Our $45K Nonstop San Francisco Wedding of Fabulous Unity

When conversion therapy fails spectacularly

matt, interior designer & dennis, lawyer

Sum-up of the wedding vibe: A nonstop celebration uniting all different types of family and friends.

Planned budget: $30,000
Actual budget: $45,000
Number of guests: 113
LOCATION: San Francisco, California


The largest allocation by far was to the venue—the University Club in San Francisco. The largest part of that bill was the bar tab. “Your friends are drunks,” we each said to each other simultaneously as we looked at the final bill. We made the decision the bar would be open. Our friends and family mean everything to us and they took the time from their lives and many traveled to be with us for this night, so if they wanted a drink, or four, who are we to say no? Plus, the wedding took place in San Francisco, and the drinks flow here like nowhere else. When in Rome…

We had a very emotional component to this wedding, one we had not anticipated when we planned the date. First, unlike in any wedding we’ve been to, we were blessed that almost a dozen friends and family stood and toasted us. This including Matt’s dad, who made the last-minute decision to stand and toast us with a simple yet beautiful speech. That meant more than one would think, given his parents’ religious beliefs and our not knowing whether they would even attend.

Related Post

San Francisco City Hall Weddings: Everything You Need To Know

As if folks didn’t need a drink to recover from all that, Dennis’s twenty-year-old son, Henry, was experiencing a near-fatal blood infection at the time, and we did not know until a couple of days before the wedding whether he would be in the hospital, or even whether we would need to postpone the wedding. Everyone in attendance knew about the illness and could see he was very sick, and that he could barely stand straight walking his sister down the aisle. Then, during dinner, surprising a room of over 120 people—he stood and spoke. This brought the house down, tears to all eyes… and the need for immediate drinks en mass to steel some nerves.


Wedding bands, though we did not plan it that way. Because of Henry’s illness and almost three months of hospitalization, our wedding band budget was consumed by housing and food costs for our temporary relocation to live in Palo Alto to be at Henry’s bedside for heart surgery and prolonged recovery at Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. He went in for emergency surgery two days after the wedding, so we spent a honeymoon night on a hospital lobby couch. Talk about a sexy honeymoon. We plan to have the bands before the first anniversary in February, however, and are working with the amazing Thomas Montgomery Ortega-Stern.


Being able to stand up in front of our family and friends and proclaim what we each already knew—not only are we in love but we are equal. Remember, just a few years earlier the fate of same-sex marriage was unknown. Though it has been legal in California for a number of years now, it was only a few years ago that the U.S. Supreme Court held that we as a gay couple officially had the same rights to marriage as a straight couple under the Constitution. This ceremony was also a particularly poignant moment for us, particularly given Matt’s journey. An only child raised by evangelical parents, Matt was taught being gay was an aberration—that something was wrong with him. He was sent to conversion therapy. We can all see that failed spectacularly, thankfully. Standing in front of all of our friends—and his parents (who were wonderful to Dennis and his children and at the ceremony, by the way)—he took that last step of the journey and was able to fully embrace who he is.


Not planning far enough in advance to get the proper-sized guest book. Given Henry’s illness and hospitalizations, Dennis was not able to help Matt with the preparations for the wedding and, thus, it fell to Matt to do everything, from table setting design, to seat placement, to a thousand other things. One of those small details was the guest book. We ordered it from some place online and it arrived—the day after the wedding of course. On the afternoon of the wedding, realizing we didn’t have a book, a friend volunteered to go find one. Unfortunately, it was a small, personal journal style booklet—with leopard print. Ahem. So, you can imagine given its small size it was bypassed by most guests who did not see it (or thought, “This can’t be a guest book for Matt and Dennis—some pre-teen girl must have left her journal on the table”).


Wine. Well, given we drink wine to help us do the laundry, we should say, “Drink more wine.” Our wedding planning was one under fire given the unique challenge of a kid in the hospital and one of the grooms living sixty miles away near the hospital up until the week before the wedding while the other groom did absolutely everything. Matt’s advice as the wedding planner is to take it one step at a time, do not freak out and sweat the small stuff, and always ask for help from friends and family when needed.

We are blessed with many who stepped up and helped with many details. The wedding coordinator at the University Club was also helpful in terms of venue details. In addition, Matt is a designer and his background was a huge help in that he had an eye toward what works. In our case, he infused the historic University Club venue (built in the 1800s) with a modern touch. (Dennis notes here that Matt likes and knows how to dress older things—thankfully for him.)


Do not wait. The amount of last-minute decisions and details is overwhelming. And the last few days before the wedding will likely be insane, with friends and family coming to town and everyone wanting a piece of the couple, as well as receptions and dinners with the family. Try and get as much planning and decision-making done as early as you can and enlist help where friends and family can pitch in. In our case, Matt planned the entire wedding, from place settings to seating charts, from music selection to the entrees offered for dinner. Dennis couldn’t do much as he was with Henry in the hospital and trying to work. This is another piece of advice to the planner—prepare for unforeseen events as you head to the big day. You want to do everything you can to get the little stuff and the decisions out of the way early so you can focus on what matters without the extra worry or the stress—the two of you on your most important day.


First would be the outpouring of love we received in an unprecedented number of toasts from our friends and families, like nothing we’ve seen in any wedding ever—guys Matt grew up with in Orange County and who supported him through his journey and coming out and are like his brothers, both fathers, both best men, people Dennis worked with and made his career possible through difficult times, and both Dennis’s children.

Our second favorite thing would be a father of one of Matt’s friend’s growing up taking our song, “Always By My Side,” which is a techno disco-type beat (c’mon, we’re gay) and made it into a beautiful piano arrangement which he played as Matt walked down the aisle.

Finally, when we booked the date we did not know it would be on the night San Francisco celebrates the Chinese New Year, which is a huge deal here. Through the panoramic windows of the University Club, as the speeches concluded that night, fireworks over the city skyline went off as if on cue. We’ll never forget it—or the magical night.


Featured Sponsored Content

Please read our comment policy before you comment.

The APW Store is Here

APW Wedding e-shop

go find all our favorites from around the internet, and our free planning tools

Shop Now
APW Wedding e-shop

Planning a wedding?

We have all the planning tools you need right now.

Budget spreadsheets, checklists, and more...

Get Your Free Planning Tools