A Union Of Hearts

By Chelle Cordero

April 16, 2010 5 min read

When Desiree Leone and Carolee Stoll got "married" eight years ago, they had to go to Vermont for a small civil union with a justice of the peace; when they came home to New York, they had a barbecue-type party with 200 friends and family members celebrating the happy occasion. But their home state of New York still doesn't recognize civil unions, and that's something they've been poignantly aware of, especially since they've become parents.

Desiree says that today "most wedding reception centers are open to same-sex marriages and ceremonies. Most ceremonies as they exist today are performed civilly. Many same-sex couples still travel to states where such unions are recognized and legal and return home where they are not."

In 1999, Gretchen Hamm wanted to help plan her lesbian daughter's wedding in the same way she planned on contributing to her heterosexual son's wedding. She was surprised to find that the items she had expected to find at her local gay bookstore (such as wedding photo albums for same-sex couples) didn't, at the time, exist. She formed TwoBrides.com and TwoGrooms.com as an answer to other parents who want to help their gay children plan memorable celebrations. They provide a selection of gay-friendly products and a network of vendors.

Kathryn Hamm, Gretchen's daughter and president of GayWeddings.com, says that 10 years ago, "couples were choosing meaningful nonlegal ceremonies in smaller numbers. They had to make cold calls to vendors not knowing how they would be received. Books and online resources were very limited." Today, she says, "couples in five states (Iowa, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire) and the District of Columbia are having meaningful legal ceremonies and celebrations in greater numbers. Couples can choose from several gay-friendly vendor directories to find vendors who embrace same-sex marriage and other relationship celebrations. And there are countless guides, books, forums and other online resources (both mainstream and gay wedding-focused) that offer tips, advice and ideas for same-sex couples."

There have been definite Web-traffic trends in the gay wedding market, explains Kathryn Hamm. "We have seen consistently that our top four markets have been New York, Texas, California and Florida. Though these numbers are not surprising given that this volume correlates with general population counts in our largest states, what is amazing is that these top four markets continue to be markets in which same-sex marriage is not legal (California's brief window notwithstanding). This year's surprise? Virginia (another state where same-sex marriage is not legal -- though it borders Washington, D.C., where it is) rounds out our top five."

Some vendors and clergy/judges will only perform "legal" ceremonies in states that have legalized same-sex weddings. There are some who have recognized the need for services even in states where the law does not. "I am an interfaith minister who officiates at weddings for loving couples, both heterosexual and same-sex," the Rev. Edie Weinstein explains. "I am based in Pennsylvania, and in this state, same-sex marriage is not yet legal. I refer to these ceremonies as weddings, and the only difference is that there is no license issued by the state for me to sign. I co-create the ceremonies with the brides and grooms in the same manner that I would with any couple and infuse it with the same richness."

When Mikey Rox and his fiance, Earl, decided to get married, they understood that by law, their wedding will be a commitment ceremony rather than a legal marriage, but it still is going to be their day. "We can't legally get married in New York, but we don't care about the laws," Rox says. "We would love to have the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples, but for us, it's more about sharing our love and our life together in spite of what mainstream America may think about our union."

Mikey and Earl are one of at least three gay couples who entered the Crate and Barrel's Ultimate Wedding Contest. The rules state that "two-person couples ... engaged to be lawfully married ... (for purposes of these Official Rules the term 'lawfully married' also includes couples who intend to unite in a commitment ceremony; 'wedding' includes commitment ceremony; and 'bridal registry' includes commitment registry)."

The times they are a-changin'.

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