What to Expect at a Gay Wedding

January 19, 2016


In spite of what the metal band on my third finger, left hand says, I’ve never had any desire to get married. Engaged yes. There’s something romantic and hopeful about the promise of a lifetime together. But I always imagined the day after the white dress was tucked away, and the rice had killed off a few pigeons, I would feel like Kate Winslet in the movie Titanic, the post-ceremony comedown dragging me back to reality in chains. A wedding is (supposed to be) for life, not just the party, gifts and salmon-sparked indigestion.

Of course, the halcyon days of inequality meant I had a fail-safe response to whenever anybody popped that most heinous of questions. “When you getting hitched?”

“Not until marriage is legal for all”, I trilled, sure in the knowledge that backward old Ireland would never vote to allow the gays loose on the sacred act of matrimony.

So you can imagine my rainbow-coloured rage when the people of Ireland revoked my ‘get out of veil’ free card on the 23rd of May by declaring I had the same right to be legally head-locked for all eternity (or until either of us could afford a divorce lawyer) to my beloved.

So I thought I’d rip the bandage off and have a look-see at what lay ahead.

“We haven’t seen a huge swing of extra people getting married because of the law changing,” says Franc, who plans weddings through his company Weddings By Franc(www.franc.ie). “We’ve been very busy with same-sex unions for years, and for me, they were always weddings.

“The sacrament of marriage is between the couple. One person gives it to the other when they say ‘I Do’. The priest, minister or anyone else is there purely to witness it. It was always present, but written down as something else.”

Like all good thrills, gay marriage had its gateway drug, and civil partnerships were the marijuana to matrimony. “I think the number of people who attended Civil Partnership ceremonies over the years is the real reason that the law changed,” says Franc. “Families who had never been at a ‘gay’ wedding before saw what they were like. They saw that they were romantic, normal and fun and that someone’s sexual preference really didn’t come into it.

“For every one of our civil ceremonies about 250 people witnessed a couple share their love with their nearest and dearest and they all told about 250 more. Finally it just became mainstream.”

Gay Weddings Ireland (www.gayweddingsireland.ie/) was created four years ago when the Civil Partnership Act came into play. Before May became the month for Mary’s, Marian Purcell-who set the business up with her videographer partner Shane Costello, found that the main people who enquired into their services were older male couples. “To be honest I think I had met about five young gay couples under 40 before the referendum who were planning their civil partnership. Now I have had interaction with over twenty.”

They’ve had couples from the States, Slovenia, Germany and England employ their services in finding gay-friendly wedding vendors, while they have spoken to nearly twenty lesbian couples who are planning weddings for 2015/16.

“When you consider that there have been 3,000 civil partnerships in three years and the price of the average wedding is crawling back up to the Celtic Tiger-era highs of 28k- excluding the honeymoon, I think this is going to be HUGE for the economy.”

In 2012 Sharon McMeel(www.sharonmcmeel.ie) became the first wedding planner in Ireland to complete the Gay Wedding Institute Certification Course, which allowed her to fully understand what makes gay weddings different from straight weddings.

“I think a lot of the time gay weddings tended to be smaller in the past,” she says, “as on your wedding day you only want people who fully support you to be around you. The marriage referendum had people conversing with their relatives in a way that they might not have previously and the result was like a great big hug from the nation.”

The guest list is the most emotionally charged and political thing at your wedding. Me and my other half stopped counting at 350, when we realised if we invited all the minor relatives and appeased acquaintances our attendees would have to settle for a snack box for the main, and an option of red or white lemonade.

“With the referendum everyone was asking everyone else to get involved, so if you ask people for their vote, you may have to put them on the guest list,” laughs Sharon.

But, while we all got our rainbow flags in a flap for equality, changes in law do not always change in mindset make. How would Sharon help someone whose families conservatism makes them wary?

“It’s often just a fear of the unknown. Older people may never have been to a ceremony like it before and if you just talk them through it a lot of the fear goes away. If it doesn’t, don’t invite them. It’s your day.”

“You can bring stuff like that into the ceremony,” says Marion. “People can acknowledge that there are people who don’t feel comfortable. We had one couple where the father didn’t come. It was very, very sad. I spoke to the son, told him people would be whispering and if he brought it up, its done and dusted. But he didn’t want to.”

“But wedding’s are stressful times”, adds Franc. “Gays are not unique in this regard. The problems aren’t arising cause your gay. They are arising cause you are getting married. Or if it’s gay for you, it’s religion or a ban on children for another bride.”

Going by the movies you would think that gay weddings were all nipple clamped hotties, serving champagne and caviar while Liza serenades the Brides or Grooms. But many gays are quite traditional.

“They’ve grown up seeing their brothers and sisters, cousins and friends getting married,” says Marion, “and they want to be a part of that. So we often have religious elements to the ceremony.”

But as always, the gays are at the forefront of reinventing the wheel, so what once was stale is getting a fresh lick of emotional potency. The move away from the religious side of ceremonies to the secular means that the superstitions are being ditched in favor of the act of honouring those present.

Rather than being walked down the aisle by one parent, gay men and women are choosing to walk down the aisle with both parents who then merge families symbolically at the alter. Or instead of parents, its flower girls who accompany them.

At one wedding Sharon arranged, there were two aisles for the grooms to make a simultaneous entrance and ascent; Marion has seen dogs be ring bearers; while Franc has never organised a CP where the grooms didn’t have both best men and bridesmaids.

“I hate etiquette,” he says. “It’s such a severe word. It implies you are doing something wrong. You can’t do anything wrong at your own party. Show yourself off. Enjoy your day, your way. These people know you, they know you best. And if your happy, you bet they will be too.

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