Sarah & Joanna’s Legal D.C. Wedding

* Sarah, Analytical Researcher & Joanna, Television Broadcast Professional *

When my partner of five years proposed on our anniversary, I was thrilled. No kidding, right? It had been such a long time coming that it became a punch line, but we wanted to get married legally. Getting engaged right when marriage became legal in Washington, D.C., where we lived, felt hollow. So we discussed it. We waited. And then, after a lot of other arguably significant relationship milestones, late on a weeknight after she had gotten home from a full day of work and a five-hour class and I was threatening to fall asleep, out came a ring and on went the glasses that I had already taken off for the night.

After we were officially engaged, I found myself in a state of bliss that I honestly did not anticipate. Having been together for so long, I didn’t think it was possible to become so excited about something as predictable and rote as being engaged. I found that my partner, my fiancé, also gushed to friends and family when talking about the engagement, how she planned it, the blow-by-blow of each moment. She is not effusive—especially about matters so personal. As a matter of fact, I think I can count on one hand the number of times that I have seen her gush since we met. It was a pleasantly surprising time for us.

At some point though, reality set in. After spending some time floating in the bliss pool, being the planner that I am, I started to formulate how this wedding thing would actually work. I tried to avoid big wedding magazines and other more conventional sources for wedding planning because that is not our style. But truth be told, if you are planning a wedding that you want to look like a wedding, you start to look for things that are related to well, a wedding.

As we live in D.C. and marriage licenses became available for same sex couples in March of 2010, I expected to see this reality reflected in local vendor sites, blogs, and publications. However, what I saw were pictures and stories and suggestions to and from straight couple after straight couple on almost every website and in every magazine. A wedding is a wedding, right? Love is love, an occasion to be celebrated. Call me a jerk but I was tired of mentally rewriting the language to include us. While it is easy to say that inclusionary images and language do not matter, the reality is that they do. Typically we conceive of a wedding as a happy experience. If you see a wedding in a park or at the hotel where you are staying, I think it is pretty typical to mentally wish the couple well. To be happy for a stranger’s happiness. The longer I looked, the more I began to feel as if we were a couple for whom strangers could not be happy.

My fiancé was especially helpful during this period, asking questions like, “Why are you so angry all the time?” We were not full-on wedding planning for more than two days before I was ready to punch the next person in the face (sorry, Rabbi!) who suggested getting married in Maryland or Virginia to cut costs, as we could not actually marry there. I became truly anxious as we moved forward to seeking vendors. Almost all of the fun and joy was sucked out of this process for me. I negotiated with myself. I couldn’t stand the thought of going to a bridal store and being asked about my groom. None of the shops in the area used same-sex friendly language in their marketing material, so I decided not to visit one. I came up with a game plan for every vendor discussion and visit. If they seemed unfriendly when we arrived, if they asked where the groom was, or who the bride was, or said how nice of your friend to come with you, or asked if we were sisters, I was out. I warned my fiancé about this. I told her that I knew we were going to spend a lot of money on this and that I was okay with that. But in order to do this, I needed to feel good about every check we wrote. I expected to get the best treatment. I wanted the vendors to exhibit as much excitement and happiness for us as I imagined they would for any heterosexual couple. Frankly, I wanted to see even more excitement and happiness from them considering there were so few places we could get married in the U.S. They should be delighted to get our business. I expected the worst in order to brace myself for what might happen because I just did not think I could handle it any other way.

With that, practically gritting my teeth, we began to contact vendors. One day on my lunch break, I closed my office door, took a deep breath, and called a caterer. I had high hopes about her because she came recommended by friends, but you never know. I do not remember how I let her know it was a gay wedding. I think maybe she asked me my fiancé’s name. The conversation continued without pause. We talked for nearly forty-five minutes about everything from the venues we were considering, to what kind of chairs we might use (we had to select chairs?), to what kinds of food we liked. The conversation was free and easy and fun. I started to feel like a bride, a happy one. She became our right-hand person as the wedding planning progressed, and we started to think of her as a friend.

The next big decision was the venue. Trickier because we had to physically go there and they would see both of us. Hey! Gay wedding here! We made two appointments and I will be damned if they were not both completely pleasant. At each venue, there was nothing awkward about the process, about the fact that there were two women there, and there was no mention of a groom. In fact, the coordinator at the venue we ultimately selected excitedly suggested local judges who only performed gay weddings in case we needed an officiant.

It became a theme—no, this happiness became the centerpiece of our planning process. Our photographer was thrilled for us, the makeup artist, the DJ. By the end of the reception we were sharing the beers we had hand-selected with the venue coordinator. The catering staff was wishing us congratulations and packing up leftovers for us and honked and waved as they drove off when we exited the venue. We were pampered and petted and beautifully toasted and cared for and wished well by perfect strangers when we dashed into a bookstore for photos. Again, I know that this is what it is supposed to be like, but unlike straight couples, for us there is always the potential to encounter that one person who can ruin it: one word called out in the street, some skewed biblical reference, and I was prepared—but it would have crushed me. It must have just been part of the magic that I didn’t know was possible because it just did not happen.

I was prepared for every single scenario except the one we experienced. Where the goodness was just the core of everything, that grew at our first look in a quaint Dupont Circle alley, that multiplied as we stood under the chuppah with our Rabbi, that overflowed out the doors and onto the streets of this city that my wife and I call home.

The Info—Photographer: Piper Watson / Location: Washington, D.C. / Venue: The Whittemore House, home of The Woman’s National Democratic Club / Sarah’s Dress: Kate Spade / Sarah’s Shoes: Stuart WeitzmanJoanna’s Suit: Tom James Company / Joanna’s Shoes: Fluevog / Sarah and Joanna’s Rings and Earrings: Zsuzsi Wolf / Catering: Corcoran Caterers. The food was truly fantastic and the caterer was a dream to work with. / Cupcakes: Curbside Cupcakes / DJ: Kristina Gray

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  • Hannah K

    I’m about to go back and read, but first and foremost: GIVE ME BOTH OUTFITS AND PAIRS OF SHOES (and i’ll take your lovely steps, too, for good measure). SUCH STYLE!

    • Hannah K

      aaaand this was beautiful and insightful, to boot.

  • Laura C

    Speaking of DC venues, I went to a wedding at HRC’s Equality Center — not the most ambiance ever but it was a fine space, a nice event, and there’d be no worries about how they’d respond to an LGBT couple!

  • For Wedding Graduates and Wordless Weddings (especially in same-sex weddings and in straight weddings where both members of the couple have masculine and/or feminine sounding names, like Jamie and Sam for example), is there any way to get more information on who is who? Like, I can’t tell from reading, or the pictures, which one is Joanna and which one is Sarah. Also, there is no reference as to whom is interesting.

    I know it doesn’t make a huge difference to people but I personally like to have a reference as to whom is narrating, and also knowing who is in the rockin’ dress and who is in the rockin’ suit.

    • Brigid

      I was also wondering if there was a specific reason why the writer kept using “fiance” instead of “fiancee.”

      • Lindsay

        That’s how it’s correctly spelled– fiance.

        • heather

          Fiancé is masculine and financée is feminine.

    • Cleo

      I’m with you. In such cases, I usually scroll down before reading to see if there is apparel information, but that doesn’t help with narration if that name isn’t given (or if both parties are wearing a suit and/or dress)! I like to know whose voice I’m reading (to go along with the pictures).

      • For this posting:

        Sarah’s Dress: Kate Spade / Sarah’s Shoes: Stuart Weitzman / Joanna’s Suit: Tom James Company / Joanna’s Shoes: Fluevog / Sarah and Joanna’s Rings and Earrings: Zsuzsi Wolf /

        • Yes good point–I missed that at the end, but who is narrating?

          • Ellen

            I think it is the one in glasses since they make a reference early on to putting their glasses back on- so Sarah?

    • meg

      I believe Sarah (in the dress) is narrating, since she listed herself as Partner 1. To be frank, we don’t always know. Which I think is sort of awesome. As far as I’m concerned it should only matter if the couple thinks it should matter. I also like to match a narrator to a picture/ outfit, but I find that it makes me question a lot of assumptions when I can’t.

      As for why the writer used “fiance”, I don’t know. It was submitted to us that way, so we ran it that way. It could be a political choice, or it could be just not noticing. As a dyslexic, I know a thing or two about that.

  • Katherine

    An absolutely gorgeous wedding!! I couldn’t keep the smile off my face when I was scrolling through the entire post! Congrats to you both :-)

  • Lea

    Crying so many happy tears!!! Legal marriage + the city sharing your joy = restored faith in humanity. <3 Congrats!

  • There is so much joy in these photos! Also – PUPPY IN A TUTU, WHAT?!

    • NB


      This stranger is very happy for you, and also very happy for your freaking adorable dog in a tutu. Great big explosions of delight all-around.

      • Kelsey

        Totes agreed!! Mazel Tov!

        • Amy

          Haha I said that outloud too: ” is that a dog in a tutu!?! Awesome”

  • Jessica B

    I was terrified while reading that you would come up against the discrimination you expected, and am feeling a big desire to cheer out loud for you! I love when people aren’t awful like I expect them to be, and I’m so glad you ended up with positive experiences from all sides!


  • OMG, you guys, this was like a flashback to all of the horrors and insecurities I had about our wedding. My wife got shamed about marrying a lady at two different stores when looking at dresses (and then got bodyshamed at a third, DRESS SHOPPING IS SO AWESOME, RIGHT?) and it set a really defensive tone for the rest of my experience. Despite the fact that we met our caterer at an HRC open house, had a friend marry us and a photographer who is gay and married. All of the rest of the fiddly bits were concerning.

    I think a lot of the wedding industry chose not to feature gay couples because offending conservative Christians meant alienating a larger client base than gay couples. A lot has changed in the past three years and I can only hope it keeps getting better.

    I do miss the gender neutral term “fiancee.” I work in fundraising and wear a wedding ring. Whenever anyone asks me what my husband does at a work function, I have to take a moment and gauge whether I should lie to them or not.

    • Megan

      I totally feel you on the “fiancee” vs “wife” thing! I usually end up stumbling over both words mixed together and sounding awesome.

    • quinners

      Do you use “spouse”? It might be the gender-neutral term you’re looking for.

      • It is, but it’s a term I only hear from gay couples, so to me it still reads as gay (also, I really hate that word, it’s not pretty to me). There may be the unspoken assumption that a fiancee is of the opposite gender, but there was a comfort in using the same term as everyone else and not having anyone question it.

  • Molly

    There is such joy and love visible in the faces of every single person at this wedding. Mazel tov!

  • Aly

    This is lovely. What a beautiful wedding! I also think this post speaks to a lot of fears for same-sex weddings and will hopefully give other couples the confidence that there are positive experiences out there.

    I’m so glad you had such a positive vendor experience (and in my backyard–DC!)! Mazel tov!

  • The SUIT.

  • Erin E

    “The longer I looked, the more I began to feel as if we were a couple for whom strangers could not be happy.”

    I am happy for you!! And it looks like you had an awesome wedding, too. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  • Lauren

    I can’t even process. Tattoo! Suit! Cupcakes! Breakdancing! Dog in a tutu!

  • Maureen

    Sarah! It’s Maureen from St. Mary’s. Kevin posted your blog to facebook – SO HAPPY this was such a wonderful experience for you guys! Also, your shoes and dress are amazing! And you can still stop traffic!

  • Megan

    “…we were going to spend a lot of money on this and that I was okay with that. But in order to do this, I needed to feel good about every check we wrote. I expected to get the best treatment. I wanted the vendors to exhibit as much excitement and happiness for us as I imagined they would for any heterosexual couple. Frankly, I wanted to see even more excitement and happiness from them considering there were so few places we could get married in the U.S. They should be delighted to get our business.”


    Just … yes. Thank you for putting that into words. So glad everything worked out beautifully for you two!

  • Mazel Tov! The joy in the wedding is beautiful.

  • This is really lovely. All the best to you both. LOVE that last photo of everyone dancing, Sarah and Joanna in the middle!

  • Oh my, the first photo with the two of you and the dog (Lab? total win) is so great.

  • Abby J.

    Honestly, I don’t think this wedding needs any commentary other than,


  • that suit! so handsome! i can’t even bear it.

    also, yes for positive experiences! i always use our wedding as my “hey, the deep south isn’t really a horrible place to be queer” story for folks – because we somewhat unexpectedly got the kind of reception you described from vendors (and, actually, strangers – as our wedding was in a public park).

  • Anjali

    goodness, this made me so happy to read. i was expecting someone to be awful (and what a sad thing to have to expect in this day and age), but it is so, so good to know that your vendors and the people who helped put together your wedding were all supportive and shared in your happiness. i wish you two a happy marriage!!

  • Awesome post, joyous wedding and killer pants suit. But WHAT DOES THAT BEAUTiFUL TATTOO say?!

    • Katherine

      Exactly my question too…..hope the OP will answer that one for us!

    • Hopefully this doesn’t make me sound like a total creeper, but I recognized it! One of my favorite quotes.

      “Every moment happens twice: inside and outside, and they are two different histories.” – Zadie Smith, White Teeth

  • quinners

    This was lovely, and I am so glad to see a same-sex wedding met with such positivity. So far we haven’t had any issues with vendors either. It gives me hope.

  • Sam A

    I an a stranger… And am also super happy for you both! Lovely post, about a lovely-looking wedding.

  • Sarah McD

    YOU GUYS ALL THE FEELS. Tears. So many happy tears in my eyes right now. And as happy as I am when straight couples marry, I definitely feel a little more excitement and joy when I see same-sex weddings. My heart was bursting to read how absolutely wonderful all of the vendors were to Sarah and Joanna. BECAUSE YES YOU DESERVE ALL THAT LOVE AND MORE. Excuse me while I go happy-cry some more over this beautiful post.

  • This: “this happiness became the centerpiece of our planning process.” Exactly that. I’m so happy this is how it turned out– we had a very similar experience when we were planning our wedding.


  • Angry Feminist Bitch

    This is beautiful.

  • I really love this post. Gorgeous photo’s and i’m so happy for the couple!

  • MDBethann

    I love your cupcake choice!! Curbside Cupcakes comes by office once a week and they are delicious!

    Glad you had such a magical experience – best wishes to you both.

  • Sarah

    I think this is the first post on APW that has actually made me cry! So happy for you both :-)