Two weddings. Four brides. Turning love into a celebration took some surprisingly traditional steps for two non-traditional couples
Contrary to the common stereotype, just because you are a girly-girly — even one who falls in love with another girly-girly — doesn’t mean you spent your entire life dreaming of the perfect wedding day.
Just ask Patty Breckenridge.Or Carrie Hein.
Or Jaga Meyers or Bridget Tomlin.
Both of these couples exchanged vows in the past year — and both planned out their weddings themselves. But as much as the unions have been fairytales, the mechanics getting there were anything but.
Here’s how two sets of women pulled off the most important day of their lives.
When Patty Breckenridge knew she was in love and wanted to spend the rest of her life with the same person, she did was any prospective suitor should do: She asked for the blessing of her intended’s parents — and just because both Breckenridge and her spouse, Carrie Hein Breckenridge, are women never entered into the equation.
"I called her parents and said can I take you out to dinner," she recalls. "I think a lot of people forget to do that. It was very important to me to ask them. They had totally embraced me into their family even though they are conservative Republicans. They both were 100 percent— they even said you wasted money on the dinner, we already considered you part of the family!"
When it came to the proposal, the process was equally old-fashioned: Breckenridge got on one knee and presented a ring.
The truth is, weddings are traditional — institutions, whether gay or straight. But sometimes planning them is anything but.
"Patty proposed at the end of August and I starting to plan in October," Hein says. "The first question is where to have it. Once we picked a venue, it was a lot easier to pick a DJ and other things. But that was hard because not a lot of chapels want two lesbians to get married there."
"We went to this place in Plano where they thought I was Carrie’s mom," Breckenridge recalls. (They are about seven years apart in age.) "We said, ‘You know this is a union between two women?’ The woman said, "I’ll be right back.’ Then out came this man who said, ‘We don’t perform any ceremonies that aren’t recognized by President George W. Bush and the state of Texas.’ We said fine and walked out. February is the slowest month for weddings, and they just turned away about $10,000."
They met with more success at Grand Traditions in Corinth, Texas, north of Carrollton. It was an all-inclusive property "that was perfect — the ceremony space in front, and the reception space in back, an in-house wedding coordinator, cake vendor and caterer. The brides provided their our own liquor. "It was one-stop shopping," Breckenridge says.
The venue owners reminded the couple that because Texas law does not recognize same-sex marriage, the service would only be ceremonial, but gay couples are used to that. Still, it didn’t stop Breckenridge and Hein from asking an actor-friend of Breckenridge, Ryan Roach — who is also an ordained minister— from performing the service. Hein’s father works in the printing business, so he prepared the invitations and programs… which referred to the couple not as "bride" and "bride," but as The Diva (Breckenridge) and The Princess (Hein).
Which raised the question: Who gets to be "the bride" in a lesbian wedding — the one who walks down the aisle and wears the beautiful gown? It was an easy compromise.
"If you had to put a label on something, Carrie would have been the bride," Breckenridge says. "But we are two women and we wanted to both look as good as we possibly could — there was never any question that we weren’t both going to be wearing dresses." Hein wore a satiny ivory dress, while Breckenridge went with a shimmering platinum. There was also a nod to Breckenridge’s acting career.
"The most fantastic thing was that my ‘borrowed’ item was my silver high heels from ‘Valley of the Dolls,’" a play she did for Uptown Players last year. "I called Coy [Covington, the costumer on the show] and said I need my silver shoes — he loved it!"
On the day of, they kept it very traditional: Neither saw the other until the ceremony, and neither had seen the other’s dress, even on a rack. Hein had dreamed about walking down the aisle, so she got that honor.
"When I was little, I wanted to wear the wedding dress because that was so cool," Hein. "But as I got older I decided I don’t like a lot of attention focused on me, so walking down the aisle was nerve-racking."
That didn’t spoil it for Breckenridge at all. "I knew I wanted to stand out there and watch her walk down the aisle," she coos. "When those doors opened and I saw her walk down…. The power was amazing. My fairy tale came later in life but was absolutely perfect."
The most sobering aspect of the process was the realization that they were paying for it all themselves.
"Do you want an aisle runner? Chair covers? Only for the ceremony or both and vice versa? And every time you make a decision there’s a price attached to it," Hein says.
There were a lot of other considerations they didn’t think about until crunch time as well. Neither Hein nor Breckenridge wanted a boring reception — they wanted dancing and an ebullient atmosphere. But finding the right music to appeal to their spectrum of guests was a challenge. Still, nothing interfered with what they call a Cinderella wedding.
"People think of this as a big party and not an actual wedding," says Breckenridge. "My brother and his partner have been together six years and have a legal domestic partnership in New York. But he said to me, ‘I’m totally blown away. We didn’t know what to expect when we got here, but you can feel the love seeping out. It’s so amazing what you committed yourselves in front of all these people. I get why you had the ceremony.’"
Which is all this couple — any couple — ever wants.
It may have taken them two years after the proposal, but when Jaga Meyers and Bridget Tomlin finally got married, they did it in style.
Meyers, who works for Clear Channel’s PrideRadioDFW, proposed to Tomlin at an elaborate surprise 30th birthday party on a boat along the Riverwalk in San Antonio. A few months later, Tomlin followed up by presenting Meyers with her own engagement ring.
But that definitely wasn’t "just that."
"I intended when I asked her that we would have a ceremony — we had been together almost four years then," Meyers recalls. "Even if we can’t do it in this state legally, we will do something with my family."
Meyers admits that, originally, she saw a wedding as a kind of statement. "If we were a straight couple we would probably have just gone to Vegas," she says. "We do have family members that are not supportive and we wanted to show them we are just like anybody else."
"Neither of us grew up with these dreams of being brides," Tomlin says. But as the date approached, they realized it was more real than they imagined.
They actually had two ceremonies: One in Montreal where same-sex marriage is legally recognized, followed by a ceremony at the Dallas World Aquarium in front of friends and family — symbolic, but just as special. And a lot more work than they anticipated.
Meyers took the lead in planning the ceremony, first looking for a wedding coordinator who advertised on a same-sex wedding site. It ended up not being a good fit.
"I figured she would have experience with gay ceremonies but she had never done a same-sex wedding or even attended one! She ‘had some friends’ who were gay and that was it," Meyers sighs. Although the coordinator stayed on, Meyers says she ended up doing most of the work herself. "Or maybe I’m just a bridezilla."
Tomlin disputes Meyers’ claims to bridezilladom, although she does cede that Meyers took the lead in all the planning.
"My job was the cake but it ended up being Jaga’s choice mostly," she winks. And contrary to the clichÃ© that the groom’s primary responsibility is to say "yes, dear," Tomlin says she mostly had to say, "No, Jaga. She would have spent a fortune if I had let her."
The first lesson they learned in planning was: start early. It took six months from first phone call until final vows, and that was barely enough time to get everything the couple wanted (a failure to act swiftly lost them their first choice in florists). Still, the first decisions had to be when to have it and where.
"The aquarium was the first place on our mind — it’s one of our favorite date places and we knew they did events like that and they had a great caterer," Meyers says. "Everyone got to walk through the rainforest and we had a steel drummer. It was so cool and unique — like us."
The guests certainly responded well to it — including ones they didn’t expect to attend.
"Some of the people we were worried about showed up and had a great time," Tomlin says. Meyers echoes her observation.
"I was pleasantly surprised about all the people who came. My uncle, who I haven’t talked to in 10 years, was there and it was so not an issue. It was amazing how much love there was. I said we had to make this statement, but actually, when it came down to it, we probably didn’t need to."
They opted for non-traditional elements in many ways. There was no formal bridal party, although informally they asked several close friends to coordinate their outfits. Neither woman walked solo down the aisle —instead, they met in the middle and walked down together hand-in-hand. And the vows were cobbled together from sources they found on the Internet.
"We actually pretend to be Buddhists so went online and found a Buddhist ceremony that said everything we wanted to say," Meyers says. They asked a friend, Rick Espaillat, to read the script and serve as de facto minister.
On the other hand, each lady did hold her own bachelorette party, and they avoided seeing each other on the day of the ceremony. And Meyers intends to legally change her name to Tomlin eventually.
"I am going to change it but it costs money — about $1,000," Meyers says. (In contrast, heterosexual woman can change to their husband’s name by paying a $50 filing fee.) "We plan on having children and want them to have the same last name as me. And I like her last name better than mine."
Aside from the name change, how exactly has being married altered their life from before?
"In terms of our relationship, I don’t think at all, but it does make it seem more permanent. When we buy things, we ask, ‘Will this be right for us in five years?’ You think more long-term."
They actually have a phrase for that: happily ever after.
WHERE YOU CAN GET A LITTLE HELP
Maybe your venue has an on-staff wedding coordinator, or maybe you want to hire your own. But if you need help knowing where to begin without hiring someone else to do the work for you, there are several resources.
The GLBT Wedding & Anniversary Expo returns for a second time to the Metroplex this month, and you can find plenty of ideas there about how to plan and execute everything from an engagement party to a rehearsal dinner to the ceremony and reception, and on toward the honeymoon.
The afternoon-long event in Oak Cliff welcomes vendors from the travel, fashion and food industries, and countless other service providers who can help you get hitched without a hitch, so to speak: Photographers, videographers, limousine companies, DJs, live bands,facilities and more. There will also be door prizes, raffles and free cake (hey, it wouldn’t be a wedding without free cake).
The event also serves as a fundraiser for the Dallas/Fort Worth Coalition of Metropolitan Community Churches for the Would Jesus Discriminate Campaign.
The expo takes place at Salon Las Americas, 1004 Fort Worth Ave., May 17, noonâ€“4 p.m. Admission is $10. WhyWouldWe.org/expo.
If you can’t make it to the expo, you can always go online for ideas as well. TheKnot.com, a Web site devoted to helping brides plan their big day, has a sister site, GayWeddingsByTheKnot.com — co-sponsored by Gay.com — which offers the same services for same-sex couples, from setting a budget to navigating where your union might be recognized.
See other Pride Wedding & Celebrations feature stories:
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print
edition May 1, 2009.