Why we had a very, very gay wedding (not “just a wedding”)

Guest post by Betsy
gay unicorn wedding cake topper on offbeat bride alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)
Photos by Anne Almasy

People (usually straight people) love to say “They're not gay weddings — they're just weddings.” Of course, that's true… but our wedding was also very, very gay, and that was one of our favorite things about it!

A lot of our guests were gay, our wedding party entered in various gender pairings regardless of each person's actual orientation, and we brought a queer aesthetic to as many details as possible.

In the fight for marriage equality, there's a risk that the thing that makes queer lives different will get lost in the shuffle.

We wanted to celebrate the gayness of gay weddings and the importance of our broad family-of-choice to our lives.

So for us… No, it wasn't “just a wedding.”

Ours was a very, very gay wedding.

We ended up writing the following passage and printing it in our wedding program:

Why Get Hitched?

As we've been preparing for this celebration, we've spent a lot of time reflecting on what marriage represents to us, what it doesn't represent, and what our choice to have a wedding represents to others. Of course, marriage – particularly gay marriage – is an explosively political topic at the moment. Because we found that our own feelings about our wedding and this ceremony often diverge sharply from the meanings that others assign to it, we were drawn to jot down a few thoughts.

This is what we believe:

Marriage has a troubling history. Marriage law has treated wives as property and has institutionalized the subjugation of women in the process. Legislation that dictated who could and could not marry codified hierarchies based on race, nationality, and ability.

Although marriage has undoubtedly changed radically over the past several generations, the potential for marriage to be troubling has not disappeared. In the U.S., many categories of people continue to be excluded from the right to marry legally. But even more worrisome, in privileging marriage and providing access to resources like healthcare, welfare, and immigration solely through this kind of partnership, we have excused our society from its responsibility to provide necessary care and services to individuals and people in other kinds of relationships. At the same time, when we privilege marriage between two people as the most important kind of relationship, we ignore the variety of vital relationships that human beings form over a lifetime.

Given these disturbing realities, why would we decide to get married at all?

We hope that this ceremony serves as an opportunity to reflect on the variety of relationships that have made us who we are. We aim to celebrate the journey we have taken already and to anticipate the paths to come, to recognize how we've grown together and alongside each other with all of you. We seek to recognize explicitly the public aspects of our relationship, to offer this great big party as a gift to the most important people in our lives and to thank you for making our universe possible. We have attempted to renegotiate traditions to suit our relationship and our values. And we are making a promise to stick together.

We've approached this ceremony as a set of questions rather than a script. We are trying to create a marriage that fits us rather than struggling to fit ourselves into whatever marriage is supposed to be. And we're so very glad that you're joining us for the ride.

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Comments on Why we had a very, very gay wedding (not “just a wedding”)

  1. I’m sorry but I actually do not see value in differentiating “gay” vs. “straight” weddings. I happen to be straight and I happen to be the female partner in my relationship. However, my partner and I are going into our marriage as equals. My partner sometimes does the “woman” things in a relationship and I sometimes do the “man” things in our relationship. I think differentiating between straight and gay marriages implies there is a difference. But aren’t people who happen to be gay fighting for the same rights and beliefs as straight marriages. They should both be held to the same standards. Maybe my ignorance is showing in my response and I’d love to hear what other people have to say.

    • Maybe I’m being pedantic here, but they didn’t say “marriage”, they said “wedding”. As far as marriage goes, I agree with you. Same-sex marriage and opposite-sex marriage should (in an ideal world) provide identical rights and protections. The relationships will be different, of course, but that’s because everyone’s relationships are.

      But a wedding is different – it’s about the ceremony and/or party. In a wedding you can highlight different aspects. You can make your wedding gay by deliberately subverting some of the heteronormative aspects of wedding traditions (like the wedding party proceeding down the aisle in opposite-sex pairs) or by highlighting gay stuff (like rainbows!). You can celebrate the gayness of yourselves by making that stuff prominent.

      And I’d argue that you can also have a “straight” wedding where those things aren’t nearly so prominent – even if your marriage is same-sex. Where you find ways of fitting into them instead of subverting them. You don’t have to make it about the fact that you’re a same-sex couple; you can relax and be just another couple. And you can make your opposite-sex wedding “gay” (or gay-positive? or non-heteronormative?) by subverting heteronormative traditions, using gender-neutral language, including readings about equal marriage…and so forth.


      • While I totally get what Laura is saying about marriage (great points), I think that it is about the wedding celebration itself. I love that they decided to incorporate their diverse community into their theme. Regardless of how they realize their marriage, their wedding doesn’t intend to ignore the gay aspect of their lives, which is present, celebrated, and informs so many of their choices.

        • I suppose there is a difference between the words marriage and wedding. But again, shouldn’t all weddings/ceremonies/receptions reflect the couple gay, straight, purple or blue? I think it’s awesome this couple had the support to host a ceremony and reception that reflects them! The celebration or whatever word you choose should be a reflection of any couple or any couple’s belief system together. I just think it’s walking down a dangerous path to differentiate a straight vs. gay wedding.

    • I’m feeling a little bit like I don’t get an opinion here. I’m straight, and having a “straight” wedding. And even though I’m the “woman” and I play all the “woman” roles (well, many of them) in my relationship, it feels a little “white-privilege-y” for me to have an opinion. Regardless of my support of gay rights, or civil rights, or cyborg rights, I don’t get an opinion because even though I’m not a man, I’m still a part of the “repressive majority.” (I love you all.)

        • Totally an ally. However, do white men get an opinion on women’s bodies? On abortion? On black relationships? on lesbians? My answer is no. But that might not be how you feel. So the author is not making me feel like I don’t get an opinion, but the fact that I am a member of a group that has traditionally been the oppressor does.

          So I guess I feel like I don’t get an opinion on holding a “very gay wedding.” It feels like if I say there is no difference, that I’m saying, oh, I don’t see race! (Or-I have black friends-I’m not a racist!) When the “color-blind approach” has really not gotten us anywhere in civil rights. Of COURSE there are different races, of COURSE our skins are different colors, of COURSE we all love who we love. But since I am not gay, I don’t think I can have an opinion about what it feels like as a gay (or LBTQ) person to have a “gay” wedding or a “straight” wedding, or the merits of either.

          I can however say that I am all for having a “very you wedding” and if that means you have purple hats and ride in on a rainbow-maned unicorn while you play the bagpipes then by ALL means, let’s party!

      • I don’t really understand where you are getting this? All I saw was a queer couple talking about how their queerness influenced their perspective on marriage and the way the nature of their wedding. I don’t see why there shouldn’t be space for them to have that conversation.

        • I absolutely think there should be space for that conversation.

          My response is more to the first REPLY rather than the original post, regarding there being “no value in differentiating between gay marriage vs. straight marriage…. differentiating between straight and gay marriage implies there is a difference.” There IS a difference (see color-blind approach above). But there is not an inherent Value of one over the other, and as a member of the traditionally oppressive group my job is to be an ally and be supportive (and use my votes, etc.), not to determine what are acceptable or meritorious “gay behaviors” with regards to holding a gay wedding. (Omg that sounds awful… please trust me that I’m not trying to be a big ‘ol meanie here! Re-word, re-word!)

    • I’m queer, and my wedding will be as well, so I am going to offer my opinion here.

      I do think the day to day realities of queer people and straight people are different. I do think the marriages of queer people and straight people are different. And I can see that the weddings are different than the weddings of straight people. And, the fact is, they shouldn’t be. But as long as my right to marry is politicized, as long as walking down the street with my partner’s hand in mine elicits at minimum stares and, at worst, threats of violence, as long as the majority of the wedding industry caters to straight couples and I need to feel cautious when I enter a wedding store or talk to a photographer in case they are queerphobic, our weddings, our marriages, and our /lives/ are different. And, for me, this changes my relationship to marriage. It changes my relationship to my wedding.
      Yes, we want the same rights to marriage as straight people have. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the way we experience marriage is the same. There are many areas where our experiences overlap- the emotional intensity of committing to the person you love, the excitement leading up to the big day, the joy of celebrating with the people you love- but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways in which our experiences diverge greatly, and that those areas of don’t matter.

      (Of course, I should add that not all straight couples in all places experience the sort of privilege I am talking about here…)

      • sorry, this was meant to be in response to that first comment up there but I messed it up somehow 😛

  2. “In the U.S., many categories of people continue to be excluded from the right to marry legally.”

    I’d like to be educated here…to whom is this referring? Only two categories come to mind: people in same-sex relationships and people in poly relationships. And trans people in opposite-sex relationships who haven’t been able to gain legal recognition of their gender?

    • That’s a huge grey area! The trans* part because there are no standards for what a birth certificate says or how that can impact who you can marry. As a quick example, in Texas you can’t change your birth certificate, so if you were assigned male at birth how does that effect who you can marry?… people aren’t really 100% sure all the time. And as a general rule the whole gay marriage thing has been so focused on the cis gendered folk that trans people have more or less been shoved off to the side and/or tokenized for the sake of “inclusion” (Sorry this reply was so quick, I”m headed to bed but wanted to give at least a little bit of background. Also, in interest of disclosure, I’m a cisgendered queer woman who has done a lot of work with LGBTQ youth and community education and this was one of the things I talked about a lot.)

      • I think I’ve been putting thought into social treatment of trans people and forgetting about the ways in which legal treatment matters (and sucks). Thanks for your explanation.

        Also, I’m getting lost in my own pedantry; I was hung up on many “categories”, but would never have questioned “many people”. Which is why I thought I was missing something. Sorry. :-/

  3. A couple should feel free to have a wedding that expresses their values and the things they enjoy. Some people who are fans of steampunk have a steampunk wedding, because they choose to make that interest the center or “theme” of the wedding. Some couples like steampunk but choose not to make that the theme of their wedding, rather adding some personal touches here and there but otherwise having a “normal” wedding. I don’t want to belittle sexual orientation by comparing it to cosplay, but I feel like it’s kind of the same choice. You can be a same-sex couple and have a gay wedding, or you can be a same-sex couple and have a “regular” wedding. It all depends on what and how much you choose to make the gay-ness a central theme of the party. I would even argue that a straight couple could have a gay wedding, if the “theme” is rainbows, purposefully rejecting regular gender norms and roles, and making readings, speeches, and vows that specifically mention same-sex/gender-bending relationships. And you can be a same-sex couple that chooses to leave all that out of their wedding, and then it’s “just a wedding”, because the gay-ness isn’t the focus or “theme”. It’s kind of that whole thing about self-identifying, and choosing to let people call their wedding whatever they want.

    • yes, people can call their wedding whatever they wish, and everyone absolutely has the right to say “I am not getting gay married, I am getting married”.
      But, I would say that the comparison to steampunk touches ignores a lot about what this article was saying. Their wedding is different because they are different- because their sexuality and their relationship marks them as different and seriously impacts the way in which their marriage is perceived and interpreted culturally. They needed to renegotiate their marriage not just because they happen to really like and share an affinity for Doctor Who- their need to renegotiate their wedding stems in part from the fact that they are forced to grapple with the problematic aspects of an institution that has actively excluded them and that has been historically defined in heteronormative terms. I don’t think they are really talking about a simple aesthetic choice.
      I also do not think that straight couples can have a gay marriage, no matter how many rainbows they have or gender norms they reject. Because gayness is not about aesthetic choices.

      • I do think we’re straying back in to wedding vs marriage. While a wedding leads to a marriage, it’s also a party celebrating a relationship. I didn’t say that straight people could have a gay marriage, I said they could have a gay wedding. I guess I’m still making a very big distinction between the relationship and the marriage, and the party/ceremony that celebrates that relationship and makes it official.

        I understand that it’s not just about aesthetics, but it is something that they can choose to emphasize or minimize. Not completely, as two women standing at the alter is going to be a change from the norm just by them being there. But some same-sex couples choose to make that the only statement about “gay marriage”, and in all other ways make choices that minimize that fact. They don’t want a “gay” wedding, because they feel that statement makes their wedding somehow different from a normal wedding, and they wanted a normal wedding.

        These two lovely people chose to say their wedding WAS different from a normal wedding, in that they invited many gay guests, had their wedding party enter in various gender combinations, and had gay decorations. They talked about their different relationship in their vows. In all ways, they made choices to have their wedding stand apart from what they considered “normal”. They were happy with it, and it felt right to them, and they labeled it “gay”.

        But the only choice they didn’t have in those decisions was the fact that they are two women. Everything else they could have chosen to ignore or hide or minimize, if that was along their values. I’m not sure I agree that they had no choice but to have their wedding be different just because their marriage is different.

        • But, I’m not talking about choices, I am talking about power. Because, YES, absolutely, gay and lesbian couples have every right in the world to call their wedding just that, a wedding. That was, in fact, the first thing I said. How their wedding is seen by society as a whole, however, is different. I would love my wedding to be seen as /just a wedding/. It would save me a lot of annoyance. But it isn’t seen as just a wedding, regardless of how I see it, because, within a heteronormative society, my relationship is defined in opposition to normality. And this is shifting, thankfully, somewhat, in some places, for some couples. But it is definitely still the case.

          And this- this difference in experience, this difference in power- is why it would be inappropriate for a cisgender, heterosexual couple to claim a “gay” theme for their wedding. And that is exactly why the “gayness” of a wedding is not the same as other choices that everyone makes with regards to their wedding. Part of the reason that I think it is inappropriate is that straight couples can choose neutrality. They can choose to be “normal”, while a gay marriage will always, regardless of the intention of the couple, be perceived /by society/ (I want to be very specific that I am not talking about the people themselves), as other. Because that is the nature of heteronormativity.

          I can see what you are saying- that a couple should be able to determine for themselves the nature of their wedding and their marriage- and I agree with you 100%! What I am saying is, the rest of society doesn’t, and that matters.

          Sorry if this got a bit long! I wanted to make sure I was clear in what I am trying to say 🙂

          • This starts to get into that zone of acculturation vs separation. I live in what used to ‘the gay part’ of my city…. the one neighborhood where you wouldn’t get beaten up for holding your same-sex partner’s hand. Over the past 15 years or so, the culture of the city has become more gayfriendly and the LGBT community has spread to be a welcome presence in most neighborhoods. You’re not going to get beaten up for holding hands most places in town (……most of the time. There are always still assholes.)

            This is a good thing of course…. LGBT people have blended right in, and feel safe(…..or at least safer) city wide! We’re getting married and buying houses and having kids and shopping at the gap, just like straight people.

            There are some of us, though, who feel a small sense of loss in this acculturation. My neighborhood used to have more of a sense of identity when it was the only place we felt safe…. More of a sense of unity. It’s great that we can be anywhere in this city and that’s the great win, but we’ve lost something, too.

            I think this post touches on that…. that of course marriage equality and being able to have a wedding “just like the straights” is important…. but remembering and recognizing our identities can be important too. For some us, we still want to have gay weddings, even though we could have a wedding that’s completely straight.

          • I hear that, and my experience was different. I saw my wedding (to another woman) as a privilege-grab. I want those things married people have! Give them now! I think my perspective was helped by living in an accepting place with an accepting community and that I’ve seen plenty of other couples (gay and straight) have what I would call feminist weddings, minus property transfer and bouquet tosses and other things that troubled me about weddings in general. I was thinking of them as feminist things, not heteronormative things.

    • I was actually reflecting last night on how much I appreciate the comments policy here. I know personally, It really forces me to work at keeping my tone in check and making sure that I am responding in a way that honours the intention of the person I am talking to, even if I disagree with what they are saying. When I see the quality of discussion that creates here around controversial topics of identity or experience, versus, say, tumblr… It is easy to snark, but it takes a lot more work to have a reasonable conversation where you keep your feelings in check. And it is ultimately more productive.

  4. So this is mostly just me geeking out about terminology and rhetoric… And I want to be really clear that wherever I’m saying “this group can use these words and this group can’t,” I’m not claiming some kind of authority or trying to take away anyone’s ability to speak however they want, I’m just trying to give an outline about how I think the terms make the most sense. Anyone can use any words they think appropriate to describe anything, of course.

    I think that, in addition to the distinction between “wedding” and “marriage” that people are discussing, there is a reasonable distinction to be made here between “queer” and “gay.”

    In my view, if you want to categorize, gay people would have gay weddings, and straight people would have straight weddings. Each can choose to acknowledge/celebrate those categories as they see fit, or elide them entirely. So gay people could have a really gay or a less gay wedding, like Betsy choose to have a very gay wedding and some same-sex couples decide to focus just on the wedding itself without any qualifiers. Similarly, some straight people, for various reasons, choose to have a very straight wedding (doing things like including lots of rhetoric about men and women, the “natural” order, obedience, etc), and some straight people choose not to emphasize that aspect. It doesn’t make sense to say that gay people are having a “straight” wedding if they choose to try to fit into the dominant heteronormative ideas of weddings any more than it makes sense to say that straight people are having a “gay” wedding if they emphasize their sympathy and alliance with the lgbt community during their ceremony.

    BUT, I do think that it makes sense for anyone to say they are having a queer wedding! Specifically because of how “queer” is often used as a verb. Different-sex couples getting married can still identify as any of a variety of flavors of queer and have a self-consciously queer wedding, and furthermore people who identify as straight can still use rhetoric and rituals and imagery within the venue of their wedding to work on “queering” the idea of weddings. Using “gay” and “queer” interchangeably limits the amount of latitude we can have when talking about this stuff, I think.

    Again, I know the issue is way more complicated than this, and I’m not even touching issues that trans or bisexual people could get into on these topics…

    • That’s a much better way of putting it than mine! You have hit the nail on the head.

    • Yes and no. I’m not comfortable with straight and cisgender people having “queer” weddings, because it IS a reclaimed slur. I’m proudly queer and at the same time, fell for a cis straight guy, so yeah, I would like to infuse queerness into my wedding because its still a huge part of my identity. But I know many LGBT folks who hate the word queer, and its triggering for them, as well as how its becoming a blanket term for people who never asked for it. So I am uncomfortable with straight people trying to be “queer” when what they mean is feminist or subversive.

  5. Just quickly weighing in as a straight woman…

    I feel like this is still such a polarized topic because it’s still such a new concept when compared to how long marriage has been standardized in a specific way. I am an ally. I have been to “gay weddings” and I have been to weddings where the couple getting married happen to be gay. The right to marry is still hotly contested, so of course some people feel the need to use their wedding as a more…I don’t want to say political stand, because obviously first and foremost the wedding is about two (or more) people who love each other celebrating their commitment. But for people who just got that right recognized by their government (or for people still living in states that don’t recognize it), I can completely understand why they would want to call attention to that and make sure all their loved ones understand the struggle and plight. Hence specifying gay weddings. But also, I’m from Massachusetts, where gay marriage has been recognized for many years. So up here, it’s more commonplace and most, if not all, people in the audience have already been surrounded by that debate and have come out on the side of reason and (at least for the most part) have all realized that “gay marriage” is the exact same thing as “marriage.” As in, weddings that are for people of the same gender as opposed to the label of “gay wedding.”

    Again, these are opinions expressed by a cisgender straight woman, so I don’t necessarily feel like my thought process on this can fully grasp what someone who is genderqueer or gay or trans* or poly or anything else may feel about issues like this.

  6. I just LOVE LOVE LOVE so much what you wrote in your wedding program. I have been wondering how to incorporate all my queer feelings about weddings into my own weddings. This post is absolutely inspirational!

  7. That’s a really beautiful passage in the program, & the comments on this post have been super thoughtful & well expressed. Thank you all for your awesome input & general awesomeness.

  8. Thank you for bringing this idea up. I realized the same point when I was talking with my brother the other day about my upcoming wedding. I am a straight woman who will have a somewhat traditional wedding. As I was going over details with my brother who is my man of honor, he said, “I am so not doing any of this when I get married,” in the way that you mocking brother only can. He said he is getting married somewhere where only the people that truly love him and his bf would travel to, and our very strong opinion end mama would have much less say.

    I realize this idea is not a gay or straight one but it also make me contemplate more what I am doing for my wedding and how other people’s expectations on how your wedding should be are just that, their expectations, not yours or the person you are marrying.

  9. This this this this THIS!!!!! YES. So much yes.

    These are the questions I struggle with all the time as a celebrant and officiant of weddings, and in my own choice not to marry as a bisexual woman in an almost 20 year relationship with a queer man.

    It’s difficult, difficult stuff, but *so* worth making conscious and explicit.

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