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.”
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.”
Lavish affairs like Barrett and Gershick’s are less common in the gay community (unless you’re Elton John, of course, who treated guests to trays of pink champagne and caviar after his recent nuptials). This may be because gay couples tend to marry later, and because they tend to receive less parental support than straight lovebirds, both financially and emotionally.
There weren’t many family members in attendance when Joel Perry and James “Fred” Bowling got married last August at the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), a gay- and lesbian-founded church in West Hollywood. About 60 close friends were there, including members of the drag-queen troupe the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — but Perry’s father and sisters noticeably weren’t. “I was on my way to pick up the flowers when I started bawling, and I realized it was because our families were not going to be there,” says Perry, a writer, who lives with Bowling just south of the Fairfax district. The couple has been together 26 years. “If either one of us had been marrying a woman, I know they would have found a way to be there.”
But Kathryn Hamm from gayweddings.com, a site providing same-sex wedding invitations and other ephemera, says that the weddings can help skeptical friends and families overcome their prejudices. “These ceremonies transform people,” says Hamm. “My 85-year-old grandmother from Texas was very unsure about coming to my wedding, but she did, and the next day all she could say was, ‘Where are my brides?’?”
Even so, the discriminatory climate has led some gay couples to actively boycott the institution, seeing it as a straight-world validation of a relationship. “Not many of our gay and lesbian friends are married,” says Tretta. “They don’t want to emulate the straight world, because the straight world doesn’t accept us. The straight world wants gay society to conform to what they consider to be ‘normal,’ but when we try, they won’t let us!” Likewise, some straight couples are boycotting traditional marriage in protest, and are opting to have commitment ceremonies instead. Last year Charlize Theron went on television and said she and longtime lover Stuart Townsend were holding off on getting hitched until the day that gays and lesbians can legally marry. “The day that law gets passed,” she said, “then we’ll get married.”
Even so, Minister Deb, a SoCal lesbian reverend who has blessed around 130 LBGT weddings in the past four years, has noticed a surge in the number of gay couples coming her way, and it’s something she wants to shout about. “I want people to know that we are indeed having commitment ceremonies,” she says. “Even though it’s not legal, we are going ahead and getting married anyway. It hasn’t slowed down since Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed our legislation, and it’s not going to slow down. Sorry.”
We’ll drink a toast to that.?
A Rabbi, a Minister?and a Lesbian Cleric
Nondenominational: Minister Deb has officiated at mass commitment ceremonies at L.A. Pride. “People come to me because I am liberal and I am not the typical male cleric with a collar,” she says. “I am completely nondenominational, which is what a lot of folks are looking for. In the gay community, there are lots of what we call ‘Recovering Catholics.’ They look to me as the complete opposite of what their church represents.” E-mail: email@example.com. (800) 570-8573. www.ministerdeb.com
Jewish: Rabbi Lisa Edwards is based?at Pico Boulevard’s Beth Chayim Chadashim, “the world’s original LBGT synagogue.” She is herself a married lesbian, who has been marrying gay and lesbian Jewish couples — “about half a dozen a year, for 11 years. My congregation was founded by gay?and lesbian Jews in 1972, so same-gender weddings have always been part of the fabric here.” 6000 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 931-7023. www.bcc-la.org
Christian: Located on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, the Metropolitan Community Church has about five clergy who carry out more than 100 same-sex commitment ceremonies a year. Most are conducted by the resident Minister of Congregational Life, Rev. Pat Langlois. “Here I would say that in probably a good 60 percent of the people I do weddings for, one or both of them are people of color,” she says. “I did a beautiful wedding for two Latinas, and the whole family was there. The perceived stereotype is that it’s all about machismo, but for families that can get past it, they understand that their kid has found someone they really love.” 8714 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 854-9110. www.mccchurch.org
You can also find ministers and rabbis for same-sex ceremonies at the following Web sites:
Kol-Ami Reform Synagogue, West Hollywood, www.kol-ami.org
St. Matthews Lutheran Church, North Hollywood, www.stmatthewsnoho.org
Christ Chapel of the Valley, North Hollywood, www.christchapel-la.org
The Celebrant USA Foundation, www.celebrantusa.com
Or ask a judge or justice of the peace to sanction your union symbolically.
Location, Location, Location
These days, same-sex partners looking to get married have a wide variety of venues to choose from. Last summer, for example, 100 gay and lesbian couples tied the knot in a mass wedding at the Abbey, a bar in West Hollywood. 692 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 289-8410.
Dion Carlo Tretta has decided to get married at The Odyssey, a restaurant in Granada Hills, but he also gave us these recommendations, based on his own research:
“One place I really liked was The Silent Movie Theater. For someone who is really into film it would be great, and they have a lovely cappuccino lounge upstairs.” 611 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 655-2520.
“Culver Events Center in Culver City is like a 1920s speakeasy that has been converted into a party palace. They were very friendly.” 11948 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 636-3508.
“The RMS Queen Mary ocean liner down in Long Beach looked very beautiful because you can do the service right on the back deck overlooking the ocean. We checked out the Aquarium of the Pacific down in Long Beach, but they were quite expensive.” 1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach. (562) 435-3511.
If you want to go the Sin City route, there is the Gay Chapel of Las Vegas; though your ceremony won’t be legally binding, you can throw a party your guests will never forget. Choices include a Blue Hawaii–themed ceremony, complete with an Elvis impersonator, hula girls and a lush tropical set, or the new “Liberace Impersonator” theme where couples light unity candles on the faux ivory tickler’s candelabra. And so much more; see their Web site. 1205 Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas. (800) 574-4450. www.gaychapelof?lasvegas.com.
The Wedding Planner
Contrary to the Queer Eye stereotype, not all gays are skilled at putting together a party. Many consider hiring a wedding planner, and there are some who are specifically LBGT-friendly.
April Whitney, of April Whitney Events, was a DJ at KROQ for about 20 years until 1994, when she moved into event planning. “I figured who better to plan the party than someone who has partied?” About 25 percent of her clients are gay or lesbian. (562) 597-5270.
Want to do it yourself? Now there’s software out there to help. This month, “My Gay Wedding Companion” was made available on-line in downloadable form to help you track RSVPs, create seating charts and construct your own personal wedding Web site. www.five?starsoftware.com/gaywedding
They’re Playing Our Song
Anyone who has ever been to a wedding knows that the right band or DJ can make or break the affair. Tretta recommends DJ Pros in Sherman Oaks. “Once you register with them you get a log-on and password and you get to choose the songs you want from the Web site. Personally, I want no Gloria Gaynor, no Weather Girls and absolutely no Village People. Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean my wedding soundtrack has to be.” (888) 868-6417. www.thedjpros.com.
Community DJs in West Hollywood specializes in commitment ceremonies. Fill out a short questionnaire on their Web site and tailor your ceremony to suit your needs, or call and talk to someone who can help you plan your special day. 13010 Moorpark St., Studio City. (323) 876-0170 www.communitydjs.com.
Tuxes, Tuxedas and Gowns
In Recognizing Ourselves, author Ellen Lewin describes gay and lesbian commitment rites, ranging from traditional church ceremonies to the wedding of “Bob and Mark,” a leather-fetishist couple who exchanged vows in tuxedos, leather bow ties, and knee-high police boots. Clearly, just like hetero weddings, gay nuptials come in all shapes and sizes. And for many women, gay or straight, the last time they wore a gown was at their high school prom. Those looking for a wedding dress but wanting to avoid the Princess Di–meets-Cinderella effect could look for antique wedding gowns and vintage dresses, like those offered at the White Dress. Their selection ranges from “sexy sheath to regal traditional.” It’s in Corona Del Mar but well worth the drive, says wedding planner Shonya Stein, who adds that most bridal salons will also offer tuxedos for women — the so-called tuxeda. 2853 E. Coast Hwy., Corona Del Mar. (949) 723-0121. www.thewhitedress.net.
I Do Too in Huntington Beach touts itself as a “non-traditional, full-service bridal store” for “alternative” brides. Its seamstress can add ruffles and embroidery to your female tux, and if you’re on a budget they will sometimes work on trade, swapping services like Web-site design for bridal wear. You can rent your tux or gown, or have one custom-made to keep. 4941 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach. (714) 840-0488. www.idotoo.net.
For the boys, try After Hours Formalwear for friendly and great service. You can even create a virtual tux on their Web site mixing and matching colorful options. 8726 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 645-1342. www.after?hours.com.
And then there’s always old faithful — The Men’s Wearhouse. Not only can you create a tux online, but if the multitude of choices has you stressed out, you can chat with a Formalwear Consultant, a trained expert who can “help you create the style that suits your day.” We’re guessing the pun was intended. 13161 Mindanao Way, Marina del Rey. (310) 657-9816. www.menswearhouse.com.
With This Ring
Yes, you can get your wedding bands at Macy’s like Tretta and Richardson did. “I’ve got a two-tone white-gold and yellow-gold ring with a diamond-cut pattern in the top,” Tretta says. “And for Rob, I got him a black-titanium ring which is very sleek, stark and masculine.”
Perry and Bowling got their bands from weddingbands.com; Gershick and Barrett got theirs at Accents on Main Street in Santa Monica. “We looked at some of the rings that have triangles on them, and some people do the rainbow-colored stones, but we went for traditional bands in the end.”
But many couples are turning to jewelers who make rings especially for same-sex couples. Loveandpride.com sells The L Word and Queer as Folk rings designed by Udi Behr, as well as many other bands that range from more overt symbols of pride (some with the word pride inscribed on them) to more subtle and sophisticated designs that get their message across to those who look closely. At Gaymart.com, an Internet resource that sells rings with rainbows of precious stones, Celtic themes, traditional bands and some cute rings featuring two women intertwined.
Some gay couples choose to wear their engagement rings and wedding bands not on the customary ring finger of the left hand, but on the pinky, the fourth finger, of the right hand. “Couples choose this since it is similar, but not the same as the heterosexual symbol,” says Hamm of gayweddings.com. “Those who have chosen the left hand have often wanted to make a statement that they see their relationship as equal to a heterosexual relationship and want to be clear with that statement.”
And for couples wanting to give something back to their guests, how about some yummy Chocolate Favors with either two joyous grooms or two dancing veiled brides on the wrappers from gayweddings.com? One gay groom told us he hired L.A.-based Timothy Jay Candles to make wax gifts for his guests and was really impressed — “He’s a great guy, and the candles were beautiful.” (www.timothyjaycandles.com). Gayweddings.com also sells “Same Soap Marriage” bars, featuring two 3-inch brides or grooms encased in pure-glycerin soap.
Gayweddings.com has a good selection of wedding invitations, with various designs including “Handsome Brides” and “Elegant Brown Brides.” “There’s a butch-femme couple in that Marlene Dietrich style, and two brides in tuxes,” says Hamm. “Couples seem to really enjoy taking that traditional notion of bride and bridal gown and playing with it a little. It’s a twist on tradition.” Groom variations on the same-sex wedding-invite theme are available at TwoGrooms.com and Outvite.com.
Piece of Cake
If you want to get really creative with your cake, try Cake and Art on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, where “no idea is too outlandish or too esoteric.” They regularly work with movie studios, so if you recently saw a weird and wonderful baked creation in a film, chances are they made it. One man who hired Cake and Art to make his wedding cake said he overheard someone ask for three life-size Bambi cakes, and “they didn’t bat an eyelash.” And featured on their Web site is a six-tiered rainbow wedding cake, perfect for couples looking to show their pride. 8709 Santa Monica Blvd. (310) 657-8694. www.cakeandart.com
Looking for cake toppers? Online is a good place to start. Again, we loved the selection at gayweddings.com; they have toppers to match every type of couple, the physical and personality traits of all kinds of couples. We found one topper that features a 5-inch-high clay butch bride with a protective arm around her femme wife, who holds the bouquet. Another topper had a white-suited butch sitting on her wife’s lap. For the more traditional-minded, there are Victorian brides complete with lacy dresses and floaty veils, with similarly themed, equally fun equivalents for grooms.
If you want your cake toppers to actually look like you and your sweetheart, you can hire the artists at Clay Figurines House to custom-make one for you (www.clayfigurines.com).
We talked to many couples who recommended gay-friendly photographers and videographers, including Denny Nelson in Pasadena (www.dennynelson.com) and Stephanie Houfek, the wife of Rev. Pat Langlois from West Hollywood MCC (www.mccchurch.org). But Tim Courtney — a celebrity portrait photographer who now shoots weddings — got the most votes. “He’s quite a character, and amazingly talented,” one groom told us. Check out both of Courtney’s portfolios online: www.timcourtneyphotography.com, and www.timcourtneyweddings.com.?