Marriage is not defined as between “one man + one woman,” and gay wedding ceremonies are not bound by the traditions of heterosexual unions either. Moreover, as gay weddings are becoming more common, gay men are making their weddings more distinctive.
Needless to say, the gay wedding industry is booming in the U.S. right now—and it’ll only get bigger and better as more states join the equality side. Many same-sex couples that have been waiting for years to get married are rushing to do so where available, and, anecdotally, one couple interviewed for this series indicated that straight brides were having difficulties booking dates at some wedding sites because of all the gay couples booking ceremonies.
Yes, marriage equality has been—and continues to be—a long and hard won battle. And the results of these victories are manifesting themselves in queer men and women celebrating their unions in unique ways.
“As gay people, we get to make our own rules. We get to create what we will experience,” says Stephen Mosher, who appeared with his husband, Pat Dwyer, in the documentary Married and Counting. The film, shot between November 2010 and August 2011, chronicled the efforts of the couple (who have been together for 28 years) to get married in every state possible. Mosher appreciates that traditions are changing as gay marriage is becoming more common and more legal.
“I think people should take what they want from tradition and carry it into a new era and leave what doesn’t matter to them behind. People can spin tradition to their own needs and desires.”
Dwyer echoes this sentiment, but emphasizes the love angle first and foremost. “It’s good to carry traditions rooted in romance and not get caught up in ceremony.”
One anecdote the couple shared concerned exchanging earrings as engagement jewelry, rather than the traditional rings. (They also know a couple that exchanged necklaces in lieu of engagement rings). Dwyer indicates that he and his husband had different but matching rings for each of their eight weddings. While most same-sex couples getting married will only do it once, Dwyer and his husband exchanged the first rings they gave each other at one of their 10 ceremonies, a personal touch for that special day.
P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes are another couple that got married multiple times. They were together eight years before tying the knot the first time, in a ceremony where their mother and sisters—not their fathers—walked them down the aisle. “We were much closer to the women in our family,” Hughes said about the decision.
“We both did our first dance with our moms, and then we switched and made them dance with each other while we danced with each other,” Ebersole added. “The same-sex nature carries over and makes everyone belong to it for a moment.”
Such tweaks on tradition are more likely in same-sex weddings. A survey compiled by the 14 Stories Gay Wedding Institute indicates that 78 percent of grooms and 59 percent of lesbians enter the ceremony space down one central aisle, holding hands. And 88 percent of same-sex couples get married in a place of worship.
That said, one of the couple’s weddings was held “flash mob” style in Los Angeles’ Union Station, a ceremony certainly broke the rules. “We told 50-75 people to show up. We were pronounced husbands first and then [did the ceremony] backwards, Hughes recalls. “If we were thrown out [by the police], we wanted to be married first.”
Ebersole and Hughes found that when they got married the first time their families didn’t necessarily take it seriously. But as the big day got closer, Ebersole acknowledges that they wanted to participate.
“They had their own dreams and desires to be part of their son’s weddings. My mother wanted to make a speech, and we were surprised by that,” Ebersole adds. “They were dismissive of the traditional nature of gay marriage until it got close.”
Hughes emphasizes that the couple did maintain several traditions in their service. “We loved the language of wedding scripts and used the ‘for richer or poorer, for better or worse’ text,” he says. However, they mixed up the ceremonial aspects, incorporating a Polish wedding ritual where the couple drinks wine together and it’s good luck not to spill a drop. They also broke a glass as in a Jewish wedding, and had all the guests sign a Chinese silk embroidered with Double Happiness, a dragon and a phoenix.
“We liked those elements,” Hughes says. “We had four Best People. I had three men and one woman, while David had three women and one man.”
“Most of my best friends are women,” Ebersole interjected, adding, “But I’m not casting myself as the bride by having my Best Men as women.”
The couple also complemented, not copied, one other when it came to their suits. “He had a modern tux, and I had a vintage one,” Hughes says. “Matching outfits are an option but…” Ebersole interrupts, and finishes his husband’s sentence. “We wanted to show our individual style. It’s fun to play with traditions and twist them as we did all the way through.”
One thing to consider: even though it is your day, gay couples getting married should be mindful toward the friends and family attending the ceremony and reception. While most folks are supportive of gay weddings, if not anxious to attend one (yes, Mom, as soon as it’s legal!) it is important to be welcoming and consider what might make guests uncomfortable. The beauty of creating a distinctive queer wedding is not to show off go-go boys and drag queens in all their naked and feathered glory (unless that’s your style), but to show how marriage is a right for everyone, and there are different and fabulous ways to celebrate love and be meaningful.