Many little girls (and little boys, if they’ve been raised in non-stereotypical homes) dream of the day when the church doors open, a wave of organ music flows out, and the happy couple runs down the steps, pelted on all sides with rice or confetti. Some people rebel against that dream. Some people want every moment of it to come true. And most people end up somewhere in between.
I am blessed to live on the outer edge of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I'm blessed because I perform weddings in the first state to acknowledge marriage equality. I'm blessed because I live in an area that is perfect for destination weddings, with the natural beauty of “land’s end” all around me. And I'm blessed because Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod, is an established and popular GLBT resort area. All of this means that I have the honor of marrying a great many couples every year.
I have married couples on the beach, in gardens, in chapels, at inns and restaurants, in the dunes, on piers. I've married couples in the pouring rain, on hot sweaty August afternoons, in windstorms and sandstorms and once even in the snow. And the breadth of that list just goes to show that every couple is different, that every couple needs to find the place that is just right for them.
Hawaii. Mexico. Paris. Monaco. These are names that evoke images of relaxation, of celebration, of excitement, of something that is daring and different. For GLBT couples, who until relatively recently could count the number of places they could comfortably walk down a street holding hands, that list has for forty years or more included Provincetown, Massachusetts. Because, starting in the 1980s, this has been a place where same-sex couples could come and be together without fear for their safety or the discomfort of stares.
So it has only made sense that after the May 17, 2004 Massachusetts Supreme Court decision that denying marriage to same-sex couples was a violation of their civil rights, people would see Provincetown as the perfect destination for tying the knot.
And it is in fact a lot of fun. Provincetown loves a wedding, and couples of all sorts—men, women, mixed—are routinely applauded when folks see them taking a pedicab ride after the ceremony. I have been struck by the respect that most beach-goers show when a beach wedding is taking place—and the cheers and applause that breaks out after the magic words, “you may now kiss your spouse” are uttered.
But before you pack your bags and get your Cape Air tickets, let’s talk a little about the concept of a destination wedding, because frankly, it’s not for everyone.
A destination wedding is a wedding that takes place in a vacation-like setting, at a location to which most of the invited guests must travel and often stay for several days. This could be a beach ceremony in the tropics, a lavish event in a metropolitan resort, or a simple ceremony at the home of a geographically distant friend or relative.
PROS: Destination weddings are intensely memorable, as they take place well outside the day-to-day life lived by the couple in question. They have the financial advantage of combining the wedding expenses with the honeymoon expenses, and their typically smaller size results in lower costs.
CONS: Destination weddings are definitely sprinkled with fairy dust, and the magic of the wedding may later contrast sharply with the experienced ordinariness of the marriage. In addition, all the people you want there may not be able to come.
Beach weddings may or may not coincide with destination weddings. Yes, of course you may choose a beach on the Mediterranean—or even one of the lovely beaches here in Provincetown—but you may also have beaches closer to home, and if one of them is in a state that legally recognizes same-sex marriage, it could be a fabulous choice. The sheer beauty of the beach is something that resonates with everyone.
PROS: The beach provides a gorgeous backdrop for the brave and trusting step that you are taking; there’s something symbolic about doing something beautiful in a beautiful place. There are all sorts of allegories you can draw about timelessness and permanence woven together with the changes that every day brings. A sunset beach wedding can segue nicely into a bonfire reception
CONS: Beaches have sand: enough said. You’re also at the mercy of the weather, which does not always choose to cooperate, and Plan B may be necessary. You did have a Plan B, right? Also, members of your wedding party or guests who are disabled may find the beach a barrier they cannot cross. And no one can wear high heels. Sound is an issue for any outdoor wedding.
These are popular, and for obvious reasons: every wedding ceremony cries out for flowers, and in a garden you’re surrounded by them. What a backdrop for photographs! What a bright memory to cherish in the dark of winter!
PROS: You won’t have to pay a florist to decorate your arch or gazebo since you have flowers everywhere. Generally gardens, especially public ones, are large enough to comfortably accommodate everyone you want there. And the colors will create a beautiful tableau.
CONS: Where there are flowers, there are bugs. Depending on pathways available, heels may not be appropriate for the venue. Here, as at the beach, you’re at the mercy of the weather and will still need that Plan B. Also, like the beach, sound may be an issue, and lighting may be difficult as well.
Here’s a sore spot for many GLBT couples who may love their religious traditions despite that tradition’s stance on marriage equality. It is painful to be told that this most important day cannot take place within the community of faith. Let’s see what the different churches say:
• Orthodox Judaism maintains the traditional Jewish bans on both sexual acts and marriage among members of the same sex. However, the Union for Reform Judaism supports the inclusion of same-sex unions within the definition of marriage. The American branch of Conservative Judaism formally approves of same-sex marriage ceremonies, and the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation leaves the choice of whether or not to perform same-sex marriages to individual rabbis.
• Wiccans are generally welcoming of LGBT people, and some strands celebrate gay relationships. Some Wiccan groups perform handfastings and betrothals.
• Due to the ambivalent language about homosexuality in Buddhist teachings, there has been no official stance put forth regarding the issue of marriage between members of the same gender.
• There are both conservative and liberal views about homosexuality and same-sex marriages in Hinduism, similar to many other religions.
• In 2012, the Episcopal Church passed a resolution approving an official liturgy for blessing same-sex unions. This liturgy, called “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” offers a blessing close to marriage, but the church is clear that it is not marriage.
• The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America began officially allowing blessings of same-sex couples in late August, 2009—though there were no explicit prohibitions before this point. Studies and dialogue had been under way during the past decade and continued until the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, during which the ELCA passed a resolution by a vote of 619–402 reading “Resolved, that the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.”
• On June 14, 2014 Presbyterian Church USA voted at its General Assembly to change the definition of marriage in its constitution. Ministers will be able to perform same-sex marriages where it is legal because the terms "a man and a woman" were changed to "two people." This change in the Presbyterian Book of Order still requires ratification by a majority of the church’s regions, so check with your local church to confirm if same-gender marriage is embraced.
• The United Methodist Church currently prohibits celebrations of same-sex unions by its elders and in its churches.
• In 1987 Morningside Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends became the first Quaker Meeting to take a same-sex marriage (using the word marriage, rather than "commitment ceremony") under its care.
• The General Synod of the United Church of Christ has passed a resolution affirming "equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender and declares that the government should not interfere with couples regardless of gender who choose to marry and share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of legally recognized marriage". At its 25th General Synod in 2005, the UCC passed the resolution, "Equal Marriage Rights for All.” However, the polity of the UCC is congregationalist, so each church has a different way of operating.
• During the 1990s, a discussion began in the Roman Catholic Church about blessings for same-sex unions. It is still ongoing.
• Unitarian-Universalist ministers perform same-sex unions and now same-sex marriages where legal (and sometimes when not, as a form of civil protest). New Thought Churches including Unity and Religious Science (named Centers for Spiritual Living) also welcome same gender couples for full membership and marriage in their churches or centers.
So, depending on your religious tradition, you may or may not be married by a priest, minister, or rabbi; and you may or may not be able to be married in the religious venue of your choice. We hope and pray that this will someday not be the case. If you still want to be married in a church building, check with your local “welcoming” Unitarian-Universalist meetinghouse, where awareness of and respect for marriage equality is one of the tenets.
The words “celebrant” and “celebrant” are used nearly interchangeably in wedding-speak. You have essentially two choices: a Justice of the Peace, or an ordained minister. Both of these choices will deliver a legal marriage license.
Justice of the Peace: This is certainly the easiest and quickest way to tie the knot. JPs are, at least in Massachusetts, less expensive to hire than are ministers. They generally have a one-size-fits-all ceremony and are often available at a moment’s notice, if you have the sudden urge to elope. It’s probably not the best choice if you want a ceremony reflecting your preferences and desires, or if you plan for an elaborate ceremony.
Minister: Since 2004, we’ve seen a tide of new clergy in Massachusetts who have obtained an online “ordination” qualifying them to celebrate weddings. They often find ceremonies online as well. In other cases, the clergy have indeed been through some sort of training for what they do and put the weight of that knowledge and experience into crafting wedding ceremonies. Choosing a minister over a JP does not mean that your ceremony needs to be particularly religious in nature, but it does mean that it will be thoughtful.
This is another instance where you as a couple need to spend some time talking together about your faith backgrounds and what your personal beliefs mean to you today. While your church or synagogue may not currently bless your union, you may still find comfort in having a minister working with you toward your big day. Or you may have rejected any religion altogether and not want the merest whiff of a prayer present. Discuss this together and then discuss it with your wedding celebrant. The choice needs to be yours, and it needs to be well-thought-through.
I come from a specific religious tradition, but it really only forms the background for what I offer couples when I agree to marry them. I am as comfortable with non-religious ceremonies as I am with religious ones, and that’s probably true for most clergy who routinely celebrate GLBT weddings. So don’t be afraid to approach your clergy celebrant and tell him or her exactly what you want in the ceremony. There will always be some level of spirituality present in the ceremony, no matter what words are or are not spoken, as there always is when two people come together to form this beautiful and magical union.