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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