What makes a wedding "real": Why our gay wedding will be traditional

April 23 | Guest post by mtnhoney
Kole and Kel (1)
Thanks to Devin Bruce for submitting this photo to us. PS: This isn't the author and her partner.

We didn't start out wanting a big wedding. My partner proposed to me on a gorgeous summer morning in June. That afternoon we went for a hike, walking together on a blissful cloud of love, and naturally began discussing how we envisioned our wedding.

She revealed that she had always wanted a beach wedding. I wanted to incorporate elements of my pagan spirituality in the ceremony. We both agreed it had to be in the summer. Since we don't have a lot of money, we thought a simple party in one of Vancouver's lovely beach parks would be perfect. We'd invite 30 or so people, immediate family and our closest friends, and have a potluck picnic. Simple, inexpensive, no frills.

Then a funny thing happened. We announced our engagement by emailing everyone a photo slideshow I had created, and a lot of people got really excited. And we got more excited along with them. When we first sat and wrote down all the names of the people we wanted to be there, we had over 100! If we stayed with our original "intimate wedding" plan, that meant NOT inviting a lot of people that we loved, and who loved us.

We got to thinking — this is a major life event, and should be celebrated properly! We are undervaluing our wedding and treating it like a kid's birthday party in a park! This isn't good enough for family to fly across the country for! We are completely committed to building a life together 'til death do us part, so we might as well kick that off with a helluva party. We realized we wanted a real wedding.

What's a real wedding?

Every couple has their own answer to that question, but it's a very potent (and political) one for same-sex couples. We are lucky enough to live in Canada where it has been legal since 2004, and I am so thankful for that. We are also lucky enough to have supportive and loving families, so planning a more formal wedding wasn't our way of making our relationship more "legitimate" in their eyes — but I know that IS the case for some.

Same-sex weddings are still new enough that a lot of people wonder how different they will be compared to a straight wedding. I suspect that some straight people automatically think that all queers are alternative, counter-culture types and in their minds gay wedding = rainbow musical theatre circus. Or something to that effect. I guess they just don't know how many conservative, mild-mannered queers there are out there, who plan black tie formals and get married in churches.

Some people expect them to be different, for a variety of personal reasons and pop culture assumptions. We hear more about the challenges couples face with their non-traditional wedding plans, but how about the challenges/criticisms/judgements we face when we choose to include tradition? I have personally experienced this — close family and friends expressing their disappointment in our more conventional ideas in not so tactful ways. My mother hoped we would elope. Others have openly displayed their surprise that we were having a bridal party.

I was hurt — do they think my wedding is less cool now that they know there will be flower girls and a father-daughter dance? And I was confused — WHY should a same-sex wedding be so different from a straight wedding?

Maybe because heteros have had a few thousand years of the right to marry, they feel more free to mess with tradition, whereas same-sex couples are taking it more seriously. To prove to their parents, friends, themselves, and society at large that this is a real wedding.

I didn't set out to make my wedding gay, but by having two women at the altar we are put in that category by default. I feel that I am planning pretty much the same kind of wedding I would have wanted whether I was marrying a man, or a woman (personal note: I did at one point in my late 20's get very close to marrying a man). This celebration will reflect who we are as individuals, not as gay people.

The heart of this party is the joining together of two people in love, and their two families becoming one. Truly, this is what has sustained us when we had our doubts about it all — we want our parents, siblings, extended family and our circle of friends to meet each other and share in this one special day together.

I know that it will be the first same-sex wedding for most of our guests, myself included! I hope that afterwards, even if they hadn't thought much about it before, our guests will go home and muse on the fact that ours was just like any other wedding. And I hope that this realization will have a ripple effect that eventually encompasses the entire world, as more people will accept that our love is like any other love and can be celebrated in any way we choose.

  1. A beautiful post, I am sure it will be a beautiful wedding! Congratulations : )

    12 agree
  2. Very cool! Congrat's. A close friend and her partner got married in Victoria a few years back and it was such a lovely event. There were only a few of us present- it was hush hush at the time. Thrilled for you that you have the wonderful support you deserve- I'm living in the US at the moment-they have a long way to go to catch up!- enjoy your day
    Congratulations!!

    5 agree
  3. As soon as I saw the title of this article the thought that occured to me was pretty much what you stated "Maybe because heteros have had a few thousand years of the right to marry, they feel more free to mess with tradition, whereas same-sex couples are taking it more seriously." I think it's true, I wanted a way to make my wedding different than every other straight couple!

    I hope your wedding is as wonderful and full of love as you envision, everyone deserves that.

    5 agree
    • I fully agree that everyone deserves the wedding that feels most right and real and loving to them…but the same quote ("Maybe because heteros have had a few thousand years of the right to marry, they feel more free to mess with tradition, whereas same-sex couples are taking it more seriously…") rubbed me the wrong way. I suppose it's all about perspective, which is as it should be.

      As a queer person who feels no sense of connection to most aspects of the mainstream wedding template–or many aspects of the mainstream relationship template, for that matter–it would feel hollow an unsatisfying and like a cop out for my partner and me to have a "traditional" wedding. Does this mean that we're not taking our wedding or our marriage seriously? Nope. In fact, quite the opposite. It's because we take these things so seriously that we want our wedding to be a true reflection of us as a couple and as members of our specific community. What's most important in any ritual, I think, is that it be deeply meaningful to the people involved. Otherwise, why bother?

      If the original poster feels that a so-called traditional wedding most accurately and meaningfully reflects who she and her partner are as a couple, then that's a beautiful thing. It gets a bit slippery, though, when the discourse starts going the way of "traditional = legitimate, non-traditional = not serious". I think as queers and as human beings in general we all stand to gain much more by acknowledging the tremendous and lovely diversity among us than by perpetuating the dominant notion that in order to prove our legitimacy we need to marginalize or sublimate anything that goes against the mainstream and prove that we can be just as straight as anyone else regardless of what's in our pants.

      Again, I'm all for MTNHONEY and her partner having exactly what they want, no compromises. It just makes me sad when I encounter messages seemingly rooted in some degree of internalized homophobia that equate the choice to make meaning in new ways with either privilege or frivolousness.

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      • I totally get your point, and did NOT mean that a traditional wedding means it is more legitimate- quite the opposite. I am simply sharing my experience of backlashes from family and friends to our wishes for traditional elements for our wedding, in the face of our non-traditional relationship.

        I support- commend!- couples who create weddings that hold meaning for them and reflect who they are, regardless of their sexual orientation, which is what my partner and I are trying to do.

        "to reflect who we are as individuals, not as gay people"

        Embracing diversity AND traditions is what I'd like to see more of.

        10 agree
  4. " This celebration will reflect who we are as individuals, not as gay people."

    THIS! Hardcore.

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    • I think this is the hardest hurdle for people to get over when they're trying to being tolerant and "embrace diversity." It doesn't occur to them that by treating any aspect of someone gingerly with politically-correct hands, they miss the entirety and complexity of the person. I.e. by focusing on including someone because they are not straight/white/Christian/etc, they are still excluding them. I find this article very inspiring as I am biracial and not straight, but I would like a nice church wedding that (still) reflects my personality. Thanks for the reminder that regardless of what others expect, weddings are a time of celebration for those who are making a significant and joyful decision.

      3 agree
  5. Damn skippy! If you're a big white wedding kind of girl, there's no reason you shouldn't have one, even if your "groom" is a chick.

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  6. " We are undervaluing our wedding and treating it like a kid's birthday party in a park! This isn't good enough for family to fly across the country for! "

    We shared this aha moment as offbeat heteros. Why not have the nicest wedding we CAN afford?

    5 agree
  7. omg PLEAsE submit your wedding profile after its over. I cant wait to share the beauty.

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  8. thanks everyone!! we are now at double digit countdown- 99 days until the wedding! OMG I can't believe it. Must maintain control over budget spreadsheet, timeline and sanity. :)

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  9. A refreshing point and well-written piece. I would like to highlight the point that you are making in terms of individualism, and I think this was a balanced and articulate expression of your viewpoint.

    It was especially interesting to hear what you said when you touched on your hurt at other people's expectations. It's so easy to box people up, gay or straight.

    3 agree
  10. I'm a pre-everything closeted trans guy, my fiancee is a queer femme, and we're skating on that gray area of 'queerest things alive' and 'heteronormative, straight acting, more boy/girl than most cis-straight couples we know' ie: she sewed together little felt christmas ornaments, I sat refinishing a table with sandpaper, while we listened to acoustic indie music on vinyl and drank tea'
    We're not exactly average, she's a certified genius, I'm a little more to deal with [being the clumsy, learning disabled, fat kid with scoliosis and bad knees] we both suffer from depression and it gets worse when we try to please other people–We're having it on a pirate ship and some people will get it, it's like we're going all princess bride on your asses, because well she's gorgeous and we're braver than we get credit for, it's like, people will ask why I'm not in a dress, or why she is wearing 1920's style shoes with a 1940's dress with a full back tattoo but it's our day and it's not a joke or a mockery, it's not to be over the top and out there, we're not having a single rainbow or gaga song, but if I had been born a man, I would be a little silly and blurt out things like "Let's just hi-jack a pirate ship and get married, tomorrow" before we were dating, I had told her for 2 years I wanted to marry her on a boat, and the more we thought about it, the more we liked it, we'll have known eachother for 10 years when we get married, and that's no small thing. We're going to do things our way, I'm terrified to ask the officient to not use very gendered language, I want to have limited pronouns, because honestly, it will ruin my day if I'm called a wife or a bride, but there's not a word for me yet, really I just want to be hers forever.

    8 agree
    • Dear friend… I am one of three, a polyfidelitous triad. For lack of a better word, an equal and non-trendy word, I call them both my spouses. We don't use husband of wife. Spouse… it's an old-fashioned word to be sure, but personally to me it sounds better than "partner" – that rings of a business contract, not a marriage. I wish you all the best… and we LOVE The Princess Bride!!!

      1 agrees
      • Spouse is a good word, I have always had the same feeling about partner, it's like, we're not lawyers, we're not in a science lab huddled over a bunsen burner, we're not playing doubles in tennis… I understand that it's a word of equality and poses no ownership, which is great, it's also a little ambiguous which is something I'm striving to find, but she mostly just calls me her love, or her fiance[e] and I'm glad you've got something that works for you. We want the officiant to slip in at least one "mawige" not every single mention of the word, just once, so the people who get it can get it, the people who don't won't be out of the loop

        2 agree
    • The idea of a pirate ship wedding is spectacular! You and your fiancée should just do you and don't be afraid to ask anything of anyone on your wedding day. Be proud of those 10 years, and look forward to the next 40!

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      • We've put the deposit down, it's only about an hour from the bulk of our guests, both of our home towns are about an hour away in opposite directions and about 20 mins by subway [could be more could be less by car] for us from the apartment… So we figure no one can grumble, it was bound to be in Toronto anyway since that's where we live, small hometowns are nice but don't have ships! Since writing the original post, she's told her parents about our arrangement [which we started planning last year] and they've turned it into a financial worry and not the fact that we're queer… but then of course added "it's nontraditional" it's been legal in our city for a decade now, I'm blessed to be Canadian it's made things so much easier, but I still can't wrap my head around the fact that it still has to be a fight. I'm absolutely looking to grow old with her, we kind of rapid fire between being 7 year olds watching the new my little pony on youtube sunday mornings, to sitting there like 60 year olds saying 'my knee hurts, it's cold out, my hip hurts, can you put on some tea?' I think she's honestly my match, we've got a real history, she was my valentine for about 4 or 5 years in a row, and she never caught on, she thought it was just singles commiserating and not the fact that I couldn't stand someone not asking that beautiful girl out. I would've been secretly jealous if she'd had someone else but she takes things to heart, so to be single on the day society doesn't let you be single seemed like no one noticed how wonderful she was and would she like company. We'd spent birthdays together, decorated her christmas tree, ran mundane errands, just to be close to one another, and it's suiting us fine now.

        0 agree
        • So, it's been a while since this was posted, but I'm dying to know. How did it go? I'm picturing the wedding on that big huge tall-ship that sits in the harbour. The one with the four or five billowing sails. I would love to get married on that. I imagine it would be a fortune, but I've never checked it out, maybe I'd be pleasantly surprised.

          0 agree
    • Your officiant should pronounce you "each other's forever," that's just unbelievably beautiful. Congratulations and a lifetime of happiness to you and your beloved!

      4 agree
      • I like that so much, I will ask her what she thinks. We've been toying with just being flippant like "now pronounce you…married…so you may as well kiss" my mom is all like, well wife and wife isn't it? woman and wife? something and wife… and I'm just like, "it sounds awkward" as in it's just weird phrasing because we're working out the kinks of how it's been done until now… but really it's gender issues for me. We thought about 'now pronounce you each other's' but not eachother's forever. I like that. I will definitely write it in our ideas book. Thank you.

        1 agrees
    • Whoever you choose as your officiant should be more than happy to accommodate whatever request you have! You and your fiance are going to have a wonderful day being exactly who you are meant to be together :) congrats!!! And if anyone has a problem refraining from calling you a bride, they obviously don't know/respect who you are well enough to be at your wedding! Spouse or companion are sweet and meaningful terms….

      2 agree
  11. I'd just also like to add, that my original title was "The Right to Marry WHO and HOW we want to!", OBB chose, "Why our gay wedding will be traditional".

    I don't want all the traditions, just some of them. For a lot of our guests, it will be not only the first lesbian wedding, but the first handfasting they have been to.

    We are embracing customs from our ancestry, and mixing in our personal styles, and honoring some western culture traditions. Either way, it will be a blast.

    6 agree
    • Yes, this! My lovely other and I are Pagan also. We had our handfasting last year and are incorporating it into our wedding this year. We have 6 weeks to go after being engaged for 2 years and people are STILL asking us if we're going to do this or that. We took a very NONtraditional approach to our wedding because we are, as individuals, nontraditional. We didn't want flowers at our wedding so we aren't. Do you know how many people have gawked at that decision? To each their own! Be fabulous is whatever it is that makes you feel fabulous! Congratulations on your upcoming wedding and handfasting! Many blessings upon you and yours!

      0 agree
  12. Much like one of the comments above, insinuating that hetero couples that have non-traditional weddings aren't taking things seriously isn't kosher. I also think the idea you shared about a wedding in the park = an undervalued kid's birthday party is really offensive.

    I'm not trying to be dramatic or flame, but why are people still justifying why they want a certain type or style of wedding by undercutting someone else's wedding?

    I'm really happy for you two that you figured out the kind of wedding you both wanted to have and you made it work.

    1 agrees
    • As someone whose het wedding basically felt EXACTLY like a kid's birthday party in the park, I totally respect the fact that not everyone wants that kind of wedding.

      We've talked a lot on Offbeat Bride about how construction is more difficult than demolition, but given the context here, I think it makes perfect sense for this author to explore what she wants in reaction to what others have done. We wouldn't have run the piece if it didn't fit with Offbeat Bride's values.

      3 agree
    • Oh dear, I am so sorry. I guess ruffling a few feathers is the price I pay for having a blog featured on OBB! In no way did I mean to insinuate that a picnic wedding in a park is less special or less legitimate. My partner and I simply felt like it wasn't enough to ask family to spend thousands of dollars in airfare and hotels to come have a picnic with us. We still loved the idea however, so we are compromising by hosting a picnic lunch the following day.

      I LOVE non-traditional weddings, and my choice of the word "serious" is causing some readers to lose the point of my thesis: we can choose to have whatever kind of wedding we want whether we are gay or straight. Don't expect straight weddings to be formal and gay ones to be casual.

      5 agree
      • Hi again. Just wanted to say that the frustration in my original comment wasn't directed at you, really, but at the general tone of "we're just like you" that I find can tend to dominate marriage equality discussions. That, and the editorial decision to change the title muddied the waters by implying a correlation between "real" weddings and tradition that it seems wasn't yours to begin with. These things are tricky, and I get where they were coming from in re-titling to grab the reader's attention. I'm sure they weren't thinking about all the complicated layers of implication in that new headline and had no intention of creating controversy.

        I think it's good to have these kinds of discussions when things come up so that none of us become complacent in our use of language or in assuming that just because we're all "offbeat" or "queer" (or fill-in-the-blank) that we all necessarily experience things the same way. Sometimes the written format makes things seem so serious, though, when in conversation the tone would be much lighter. Don't let this exchange weigh too heavily on you.

        2 agree
  13. Where weddings are concerned I hate the words traditional and nontraditional. Why can't we all just have the wedding we feel like having, without the labels? My dress is white (though with awesome blue/green/purple floral details) but it's not because I wanted the traditional white dress…Its just that the dress I love happens to be mostly white. I'm a Pagan but my ceremony is going to be Pagan lite, I'm adding things for my own spirituality needs but also making sure it's…"us" my FH is a "Pagan leaning agnostic" so why should our ceremony be filled with my religion? I think you guys should be able to have the wedding you feel like having, and no one bug you about it. I wish the U.S. at large would follow Canada's example :)

    1 agrees
  14. Oh, so excited to find you over here, West Coast Bride :-). And I think your wedding will be beautiful & Real. Though I will say as a hetero- I still struggled trying to find a wedding that felt "real." It took me a long time to comes to term with the fact we were going to have to rent a generic venue in order to hold all our families (No sentimental family property or first date place for us…!).

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  15. I'm pretty sure people might not think your wedding is real because you both look like wedding photo models…. too pretty to be real. Good luck and good celebrations to you!

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  16. When my bride and I were first planning our wedding I was very anti-tradition, believing that since we were not a "traditional" couple in the eyes of society, we shouldn't have a "traditional" marriage. But all that has changed. We are a traditional couple – we're two people in love who want to join our families and have a future together. The more we planned, the more we incorporated traditional elements, and I feel really good about that.

    0 agree
  17. Great to read this! My partner and I feel the same way about our wedding. We want everyone to share in our special day witness how "normal" our love really is. :) congrats!! Love the pic by the way :)

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  18. Ooh, right there with you. We're in NY, where some of the novelty of a same-sex wedding has worn off, but we definitely have felt like EVERYTHING was up for being defined the way we want it to be (which is great) and also like EVERYTHING is up for assumptions/blank stares (which means constantly explaining where politics or tradition or convention stop and us as individuals begin) from EVERYONE (from curious coworkers to good friends to family who have just barely heard of the whole gay wedding thing). Are our outfits a statement of a butch/femme identity that we're trying to convey or do I just feel really awkward in heels? I feel like a clydesdale in heels. Are our dads not walking us down the aisle because we don't need to get all patriarchal about it? Yes, plus some other reasons. Why are there dinosaurs on the invitations? Because dinosaurs are awesome. We figure nearly every element of our wedding will have some people sighing with joy and some people looking confused. As long as it means what we want it to, we're OK with that.

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  19. "I feel that I am planning pretty much the same kind of wedding I would have wanted whether I was marrying a man, or a woman."

    Yes! THANK YOU! I'm planning my wedding to another woman, and I've run up against so many annoying assumptions. Sometimes I just want to scream at people that the gender of the person I'm marrying is completely irrelevant. *sigh* It's a wedding. A real wedding.

    0 agree
  20. "We are undervaluing our wedding and treating it like a kid's birthday party in a park!"

    Hey, nothing wrong with a park party. :D I understand you want the "big white wedding" experience and that's great, but you don't need those things. Your family and friends will just feel happy to witness your marriage, no matter what kind of party you host. You said that "this isn't good enough for family to fly across the country for!" as if you owe everyone a big show for attending, and I found that kind of sad because those people are flying in because they love you. How could any wedding not be "good enough" for your loved ones to want to experience? Please don't feel that way.

    1 agrees
  21. We've been together 29yrs, married in WA in a small ceremony the first day it was legal, and are now planning…. a… something. Wedding? Anniversary? Weddiversary? A celebration. So we are free to find out what kind of party we want to share with 150 of our family, friends, and associates. It is fun and interesting to plan. Like any wedding, EVERYTHING can be open to question. What has meaning to us? What has so much meaning that we don't want to reinact it? (our vows/ ring exchange were very, very intimate and special, perhaps we want a handfasting instead, etc)

    Even when a wedding looks like something out of a bridal photoshoot and is totally litergical, if the elements were adapted because they have positive meaning to the persons making the commitment, it's a great wedding. It only becomes a shame/sham when the persons making the commitment are costumed players in someone else's drama.

    0 agree
  22. This rings so true with the struggles my partner and I are having. I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciate the time and thought you put into this post.

    1 agrees
  23. They're all real, and if a wedding is traditional or a rainbow circus on a party boat each is JUST as valid as the other and everyone needs to stop judging.

    1 agrees
  24. Loved this article and hope to see your wedding featured here one day! Only advice I have for you is to make it a reflection of who both are. My wife and I did that planning our wedding and probably turned a lot of heads IN fact I know we did. Ours was featured here on offbeat bride http://offbeatbride.com/2013/08/florida-serenade-wedding

    0 agree

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