How to avoid matrimonial mayhem: four couples share their success stories

Deciding to get married is a beautiful thing. Planning a wedding, however, can be an overwhelming, stressful mess without help or advice. Knowing where to begin and what to do can be even more confusing for us than for our straight counterparts due to the limited amount of gay wedding information.

But on the other hand, being unfettered by dusty nuptial traditions means having the freedom to imagine and create your wedding as symbolic of you and your fiancée’s relationship—your collective beliefs, likes and interests.

Here’s some sage advice from brides who have walked down the aisle. They’ve shared their experiences with GO to assist you along your own wedding planning path.

Tip #1: “Be bendable”

Comedian Julie Goldman and her partner, Columbia graduate student Nikola,  infused tradition with humor for their nuptial festivities. While they planned their wedding, they decided to get married in Toronto, Canada during a last minute comedy show booking that brought Julie to the gay-friendly country.

“It was literally five minutes,” said Julie, 34. “They were inundated with gay people so we got the five minute special. We had Israeli guys be our witnesses, we were like ‘uh, shalom, please be our witnesses, shalom.’”

Their actual wedding ceremony and reception took place at Harrington Farm in Massachusetts in late May 2005. The couple was married under a traditional Jewish canopy called a chuppah, they had a ketubah made by Jonathan Blum, and the ceremony was officiated by a cantor hand-picked by Julie’s mother.

“The officiant is the important element,” said Julie. “She pretty much sets the tone. If you want a carbon copy then that’s what you’ll get.”

Julie and Nikola, 33,  wore rings made by Silverscape Designs and outfits by East Village designer Angelo Lambrou.

“Being the butch-er one of the relationship, I found it to be particularly challenging to find something suitable to wear,” said Julie. “Nikola didn’t want to wear white. She ended up wearing a fuchsia pink dress and I wore a white suit.”

During the ceremony, Nikola and Julie were walked down the aisle by both their parents and had members of their six-person procession read poems and excerpts from Free to be…You and me.

“With 150 guests, 90 of them over age 60, some people were probably reluctant or skeptical and came expecting a dyke fantasia.” said Julie. “But it wasn’t that. It was about our love and I think by the end of the ceremony it was understood.”

The reception featured a specially-choreographed first dance by MatriMony Mony and music by DJ Deja. Although Harrington Farm catered the party, Julie and Nikola brought knishes to the party and also had cupcakes instead of a cake.

During the wedding weekend, Julie and Nikola hosted a kickball game before the wedding as well as a “Let’s All Recover” brunch the day after.

“We pretty much shot our financial load on the wedding so we didn’t have a honeymoon,” said Julie about the $20,000 affair. “Our friends got us two nights at bed and breakfast in Lenox [Mass.] and Nikola’s parents extended our stay there.”

They suggest that brides-to-be “have a sense of humor because it can be really stressful,” said Julie. “Make a list of what you won’t budge on and be bendable. Think about what you want and write it down. But remember it’s not just about you.”

Tip #2: Wear comfortable shoes

Canadians Stacey Rocheleau-Bourgeois, 29, and Angele Bourgeois, 29, saw their country’s marriage laws change to recognize same-sex marriages during their two-and-a-half year engagement. They were married by a Unitarian minister in Angele’s backyard and had a reception in a hall in Ottawa in August 2003, just weeks after a landmark ruling by the Canadian cabinet in June that opened marriage to gay couples. 

“We didn’t want to go overboard on our wedding because we had other things we wanted to do like buy a house and have children,” said Stacey. Their 80-guest wedding and reception cost about $10,000 and was divided three-ways with each bride’s parents paying $3,000 and the newlyweds footing the remaining $4,000.

Angele, a Canadian television producer, and Stacey, a stay-at-home mom, decided on buying matching white dresses at Sears, although Angele slightly altered her dress to cover a tattoo on her arm.

“On the one hand, [I asked myself] ‘when am I gonna use a white dress again?’” said Stacey. “But we also didn’t want people to think ‘oh she’s the man.’”

They designed their invitations on a graphic artist friend’s computer which saved them some money. The newlyweds also saved beaucoup bucks on using artificial flowers rather than real ones.

The couple rented a bus to shuttle their guests to and from their hotel. Stacey and Angele made gift baskets and placed them in their guests’ hotel room prior to their arrival. They also gave their guests little pine trees in burlap sacks to take home and plant in their backyards.

At the reception, Stacey and Angele sat friends with friends in order to ensure their guests’ comfort. They put disposable cameras at each table and by the end of the night, they had pictures of all their guests.

For their honeymoon, which they took three months after the wedding, Stacey and Angele traveled along the California coast, stopping along the way to visit friends and camp, from San Francisco to San Diego.

“After the wedding we didn’t go anywhere,” said Stacy. “We just passed out. We did our honeymoon a few months later. It was nice to do it later because otherwise you’d sleep for the first couple of days.”

Stacey says, in retrospect, she would have used real flowers rather than plastic ones. 

“I would have used actual flowers because they’re so much nicer. If you buy them from a store, as my friend did [for her wedding], then they are much more affordable.”

Stacey also recommends future brides choose their shoes and their friends wisely:

“I’d probably spend a little more time on shoes to chose something a little more comfortable because you’re on your feet all day,” said Stacy. “And stay away from people that want to take over [but], have someone there to make sure that you’re enjoying the day.”

Tip #3: Just reinvent

A year after meeting in their Cornell University dorm in 2001, Ari Moore and Shira Golding of Bushwick, Brooklyn were pondering whether to circumcise their future son right before Ari thought to ask Shira if she wanted to marry her.

“Back then I believed in marriage as an institution,” said Ari, 26, a freelance web designer. “But as our politics evolved, we decided to [get married and have a wedding] because we’d been telling people we were, and also because we were going to have it be a party of fun and love.”

Their celebration, dubbed “Shirari’s Party of Fun & Love,” was held at Galapagos Art Space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn last October and featured 36-inch balloons (instead of flowers), vegan catering from Foodswings, and a “take action” table and charity piggy-banks where partygoers were encouraged to sign a petition and/or contribute.

“Once we figured out that we didn’t have to have a big traditional wedding,” said Shira, 26, a creative content manager for a media rights organization, “planning became easy.”

Shira and Ari designed a “budget-conscious” wedding—total cost: $8,000—that consisted of “good music, good vegan food, and an open bar.”

They saved loads on clothing since Ari is averse to dressing up: she wore a pair of Converse, t-shirt and jeans and Shira wore a sundress. It also doesn’t hurt to be the daughter of a goldsmith. Ari and Shira’s rings were made by Ari’s father, jeweler Dale Moore.

They also saved on invitations by designing them themselves. Their photographers, a cousin and a friend, worked pro bono. The couple also chose to have cupcakes rather than one large pricey cake.

Shira and Ari registered at because it allows users to tack on items from any store with a web address. Since the two were already living together, they had the housewares covered. As a result, in Shira and Ari’s registry, there were items that were more useful to the couple: hard drive storage space, an iPod, and an array of vegan products like cookbooks, soy candles, and a basketball.

In sticking to their vegan principles, the couple asked their all guests to wear vegan clothing.

“Having a vegan wedding was as big as a religious ceremony,” Ari said. “Anything else would’ve been very contrived for us.”

Rather than having an outside officiant, Ari and Shira exchanged their own vows, then asked of everyone present at their Party of Fun and Love to collectively marry them. They also had a ketubah, or a Jewish marriage contract, made in the spirit of their vows.

“The only vaguely religious thing we did was dance the hora,” Ari said. “I’m not Jewish but I wanted to dance the hora and we found two cool versions: one was punk rock surf music and the other was a doo-wop Yiddish version.”

After the wedding, er, Party of Fun and Love, Shira and Ari went to India for three weeks. They are planning a second and queer-friendlier honeymoon in late March up to Poughkeepsie, New York to hike, stay at a bed and breakfast, and see Dave Sedaris read.

Any words of wisdom for brides-to-be? “Do it for you, it’s your special day,” said Ari. “You shouldn’t think that because something is traditional you have to do it. Just reinvent.”

Tip #4:Nothing will survive except for the photo and the video

When Garden state gals Dana Delgardo, 43, and Elizabeth Porter-Delgardo were deciding on how to tie the knot they both agreed to keep it traditional for their wedding in 2001.  So like every other bride before her or since, Elizabeth, 32, took over.

"I was basically told to show up," said nurse-practitioner Dana.

Elizabeth planned the couple’s nuptials with a good friend.  It took a year and a half to plan her vision: "a garden wedding on the Hudson."

"I think I was trying to fulfill the fantasy I’ve had since I was five, "said Elizabeth, a director at Citigroup.  "I had to have the perfect dress, veil, something borrowed, something blue.  I didn’t have anything that nouveau.  I mean we were going to do everything.  We’re jumping the broom."

Their 120-guest wedding started at the New Jersey Botanical Garden where they were married by a minister, and their reception took place at the Chart House in Weehawken on the Hudson.

Elizabeth wore a Reem Acra bridal gown and Dana wore a custom-made Victorian-inspired tuxedo suit from a now-defunct designer.  Elizabeth had three bridesmaids, Dana had three groomsmen, and there were flowergirls, ringbearers and two ushers.

"My father gave me away and Dana’s brother gave her away," said Elizabeth.  "Both sets of grandparents were present on my side–it was a big deal."

Dana and Elizabeth housed all their guests in the same hotel.  They had gifts waiting for them when they arrived.

The two wished they would have had ceremony and reception venues in closer locations or that they would have rented a bus shuttling everyone from one place to another.  Dana’s mother got lost on the way to the reception.

Afterthe wedding, Dana and Elizabeth went to the south of France for their honeymoon for a week.

Their dream wedding totaled $30,000 in the end.  But Elizabeth had some words of wisdom about what to splurge on:

"Spend the most amount on photography and video," said Elizabeth.  "After all the money, after five hours, nothing will survive except for the photos and video.  It’s what you have, what you give people, it’s what you look at."

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