“Once you reach your mid-thirties, you know what your dating pool is,” states Gretchen. “You have a pretty good idea of what you are looking for in a partner. When we met we knew pretty quickly that this was it for both of us. We were together for about a year then we were engaged for another.” Gretchen and Lisa met at Starbucks and two years later, they tied the knot.
Their goal was to create a very special experience for their guests, most of whom were close family and friends. “I was raised with various traditions,” says Lisa, “but the great thing about a lesbian wedding was that no one we knew had been to one, including us, so we could combine traditions as we saw fit. The end result was a traditional wedding with a few twists. We didn’t have any limitations. We pulled from other weddings we had seen and mixed the new elements with the old.”
“I have already been married before,” says Gretchen, “but Lisa hasn’t so I wanted to make it the best for her!”
“I was raised Catholic in a large family and every year someone was getting married,” says Lisa. “There were a lot of traditions including the priest and the pews. I liked some of them but others I didn’t like at all.” Lisa and Gretchen both agreed they did not like the tradition of being confined in the space of a church or the idea of a priest. Instead, they chose the winery at Stanford Oaks Estates in Durham, California as the location for both the ceremony and the reception.
At Stanford Oaks Estates Lisa and Gretchen had access to a garden for the ceremony, a private place for the wedding party to get ready and an open reception area. “One of the things we planned on purpose was a reception before the reception because we were nervous and our families were nervous and lots of people didn’t know what to expect,” says Gretchen. As guests arrived at the winery and exited their cars for the garden ceremony, they were greeted and served chilled beer, wine and other beverages. This provided everyone in attendance with the chance to relax, drink, socialize and get into a celebratory mood.
“We wanted everyone to mingle and then sit with their drink and enjoy the ceremony, “adds Lisa. “We wanted them to arrive and from the very first moment –celebrate. It really worked because before the ceremony people were laughing, smiling and really upbeat.”
The wedding ceremony itself was short, approximately 25 minutes, and there was a butterfly release in the garden. “We didn’t want to put our guests through solemn vows and get stuck in that mindset,” says Gretchen, “we wanted everyone to have fun.”
Gretchen and Lisa were both escorted by their fathers down the aisle and Lisa’s grandmother was the ring bearer. Gretchen’s bridesmaids were her two daughters, ages 10 and 16. Lisa’s sisters were her bridesmaids. Lisa and Gretchen wanted spring colors to match the garden so the bridesmaids’ dresses were sage green and each one was styled just a little differently from the others. The flowers were bright, primary colors to add flair and compliment the understated green.
The wedding was officiated by a close friend of Lisa’s family who collected personal stories from friends and family members and wove them into the ceremony itself. After the ceremony, wooded pathways with big oak trees and shrubbery led guests to an open reception space with streams of twinkling lights wound 40 feet into the trees and lanterns in the middle. “The winery [Stanford Oaks] has its own personality,” says Gretchen, “We didn’t want to overwhelm the natural environment. It had a simple, romantic feeling and was very pretty.” In the reception area, tables were decorated with white and sage green table clothes and the floral centerpieces matched the bright flowers used for the ceremony.
Both women believe that couples currently in the planning stages or recently engaged must carefully decide the kind of feeling they want to create at the wedding ceremony and reception. “Ask yourselves how you want people to feel from the moment they step foot into the event,” they agreed, “and then think about the kind of atmosphere you want.”
Lisa and Gretchen’s reception continued the feelings of fun, joy and celebration that they had introduced before their ceremony. The DJ provided them with a unique service: a website that allowed Gretchen and Lisa to log on and choose the songs they wanted for everything—from the walk down the aisle to the end of the reception. They were very specific about the music. “The age range at our wedding was 6 months to 90 years old,” says Lisa. “We wanted to create an atmosphere where everyone could enjoy themselves and we felt music was critical.”
Their first dance was Come Fly With Me by Frank Sinatra and both brides danced with their fathers during Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable featuring Natalie Cole. These songs were followed by some of music’s greatest including Dean Martin and Nina Simone. “I wanted the DJ to go around and see what people wanted to hear and I wanted it to have a smoky, rat pack, lounge feeling,” says Lisa, “I knew it would get our older grandparents, aunts and uncles more involved and participating.”
“Before we had our first dance,” adds Gretchen, “our parents were dancing and we couldn’t get people off the dance floor. The winery was like a snow globe of good feelings.”
In addition to the wonderful dance vibe, Gretchen and Lisa chose a unique cake from a small family-owned store to share with their guests. It was a three-tiered cake and each tier featured a different flavor. The first was chocolate mocha, the second was white with lemon filing and the top was chai apple. “We had a forty-five minute consultation and tested out a number of varieties,” says Lisa, “we wanted to sketch out something that was simple and tasted good.”
“The cake went like wildfire,” adds Gretchen laughing. “Beyond the initial cutting of the cake, we didn’t get any. The guests were like piranhas.”
Gretchen and Lisa made a point to hire only small, local businesses for their wedding. The winery is located in Lisa’s hometown where the population is around 500. The DJ, catering and organic flowers were all provided by nearby businesses. “We sought out small, family-owned companies to help us,” states Gretchen, “we knew we wanted that family-oriented kind of pride infused throughout the ceremony and reception.”
Another small business Gretchen and Lisa hired for their special day was Sarah Maren Photograhy. “It was interesting because we have quite a few gay friends that are photographers, but we were referred to Sarah because she was just starting out and didn’t have photos of same-sex couples,” remembers Gretchen. “She wanted to add some same-sex images to her portfolio so first we had her take our engagement photos and they turned out really, really nice,” she continues, “so nice that Yahoo News picked them up for a photo montage on Valentine’s Day for a piece on weddings and same-sex marriage.”
“One tradition we did not subscribe to was taking staged photos after the ceremony,” adds Lisa. “Spending an hour to take staged photos was no good. We wanted to join the party, let the evening unfold and let Sarah capture the celebration and whatever shape it took.”
“We were very pleased,” says Gretchen, “Sarah has done an amazing job.”
To end the day Gretchen and Lisa decided to put a very personal touch on the wedding favors. “Lisa gathered together individual rocks and painted them as favors,” says Gretchen, “They were hand painted with stick figure couples that were us in various settings. We painted our names and the date of our wedding and then put them in boxes. That little touch pulled everyone together. When they saw their rocks were different than others, the guests all got up and started looking at the different rocks.”
“They even started exchanging them,” adds Lisa, “And as they left you would hear guests say ‘Did you get your rock?’”
“Now when we go to people’s houses,” says Gretchen laughing, “they have their rocks prominently displayed as artwork.”
For many gay and lesbian couples, there is an added dimension to getting married and having a wedding. Unlike straight couples, gay and lesbian couples must consider some less logistical and more emotional factors, especially if family members have never been involved in an event like this. “At one point early in the evening, I was dancing with my mother when she started crying and said she knew the wedding wasn’t easy for me,” says Lisa, “I told her that is wasn’t easy, it was hard. I had really put myself out there on a whim having this wedding. I wanted everyone to understand that I am really dedicated and committed to Gretchen and the children. And I suddenly realized that my mother really got what a sacrifice it was for Gretchen and I to do this.”
“It wasn’t a wedding where everyone was happy and joyous,” Lisa continues, “It wasn’t like when a straight couple announces their engagement and everyone jumps up and down. Coming out was hard for both of us and we had to talk to our families and see how everyone would feel.” Lisa and Gretchen struggled through questions and comments like “is it really a wedding?” or “it’s not really a marriage.” But during the course of that year, as their wedding date grew closer, they began to see feelings change. Both women remember clearly the first time a family member called Gretchen Lisa’s fiancé and later her wife, and the moment when someone first referred to the ceremony as a marriage. Gretchen and Lisa were thrilled to see this transformation happen with both of their families.
“For couples that are thinking about getting engaged and married, I have a little advice,” says Gretchen, “Be yourself in the process, have humility and keep open lines of communication. It can be a growth opportunity for all of your family relationships if you want it to be.”
“I had to do status checks with my parents,” adds Lisa, “I would ask them how they were doing and if there were any issues. By keeping the lines of communication open, in the end everyone got it. As a matter of fact, the people we thought wouldn’t get it were the first people to jump on the bandwagon.”
The two were so afraid of telling Lisa’s grandmother of their engagement that they sent her parents to share the news. When Lisa’s father announced Gretchen and Lisa would be married, Lisa’s grandmother responded as if it was exactly what she had expected. In one of the most memorable moments of support, Lisa’s grandmother stopped during her husband’s 90th birthday party to take out the antique china and ask Gretchen and Lisa to choose one as a wedding gift. “It felt so good to have these people as our allies,” Gretchen says. “This event didn’t heal all wounds. We still have a ways to go with some family members, but most of our family has recognized the legitimacy of our relationship and will support us in the future.”