The Art Of Planning Gay Weddings
TONY COX, host: Now we turn our attention to the booming business of the wedding industry. Wedding planner Bernadette Coveney Smith doesn't just find kosher caterers or dog-friendly ceremony venues, or make sure the flower girl ribbon matches the chair sashes. As a planner for a growing number of gay weddings, she's expanded her duties to include things like finding wedding dresses for two brides and making sure that grandma knows there is not a bride or a groom side of the aisle. And Smith has her work cut out for her with New York's recent decision to legalize gay marriage, her business is quickly expanding. She is the owner of 14 Stories, a wedding planning business named after the 14 plaintiffs in the landmark Massachusetts gay marriage case.
Bernadette Coveney Smith joins us now from Boston. Bernadette, nice to have you.
BERNADETTE COVENEY SMITH: Thanks, Tony. Great to be here.
COX: Let's begin with this, what makes a gay wedding any different from a straight wedding - besides the obvious?
SMITH: The obvious, two brides or two grooms?
SMITH: Well, you know, gay weddings are definitely pretty special because they are fairly rare. I mean, relative to the number of 2.3 million straight weddings in the U.S. a year, gay marriages are pretty rare. So we see a lot of really fun things happen. We see a lot of entertainers. Sometimes we have drag queens. I think because they are so unique and same-sex couples have been waiting so long for these rights, a lot of them take the opportunity to really have carte blanche and really re-create traditions, or skip traditions, or really reinvent what a wedding ceremony and what a wedding reception is all about.
COX: Are they so new that there aren't traditions yet?
SMITH: Yeah. There are evolving traditions mostly related to the ceremony itself that happened in gay weddings. But really it's fun for couples to put their own spin on things and personalize weddings in a way that a lot of straight couples just are doing yet.
COX: Give us some examples.
SMITH: Well certainly, most ceremonies have been in the same place as the reception because a lot of churches won't allow gay marriage ceremonies. So we tend to start the party early. A lot of times before the ceremony starts, we'll have pre-ceremony champagne or pre-ceremony open bar for half an hour or so just to let the guests know this is something special, it's something different. And a lot of the guests have never been to a gay wedding before so we help them take the edge off a little bit. And then as the ceremony proceeds, we often send a couple down two different aisles, not just one. So it really gives them an opportunity to be seen as two becoming one, and really has that cool metaphor to it. And, of course, having two aisles is another place to decorate, which is always really fun for me.
COX: What about at the reception? Are those different also?
SMITH: Wedding receptions for same-sex weddings tend to be pretty similar to straight weddings, in the sense that, you know, it's dinner and dancing. But we don't do a lot of traditional heterosexual traditions. You know, we don't do garter tosses and bouquet tosses for the most part. A lot of times we don't have any parent dances. A lot of times there is no line dances. So it's more about the things that are skipped rather than the things that are necessarily different.
I tell my clients that for everything we skip on doing, then let's add something else in. So let's skip on the parent dances and let's add in a drag queen performance. And, you know, we like to play around with the reception so it's still really fun, but make it just a little bit different.
COX: Is there a venue that is a favorite kind? Meaning outdoors, indoors? You've already mentioned the problems with the church. Where do a lot of these weddings take place?
SMITH: We do a lot of urban weddings, a lot of contemporary weddings. But, you know, we still have our rustic Mason jar barn weddings too, so it's all over the map.
COX: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Tony Cox. Our guest is Bernadette Coveney Smith. She is the owner of 14 Stories, a gay wedding planning business. One of the things that I'm curious about, as a planner that means you're getting the location, you're getting food, you're getting flowers, you're getting a number of things. When you go out to acquire these things for the weddings, do you in any way have to indicate that it is for a gay wedding?
SMITH: Absolutely. In about 30 or so U.S. states it's actually legal to discriminate against a couple because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. So it's really important for me as a gay wedding planner to protect my clients. And couples who don't have a wedding planner, are going to need to come out themselves. The first question they need to ask any business when they first call or email someone is: this is a gay wedding, what's your experience or comfort level with a gay wedding? Because they need to take that temperature right away, and if they get a weird vibe then they need to move on and work with someone who's going to be super excited for them.
Couples need to come out to the people they hire and the people they don't. So that means they might come out a hundred or more times throughout the course of their wedding planning process. And with my clients they just don't need to worry about that stuff, because we take care of it for them.
COX: What do guests need to know who are attending a gay wedding, perhaps for the first time, in terms of what they should and maybe should not do?
SMITH: I think it's really important for guests at a gay wedding to keep in mind that these couples have been waiting so long for this right to be married. So they might see things that are a little out of the norm, a little nontraditional, and they need to just relax and roll with the punches and in some cases keep their mouths shut. They might need to not say things like so which is the bride's side and which is the groom's side? Or how come one of them is wearing a suit and one of them is wearing a dress, even though it's two women? And know that the emotion level of a gay wedding is going to be something they might not be used to, because there is this feeling of triumph. There is this feeling of finally, finally we can legally marry. And that energy really permeates the whole wedding experience, something that guests really, really leaves feeling.
COX: So Bernadette, give us an idea of a wedding that you planned, that for whatever reason, stayed in your mind.
SMITH: One of my favorite weddings was last year. And it was a wedding with two brides and one of the brides was a male to female transgender woman. So she basically lived the first 50 years of her life as a man and had transitioned to becoming a woman. And I gave her the opportunity to be the bride she'd always wanted to be. And we went wedding dress shopping together, and she looked beautiful in every dress that she wore. And but she was so scared that her shoulders were too broad or she didn't have hips. She was so nervous shopping for the dress.
But she was an absolutely beautiful bride. And we planned the ceremony for her in her church with her fiance, and then we had the Boston Gay Men's Chorus sing during the ceremony, and then also, during the reception. And the first dance song that they sang was the song from "Brokeback Mountain" and it was absolutely, absolutely beautiful. And one of my favorite weddings ever, because I know how much it meant for her to finally have that opportunity to be able to express her true self. To me it was just so moving and to the guests as well.
COX: Now I understand you and your son and your wife have moved to New York, and the business there I'm presuming is good.
SMITH: Yeah. New York is a great destination for gay weddings. You know, even before the marriage equality bill was passed, it was the number one gay tourist destination in the U.S., so this is obviously going to increase that. And all those people who've been coming just for vacation, they're going to come with their friends and their family and they're going to get married. So not only are we talking about the actual residents of New York who are going to be married, but also those tourists, so there's big, big business to be had in New York and I'm super excited to be there with my family and to be a part of it.
COX: We already did say you're married, right? Did you and your wife have a wedding?
SMITH: Yeah. We got married in 2009 in downtown Boston, on the harbor, and it was a perfect day. Absolutely the best day of my life.
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COX: Bernadette Coveney Smith is the owner of 14 Stories, a gay wedding planning business. She joined us from our member station WBUR in Boston. Bernadette, thank you very much.
SMITH: Thank you very much, Tony.
COX: And that's our program for today. I'm Tony Cox and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.
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