Opponents of same-sex marriage often say it’s “against tradition.” A good thing about not having a tradition, though, is the ability to make up your own customs and rituals, whether silly or somber. Same-sex couples are free to take the straight and narrow route to hideous bridesmaid dresses and tossing the bouquet if they desire; at the same time, only good taste prevents a couple from wearing matching white tuxedoes and letting a flock of white doves loose during Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.”
Though same-sex marriage in the U.S. is only legal in Massachusetts, some states support civil union legislation. Couples everywhere are increasingly comfortable with the idea of having unique, self-designed, frequently lavish weddings. Consequently, the multi-billion-dollar wedding industry has stepped up its courtship of the pink dollar.
With formerly straight-centric venues, caterers, bridal salons and other services realizing the potential of the same-sex wedding market, is it really so important to scout out LGBT-owned or -operated vendors? Some consumers might argue that hiring a LGBT company comes with built-in respect for their relationship and their needs, be it a cake with two bride figurines or a disco ball over the altar.
On the other hand, no legitimate company can afford to be homophobic and expect to succeed as a wedding vendor. These companies make profits by delivering memorable experiences of love, family and togetherness—and discrimination obviously has no place at that table.
Fortunately, the number of wedding-planning resources is growing as more same-sex couples are expressing interest in ceremonies. GayWeddings.com is the most thorough planning and ideas website, featuring a useful vendor locator for finding everyone from florists to calligraphers in your area code. Two books on the market, Gay and Lesbian Weddings: Planning the Perfect Same-Sex Ceremony by David Toussaint and Heather Leo and The Complete Guide to Gay and Lesbian Weddings by K. C. David offer advice for every stage of the process.
If you’re curious to know just what your wedding will mean (and what it won’t) in a legal sense, check out the comprehensive, state-by-state rundown of same-sex marriage laws by the attorneys at Lambda Legal (lambda-legal.org). In addition, Freedom to Marry (freedomtomarry.org) and Marriage Equality New York (marriageequalityny.org) offer information regarding the fight for those 1,138 federal rights we all keep hearing about.
The Asia Society and Museum (725 Park Ave, 212-327-9322, asiasociety.org) is a great choice. The eighth floor suite, comprised of the Luce Room, the Rose Room and the Rose Conference Hall, is used for parties and meetings rather than art exhibitions. Textural, blue-silk wall coverings accent the dramatic 42-foot-wide arched window, and the space can accommodate 100 dinner guests. Downstairs, the less-formal Garden Court is embellished with pots of tall bamboo reaching the glass ceiling. It fits up to 150 people for casual cocktails. And you thought museums were only good for when your parents were in town.
Imagine getting hitched as you glide over the river, with the Manhattan skyline on one side and the Brooklyn Bridge passing overhead. Bateaux New York (212-352-1366, bateaux-newyork.com) can make it happen. The 210-foot, glass-enclosed riverboat features space for up to 300 guests. Live entertainment and catering, as well as breathtaking views of the harbor and southern tip of Manhattan, are all provided by the ship.
Have you considered solemnizing your union in a DUMBO art gallery? The Brooklyn nabe is known for esoteric art studios and raw performance spaces, particularly Smack Mellon (92 Plymouth St, Brooklyn, 718-834-8761, smackmellon.org). The building, which once housed a steam-power generator, features soaring 35-foot ceilings, enormous windows overlooking the Manhattan Bridge and East River and colossal interior concrete pillars. Add a few draped sheets, and voilà: a maze of romantic semi-rooms in which to steal a kiss.
The Foundry (42-38 9th St, Long Island City, 718-786-7776, thefoundry.info), a dazzling, retro-fitted metalwork factory in Long Island City, is very popular with fashion-forward brides. The 19th-century brick remnants of the original building are covered in lush ivy, while the outdoor courtyard can be accented with a variety of plants from the neighboring landscaping company. A skylight in the main building lets in copious natural light. A wedding here will make you feel miles away from Manhattan.
A Brooklyn landmark, the Palm House (1000 Washington Ave, Brooklyn, 718-398-2400, palmhouse.com) in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is one of the borough’s most popular ceremony sites. The glass-walled, Victorian-style atrium can be filled with seasonal flowers to chime with the surrounding landscaping and the two charming lily pools flanking the entrance (the lilies begin blooming in July). The Palm House has an exclusive, in-house caterer to make planning your event extra easy.
And now for something a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. The Queens County Farm Museum (73-50 Little Neck Pkwy, Queens, 718-347-3276, queensfarm.org)—yes, it’s a real farm, and it’s really in Queens!—rents out the 1930s barn for unique celebrations of up to 120 people. The 47-acre estate in the Floral Park section, a working farm settled by Dutch farmers in the late-1600s, also features an apple orchard for summertime events, with more room for guests, as well as a small pavilion. The cow and piglets attend free of charge, of course.
Chef Rossi, the brains behind The Raging Skillet (212-463-0872, theragingskillet.com), is as famous for her customized culinary designs as she is for her ebullient personality. “So many of the catering questions stem from the location…It’s also great if a bride knows what she is hoping to spend, since I write everything to order,” she recommends. That might include African tuna ceviche, salmon pastrami “reubens,” or baby knishes with Lower East Side deli mustard. Rossi takes care of placing china and linen rental orders and other perks, at no extra charge to her clients. There’s also her world-famous “family” discount: 10% off against food cost for all gay nuptials. “If the world wants to be prejudiced against us, then I offer the opposite: better prices for the gay community!”
No wedding would be complete without an awe-inspiring cake that reflects your personal style. La Promenade (137 Piermont Rd, Tenafly, NJ, 201-567-2500, laprom.com) specializes in towering confections of every color, design and flavor; traditional or whimsical, festooned with sugar flowers and ribbons or simply iced in an arabesque motif.
Relish Caterers (220 E 22nd St #3P, 212-228-1672, relishcaterers.com) is the exclusive caterer for Wollman Rink, Lasker Rink and Victorian Gardens in Central Park, and is probably the site for New York weddings. In addition, Relish is the preferred caterer at Metropolitan Pavilion and other posh venues, and their culinary creations—hors d’oeuvres like shredded braised chicken on green tea scones with mustard greens, entrees like rosemary cracked peppercorn crusted lamb chop with warm pineapple jicama slaw and roasted potatoes—match the elegance of the location. Relish also provides event planning complete with resources and assistance for flowers, entertainment, décor and production.
Receptions can be difficult if your guests have special dietary restrictions—and for some reason, the lesbian community seems to have more than everyone else. Vegan, macrobiotic, biodynamic, sustainable, organic—face it, you’re not going to make everyone happy with goat-cheese croquettes and mini-satays. One solution: Pure Food and Wine (54 Irving Pl, 212-477-1010, purefoodand-wine.com), the completely vegan, raw-food restaurant on Irving Place. The restaurant itself is rentable for parties of up to 100 guests; in addition, Pure Food and Wine will cater outside venues with elegant, delicious menu selections free of soy, wheat and dairy ingredients.
Speaking of special diets, Exquisite Caterers (52 N Main St #B, Marlboro, NJ, 732-294-0032, exquisitecaterers.com) is the exclusive caterer for Temple Sha’arey Shalom in Springfield, NJ, and provides completely Kosher spreads for weddings, conventions and synagogue events up and down the Eastern seaboard. This isn’t your Bubbe’s whitefish salad—think salmon strudel stuffed with spinach and wild mushrooms over a sweet mustard cream sauce or raspberry gaufrettes and fresh berries.
Whole Foods Market at Columbus Circle is a quick ‘n’ easy catering option for informal gatherings of around 50 people. Orders need to be placed only 48 hours in advance, and the catering menu offers healthy, organic and vegetarian-friendly finger foods, entrees and sweets.The drawback: no tuxedoed wait-staff, elegant serving ware or booze provided. We’re talking wicker baskets and paper napkins—which might, after all, be perfectly suitable for a post-wedding barbeque.
“There are a number of important questions that you should keep in mind when interviewing a celebrant,” says Dr. Roberta Koepfer of Rainbow Vision Ceremonies (718-352-0614, rainbowvisionceremonies.com). “Does the celebrant understand and respect your belief system? Does she (or he) listen to your ideas, preferences and concerns? Does the celebrant have the knowledge and skill to craft a ceremony that reflects your personality, values and style?” And the most important question, she adds: “Do you feel emotionally comfortable with her/him? If you can answer ‘yes!’ to all of these questions, you have found your celebrant.” A ceremony acquires a deeper meaning when it is personalized, when it accurately and sensitively represents the participants’ unique story; Dr. Koepfer works with people in preparing a ceremony that portrays exactly what their milestone means for them. “I am always honored by the trust given to me by my clients,” she adds.
As a second-generation interfaith minister, Reverend Alison Caiola (917-526-0105, rainbowweddingclergy.com) is devoted to creating personal ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples, actively incorporating children, parents and guests into the service according to the wishes of the happy brides. In fact, her parents, both interfaith ministers, officiated same-sex weddings beginning way back in the Stonewall era. Her many favorable testimonies on her website prove Rev. Caiola takes time to get to know her clients, and thereby customizes the ceremony to best fit their desires.
New York City is fortunate to have a number of gay and gay-friendly congregations to provide faith-based ceremonies. Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (57 Bethune St, 212-929-9498, cbst.org) is the city’s LGBT synagogue, led by Senior Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and Associate Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen. Metropolitan Community Church (446 W 36th St, 212-629-7440, mccny.org) is an LGBT Christian congregation led by Reverend Pat Bumgardner.
Additional churches with long histories of fighting for social justice, including LGBT rights, are the Riverside Church (490 Riverside Dr, 212-870-6762, theriverside-churchny.org), the First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn (50 Monroe Pl, Brooklyn, 718-624-5466, fuub.org), and the eclectic Judson Memorial Church (55 Washington Sq S, 212-477-0351, judson.org).
According to this season’s style mavens, shorter wedding dresses are in again—and thankfully, they’ve matured since the junior-prom. A sheath or empire-waist knee-length dress combines the elegance expected of a bridal gown with the fun and edginess of a less-formal look. This could be the alternative for brides who want class without the old-style stuffiness.
Then again, a recent New York Times article noted the effect the red carpet has on bridal styles each season. If the recent Oscars are any indication, some brides might be aiming for haute glamour this year: long, floor-length silhouettes, fishtail hems, plunging necklines and bare backs. And why not—better to show off your tattoos!
Sample sales are a goldmine for designer gowns with prices slashed by 70 or 80 percent, but beware of bloodthirsty bridezillas willing to play tug-of-war with the dress you grabbed from under their noses. If you think you’ve got what it takes, subscribe to the dailycandy.com email blasts for sale notices, or join the scrimmage at the semi-annual bridal sales at Bergdorf Goodman (754 5th Ave, 800-558-1855, bergdorfgoodman.com) and Saks Fifth Avenue (611 5th Ave, 877-551-SAKS, saksfifthavenue.com) to save megabucks on couture gowns. These stores also offer email blasts on their Web sites. During the rest of year, consultations at these department stores are by appointment.
Kleinfeld Bridal (110 W 20th St, 646-633-4300, kleinfeldbridal.com) is a Manhattan institution, and brides should book early appointments to peruse the offerings. Its Web site features over 50 brands, as well as a robust search function that allows shoppers to choose gowns by silhouette, neckline, waistline, price and other attributes.
All of the city’s department stores have extensive menswear departments that can assist with custom fitting and tailoring as part of the purchase. When a tuxedo is just too father-of-the-bride instead of daddy-of-the-bride, rocker style can be found at John Varvatos (122 Spring St, 212-985-0700, johnvarvatos.com), which just partnered with Converse to design a menswear-inspired line of casual wear; and Ben Sherman (96 Spring St, 212-680-0160, bensherman.com), the U.K. brand that’s bringing back the slimmed-down, Beatles-esque suits of mid-sixties swinging London.
Century 21 (22 Cortlandt St, 212-227-9092, c21stores.com), the New York girl’s favorite bargain mecca, features year-round steals on the same designers you’d find at Saks. But, if your heart is set on uber-fabulous, top of the line women’s suits, Armani is the way to go.
Banchet Flowers (809 Washington St, 212-989-1842, banchetflowers.com), owned by world-renowned florist Banchet Jaigla, specializes in mysterious, cutting-edge blooms like orchids, amaryllis and calla lilies that can’t help but make a statement. Asymmetrical bouquets and arrangements are paired with a variety of cut-glass vases. Banchet’s airy, brick-accented atelier can be rented for weddings and fully decorated with $10,000 worth of flowers included in the price.
L’Olivier Floral Atelier (19 E 76th St, 212-774-7676 and 213 W 14th St, 212-255-2828, lolivier.com) is the creation of Olivier Giugni, a native of Provence whose flair for original design and production first caught the attention of Pierre Cardin in 1980. Since then he’s opened two magnificent floral studios. The 14th Street location, L’Olivier Downtown, features a lush 1,500-foot garden and is available for event rental. L’Oliver’s custom bouquets use the fragrant herbs of southern France—rosemary, red basil, or bay leaves—in addition to unusual blooms.
Chances are you’ve walked by and marveled at the displays inside Ariston Florist (110 W 17th St, 212-929-4226, aristonflorist.com) at the corner of 17th Street and Sixth Avenue. A family-owned business since the day it opened in 1977, Ariston has designed bloom-bedecked chuppahs, pew decorations, bridal bouquets, centerpieces and other floral details for memorable ceremonies.
If you have the dough, Cartier (653 5th Ave, 212-753-0111, cartier.com) is the ne plus ultra of classy, elegant wedding jewelry. Cartier represents timeless, quality craftsmanship that never goes out of style. Your future wife will have absolutely no doubt as to your commitment if you offer her the Solitaire 1895, with three brilliant-cut diamonds set in a platinum band—a classic for more than a century—or a deceptively simple 18-karat gold band. GO readers or L Word watchers might be familiar with Love and Pride (866-808-LOVE, loveandpride.com). Israel-born jeweler Udi Behr has created baubles inspired by the Showtime series, but he also crafts dazzling engagement rings and wedding bands, his “Love and Honor” collection, for LGBT ceremonies. These rings won’t scream “I’m here and I’m queer,” but 10 percent of the proceeds from their purchase will benefit LGBT rights groups like Lambda Legal.
The Lower East Side shop Doyle and Doyle (189 Orchard St, 212-677-9991, doyledoyle.com) scours estate sales and antiques markets to bring you beautiful, one-of-a-kind vintage rings and other jewelry. Engagement rings with precious stones and plain or adorned bands in gold, silver and platinum are available for reasonable prices—many lovely items are less than $1,000.
For the ultimate in personal devotion, you and your partner can create your own engagement rings and wedding bands at Sam Abbay’s workshop, simply called New York Wedding Ring (55 Bethune St, 646-872-6534, newyorkweddingring.com). These aren’t “homemade” or cheap versions of the real thing, they are the real thing. Students describe their visions to Abbay, and then learn how to use jeweler’s tools on gold, palladium, platinum and precious stones. Abbay also provides cultured stones, created in a lab to lessen environmental degradation. The results would look right at home at Tiffany’s.
Photography & Videography
With photography, a bride should consider the style she wants—many photographers specialize in formal (posed photos), photojournalism/documentary (more candid shots), or both. “You want to make sure you look gorgeous in your photographs, so find someone who makes beautiful portraits. Consider photographers who do both styles, and remember it’s okay if people pose sometimes. There are ways to do formal photos that are fun and not stiff,” says Lisa Ross (35 E 7th St, 917-453-8203, lisaross.info), an award-winning photographer with a master’s degree in fine arts and a portfolio full of gorgeous images. Ross offers customized services and tailors packages to her clients’ needs and budgets, and clients appreciate her talent, personality and experience. “It’s always surprising and a great compliment to know that I can make people happy as I am working,” she notes. Speaking of budget, she suggests talking to friends who have gotten married for a realistic idea of what photographers cost, then “ask for what you need. Don’t be afraid to explain your situation and budget.” And if you’re doing an outdoor shoot, discuss a back-up plan with the photographer in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.
The three artists of Elke Rosthal Photography (70 Grove St, 5th Fl, 212-741-9093, elkephoto.com), all with fine arts and photojournalism backgrounds, produce intimate pictures with a flair for unusual angles and understated glamour. No detail is too small to be captured on film, like a Post-It note on a bag of rose petals reading “toss me!” or the sweep of the bride’s train down the aisle.
Cheryl Levine (617-738-4414, cherylevine.com), though based near Boston, is one of the most-requested photographers for lesbian ceremonies on the East Coast, and she travels for destination weddings (like P-town, hello!). In addition to offering packages in a range of budgets, Levine invented an extra touch—a “walkabout,” a 10-minute candid shoot with the happy couple on their day. The result is a “romantic time capsule” that adds an intimate touch to the rest of the day’s images.
Videography, made possible with advances in digital devices, is a relatively new way of recording your nuptial memories. Nancy Swartz of MarryMeGay (marrymegay.com), a gay-owned company catering to LGBT couples, has the following tips. “You want to feel comfortable with the videographers you choose—if they have not filmed a gay wedding before, be sure you feel at ease with them.” Though videography is not cheap, a videographer with creativity and experience will be worth the money. Ask to see samples of a potential hire’s work. “Once you have a sample, look at their style and editing and see how you like it. Watch how they capture tone and feeling of the moments,” Swartz says. An Emmy Award-winning director/producer, Swartz and her MarryMeGay team specialize in creating wedding videos with a sophisticated, reality-show style. “Many couples have stressed the importance of having an LGBT video company filming them in such an intimate moment of their lives,” Swartz adds. “The other perk is that we are all television professionals using broadcast-quality camera equipment. We weave interview snippets, music, and voices of friends and family throughout.” MarryMeGay.com has several package tiers to suit every budget, as well as special discounts for couples who book early or have off-season weddings.