Ask Team Practical: Michelle on LGBTQ Weddings

We wanted to conclude APW Pride Week with an LGBTQ perspective Ask Team Practical. That, of course, required that we bring in the big guns, because all of the current APW staff is in mixed gender relationships. So! Today’s ATP is a collaboration between Alyssa and Michelle, two theatre loving liberal Texans, which makes y’all pretty lucky. And while the questions are specifically aimed at those of you planning gay weddings, they are so thought provoking for those of us that are not. So girls, let’s do it….

While all of our ATP questions can apply to anyone, regardless of orientation, there are just some issues that LGBTQ couples face that hetero couples will hardly, if ever, have to deal with.  (Not fair, huh?  We should probably do something about that.)  In order to answer some of those, we enlisted Michelle of Deborah and Michelle of So You’re En-GAY-ged.  She is adorable, I love her, and I want her and Deborah to adopt me and let me watch geeky TV with them forever and ever, amen.

We came up with a list of questions that LGBTQ couples face and while a straight couple reading this might go, “Hey, we have that problem,” remember that an LGBTQ couple reading this will go, “Hey.  We have nearly ALL those problems.” Here’s to the day when this list doesn’t exist. Take it away, Michelle!!

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How do I find LGBTQ-friendly vendors? (And by doing so, vote with my money?)

Let’s say you are looking for a photographer:

  • Step 1: Go to a wedding directory, local bridal association, blog vendor listing, etc.
  • Step 2: Find the section you are looking for (photographers)
  • Step 3: Open as many sites as you can manage without going crazy in the tabs of your internet browser.
  • Step 4: Find that *one* photographer that has music playing on their site and turn it off.  Seriously, who thinks Taylor Swift’s “Today was a Fairytale” is appropriate for a website? If you can’t find the mute button on their site, just eliminate them from your search.  You don’t need them anyway.
  • Step 5: Do some old fashioned super-sleuthing! Key elements to look for on any website include gender neutral language and photos of other LGBTQ couples in their portfolio. Tip: Any reference to marriage between a man and woman? Be a Dalek and EXTERMINATE that site.
  • Step 6:Whittle it down to the few photographers you like and if you can’t figure out if they are LGBTQ inclusive or not, just send them an email and ask.  The worst possible scenario is an annoying email from said photographer who disagrees with you. Then you have the pleasure of just deleting their email and badmouthing them on Facebook. No, don’t do that last part– just delete the email and tell your friends not to hire them… though, if it were to be via Facebook I wouldn’t judge you.

Not the investigating type? That’s okay, not everyone can be Mulder or Scully (or Bones/Booth depending on your age and coolness level). The following websites have vendors who actively seek out LGBTQ friendly vendors:

How do I find an officiant when I don’t want a church or courthouse wedding?

While searching your local directories or listings can be helpful, most sites don’t have an officiant section.  Try mainstream wedding sites; Wedding Wire and The Kn*t both have search capabilities for officiants, (and on Wedding Wire you can actually read past reviews.)

You can also have a friend officiate the ceremony and have them ordained by Universal Life Church which will allow them to legally sign your marriage certificate! If you are having your ceremony in a lame state like mine that doesn’t recognize gay marriage, then two things: 1. GOOD FOR YOU! 2. Don’t go through the processing fees of ULC unless your soon-to-be-officiating friend really really wants to.

If you don’t have friends who are comfortable in front of crowds, you may want to try and find an official person who oversees weddings all the time. When you meet with them, make sure to ask your potential wedding master or mistress of ceremonies how many LGBTQ weddings they have done. Ask for sample scripts and read them before you send in the deposit check.

I have blogged about my search for our officiant on So You’re En-GAY-ged and used the following types of questions to see if she was right for us.

  • What is their stance on gay marriage?
  • How long have they been officiating and how many LGBTQ ceremonies have they done?
  • What are their general fees?  Do they have any extra fees? (Travel, customized readings, etc.)
  • How do they structure their ceremony?  Will you be able to pick readings?  Do they have samples that you can look at?

How do you honor your family without making your partner feel like shit when their family won’t be there?

Personal back story: When I came out to my father and step-mother, my father’s response was “Why are you crying? No, please, stop crying! Why would this ever change how much I love you?” When Deborah and I first started dating, my father immediately invited her over to our monthly family dinner and she quickly became an important part of my parent’s life. On the flip side, when Deborah came out, her family wanted to have a family dinner of another kind– one that involved discussing what went wrong in her life and how sad she must be that she has resorted to this ‘lifestyle’. Needless to say, that dinner never happened, but I understand the complications of having one family be completely supportive of your marriage and sexuality while the other is less than… um, nice. My wife’s family was a big ol’ detour sign on our road to wedded bliss, so I can answer this question from a personal standpoint.  However, every relationship is different, and I don’t know your partner as well as you do, so remember that all of these suggestions may not be applicable.

  • Be pro-active. Talk to your partner about how he/she is feeling and how you are feeling. You may think your significant other is wallowing in self-pity, but I found that Deborah had come to terms with her parents unwillingness to participate in our wedding much sooner than I had. Once we had that discussion, we were able to plan accordingly. We both knew there would be some sadness when it came to wedding milestones, like finding a dress for instance.  We made sure there were tons of loving and supportive people around when Deborah did find her dress and we ended up turning the whole day into a big celebration.
  • Word your invitations carefully.We chose “We, Michelle and Deborah, along with the loving support of (my parental’s names) are super excited to be getting married”.  You can also go with “Together with our families” which may not be entirely true, but it depends on your definition of family. If you are paying for your wedding yourself, you don’t even have to include parent’s names on the invitation. I’ve even seen an adorable invite where the couple’s pets are the ones inviting guests to the wedding. Done correctly, animals writing in first person is pretty freakin’ great.
  • Revamp traditions. Deborah’s middle brother walked her down the aisle, but my father offered to walk both of us. We also considered walking down the aisle together. Ms. Awesome Weds had a brilliant idea (which I would have stolen if our venue didn’t have a cement sidewalk of an aisle with a clear focal point) of having the aisle be the middle of a circle, so she and her wife walked down the aisle at the same time.  We also did things a little differently than the traditional, ‘Who gives the woman to be married’ thing. Deborah and her brother waited at the end of the aisle, and when my father and I walked up we did a big family hug, and then began the ceremony.
  • Forget ‘sides’. Traditionally, there is a bride’s side and groom’s side– or a bride’s side and bride’s side, or groom’s side and groom’s side.  In my opinion, sides are silly. If two families are coming together to be one, then they can all sit together. This is especially great when one family may not be all that present during the celebration.
  • Be polite.You probably don’t want to send your partner’s parents a wedding invitation. I know I didn’t. After all, what was the benefit? A depressing phone call or email? Seeing, in ink, that they won’t be attending? That isn’t exactly a picker-upper piece of mail.  However, it is good in the long run. I know that we did everything we could to make Deborah’s family feel welcome at our wedding. Now, ten years from now when we are still married and they have come to terms with the fact that they missed their daughter’s wedding, we won’t feel guilty for not extending the invitation for them to join us.

How do we handle well-meaning, but stupid questions?

Honesty is the best policy. If the questions are well-meaning but a little annoying, remember that not everyone in your life has attended a gay wedding.  This may be a first (an awesome one, btw) for a lot of your guests! Speak from your heart and tell your family the truth.

If you do get sick of answering the same question over and over again, you may want to think about putting up an LGBTQ Wedding FAQ on your wedding site. This way, when your Aunt Edna, twice removed, asks who is the bride and who is the groom, you can give a quick “We are both brides (or grooms)” and then direct her to your website for a more detailed answer.  If you do want to have a FAQ, these are the top three questions we got asked all the freakin’ time along with their answers.

  • Are you both wearing dresses? Yes, we both have always wanted to wear a dress on our wedding day. No, they will not be matching dresses because that would be weird.
  • Who is wearing a tux? Our male bridesmates will be wearing suits. We are requesting that no tuxes be worn, as it is Texas and quite warm… even in November.
  • Can y’all even get married here? No, sadly, LGBTQ couples are not granted the same rights and privileges as straight couples in our state. Even though our marriage won’t be legal, we still consider it an important milestone of our relationship and are honoring the legality of marriage through older marriage rituals like hand fasting.  Please understand that, to us, this is the exact same as a legal wedding. We will also be signing a marriage certificate and encourage guests to sign as witnesses to our marriage.

How do I change or hyphenate my name?

Are you living in a state that recognizes your marriage? Well, then I am super jealous and it should be super easy, because you can just change it.  Look at the website Ms. Now Mrs., it does all of the paperwork for you for a small fee. Snazzy, no? Even when I contacted them and they *couldn’t* help me, they were super polite and informative. [Editor’s Note: I used it and it was completely worth it. – Alyssa] If you are a Texas reader, you can see a detailed list of what is necessary for changing names over here at SYE where I did a little bloggy-blog about it.

I hate to be Debbie Downer about this, but unless you live in a state that legally recognizes your union, changing your name is going to cost you a crap ton of money. You and your partner will have to file legal paperwork if you are hyphenating and there are lots of legal fees associated with this course of action. Up Side: You don’t have to have a lawyer to change your name.  You can find the correct documents needed on LegalZoomDown Side: The LegalZoom documents cost $139… each.  Each county may have different charges for filing paperwork of any kind, and there are also state fees.

An easy and practical option is to keep your name the same, but let your friends and family know that you are planning to hyphenate/change your name when time or money allows.  All of our letters that come from our loved ones are now addressed to ‘The Campbell-Greenes’, but our bills and business stuff still have our legal non-hyphenated names.

If you do decide to change or hyphenate, it is a good idea to speak with an accountant first just to make sure it isn’t going to cause any problems when it comes to filing your taxes.

What extra steps do we need to take if we are married in a state that doesn’t recognize our marriage?

President Obama, through legislation, has made sure that LGBTQ couples can visit their significant others while in the hospital, that does not mean everything is hunky-dory in ‘Mo-Town. The most important documents you can obtain are your Power of Attorney and the Advanced Directive (also called a Living Will). This will allow you or your partner to make medical and financial decisions on the other’s behalf. Most urban cities have lawyers that specialize in LGBTQ rights, regardless of legal marriage status.  These lawyers, like most specialty lawyers, are  a wee bit expensive.  If you are doing more than POA and Advanced Directives, I would highly recommend speaking to one of these lawyers for advice.  However, these two documents can be filed on legal websites like Legal Zoom for a lower cost.  Deborah and I filed on legal zoom for less than $200. It is also a good idea to get a mini-version of these documents to carry with you in your wallet.    [Editor’s Note: GLAD and NCLR not only have amazing tip-sheets, but are great resources.  Also consider LAMBDA Legal for finding legal help and info on finding representation.  Protect yourself and your baby family.]

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Ok, Team Practical. You may not have advice on planning a LGBTQ Wedding that you want to share (or maybe you do!). So feel free to share what you learned during APW Pride week, gay, straight, or in between…. And then, go spend the weekend celebrating freedom, and thinking about how much work we’ll still need to do to make sure the US really is a country of freedom for all.

Photo: Katherine O’Brien Photography in Austin, Texas

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