. "They want experience," he says. "If you've only got two years, they don't want to be bothered."
With 15 years in the trenches, Habicht is a wedding veteran. Mainly the ones he's done have been for straight couples, but next year he expects to double the number of gay weddings he'll be planning.
Habicht specializes in details. "Especially with the gay crowd," he says. "They're anal, and they're looking for someone to capture that." Having been denied the opportunity to marry for so long, "They're very focused on what they want. They have a real clear picture." The bride usually takes over in a straight wedding, he says, but gay couples tend to be equally involved in the planning. Imagine two brides. Bridezilla, squared.
The gay men, he finds, have a specific vision. "They want leopard, or red, or whatever. They know the look. The lesbians are more out for the professionalism of it. That it's done just right."
What else? Men have been sheepishly asking bespoke tailor Pedro Rubio if he makes tuxedos only for "the perfect guy."
"No!" he says. "I see many figures. Including people who are outside the box" — big guys, short guys, fat guys. Not just thin guys. Brides aren't the only ones who have a hard time finding something to wear to their wedding. "Have you heard that saying about the guy who wears the favorite shirt until it has holes all over it? That's because men are more about fit than about trends." Rubio tailors suits and tuxedos from the ground up.
"Let's not talk about size," he tells guys. Sometimes he won't even let them see the measuring tape.
Plenty of people stop to chat with ministers Shari Altmark and A. Mauricio Lubong over at the Great Officiants booth. They haven't been asking too many questions, though. Mostly because it is tough to get a word in edgewise.
"Our goal," Altmark says, "is for every guest to leave going, 'Oh my God, that was the most amazing wedding,' instead of, 'Oh my God, another fucking wedding.' "
She and Lubong are warm, funny, sincere, charming and talkative. Out tumbles anecdote after anecdote.
Did you know that the owner of their award-winning company married the first gay couple after the law changed? True story. Or how about the wedding in which the butch lesbian bride got her high heels stuck in the mud when the sprinklers accidentally activated during the ceremony — she ran off without her shoe. Or the one about the disapproving Catholic mother of the lesbian bride. Mom sat in the front row praying her rosary in protest for the entire wedding.
"I just ignored her," Altmark says, rolling her eyes. "She was busy with God."
"Really?" Lubong says. "I would've been, like, 'Honey, you keep those prayers coming. We need them!' "
Gay weddings, both agree, are much more emotional than straight ones. When Altmark asks friends and family to do "a blessing of the rings" — where people reach out and lay their hands on the rings as a symbolic gesture of support — she swears, "There's not a dry eye in the house."
Other attendees are more interested in secular matters. Specifically, cake. At the Cake & Art booth, people have been asking about the groom-groom and bride-bride cake toppers. "Here's the thing about the cake toppers," cake decorator Matthew Richardson says. Back in 2008, when gay marriage became legal for a hot second, companies started manufacturing same-sex cake toppers. Then, when gay marriage became illegal again, production died down. Cake & Art owner Tom Rosa, however, snapped up a bunch of those unwanted toppers on the cheap and subsequently cornered the market on same-sex ceramic figurines, at least for the time being. Everybody has been asking about those today.
People have not, however, been asking about Cake & Art. They already know about it. It's a West Hollywood institution. "They're more, like, 'Heeyy! How are you?' " Richardson says. "Most of our orders are for gay weddings."
Elsewhere, vendors aren't answering questions so much as asking them. Photographer Godofredo Astudillo, who shot the gay-wedding issue for Frontiers magazine, wants to know: Why did nobody answer his call for models when he was casting the issue? His portfolio is strong. He shoots celebrities on a regular basis for TV Guide. Yet, "We got zero submissions," he says, frowning. "Zero." When he needs a model to pose as a serial killer holding two severed heads, he gets 300 submissions. But two lesbians getting married? No takers. "We tried for weeks. We couldn't cast until four days before the shoot. We asked all our friends. We called in every favor. You think discrimination is over. It's not."
It is never over. That's why Mark Gallo is there. He's a couples therapist. When he heard there was going to be a divorce attorney at the Expo, he figured he ought to book the booth next door. People have been asking him if they ought to get therapy. "Yes," he's been telling them. Premarital counseling is standard practice for many straight couples. And just because two men have been together for more than a decade doesn't mean everything is perfect. "All kinds of issues are gonna come up," he says.
Marriage can change the dynamic financially, emotionally, even sexually.
The issue of sex outside marriage came up earlier in the day. A minister, a rabbi, a theologian and Gallo took part in a panel discussion. The minister said gay men ought to be able to define their own marriages. If they want to have relations outside the marriage, then have relations outside the marriage. Gallo disagreed. "Why even get married if you're going to go outside of it?" he asked.
"I guess they were surprised," he says now. "I was promoting monogamy."
The liposuction and hair-implant booth is a popular one. "How can I become like that?" people ask medical assistant Walter Flores of the New Hair Institute, pointing to the picture of the half-nude man with the six-pack abs.
Flores is almost 40 but looks 25. "Guys," he says, "are very vain." They want to know how long it takes to heal from the various procedures his clinic provides. He rattles the answers off for the hundredth time that day: Hair transplants take six months. Liposuction takes four weeks. Fillers, a few days. "Liposuction," he says, gesturing to his trim midsection. "I have done it."
But he doesn't need it!
"But I wanted it!"
By early evening, the florists have packed up,and the deejays have played their last Katy Perry remix. The all-lesbian resort in Cancun has handed out its umpteenth brochure, Lance Bass has made his rounds, apparently shopping for his own big day, and everyone — gay, straight or other — has shown surprising restraint with the abundant tiny samples of wedding cake. It is a whole new world.
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