Irish wedding planners are getting calls from gay couples in the States, Slovenia, Germany and England, says Caomhan Keane as they want to get married in the first country to vote for
same sex marriage by popular vote.
GAY Weddings Ireland (www.gayweddingsireland.ie) was created four years ago when the Civil Partnership Act came into play. Before May’s historic vote, Marian Purcell, who set the business up with her videographer partner Shane Costello, found that mostly older male couples were making enquiries.
“To be honest I think I had met about five young gay couples under 40 before the referendum who were planning their civil partnership (CP). Now I have had interaction with over 20 .” They’ve had couples from the States, Slovenia, Germany and England employ their services in finding gay-friendly wedding vendors, while they have spoken to nearly 20 lesbian couples who are planning weddings for this year and next.
“When you consider that there have been 3,000 civil partnerships in three years and the price of the average wedding is crawling back up to the Celtic Tiger-era highs of €28,000 - excluding the honeymoon, I think this is going to be HUGE for the economy.”
Three years ago, Sharon McMeel (www.sharonmcmeel.ie) became the first wedding planner in Ireland to complete the Gay Wedding Institute Certification Course, which allowed her to fully understand what makes gay weddings different from straight weddings.
“I think a lot of gay unions tended to be smaller in the past,” she says, “as on your wedding day you only want people who fully support you. The marriage referendum had people conversing with their relatives in a way that they might not have previously and the result was like a great big hug from the nation.
“With the referendum everyone was asking everyone around them to get involved, so if you ask people for their vote, you may have to put them on the guest list so we think guest numbers will rise,” laughs Sharon.
In spite of what the metal band on the third finger of my left hand, I never had a desire to get married. Engaged yes. There’s something romantic and hopeful about the promise of a lifetime together. But I always imagined the day after ‘the white dress’ was tucked away, and the rice had killed off a few pigeons, I would feel like Kate Winslet in the movie Titanic, the post-ceremony comedown dragging me back to a reality in chains.
Of course, the halcyon days of inequality meant I had a fail-safe response to whenever anybody popped that most heinous of questions. “When you getting hitched?” “Not until marriage is legal for all”, I trilled, sure in the knowledge that backward old Ireland would never vote to allow the gays loose on the sacred act of matrimony.
So you can imagine my rainbow-coloured rage when the people of Ireland revoked my ‘get out of veil’ free card on May 23, by declaring I had the same right to be legally head-locked for eternity.
The guest list is the most emotionally charged and political thing at your wedding. And I think that Sharon Mc Meel has a point on gay weddings getting bigger. Me and my other half stopped counting at 350 guests , when we realised if we invited all minor relatives and appeased acquaintances our attendees would have to settle for a snack box, and an option of red or white lemonade.
Peter Kelly, based in Fermoy, County Cork, is one of the country’s best-known wedding planners due to his TV profile during the heady days of the Celtic Tiger.
Unlike Gay Weddings Ireland, Peter of Weddings By Franc (www.franc.ie), hasn’t yet seen a sharp increase in gay weddings. Then again, he always saw same civil partnership as weddings.
“The sacrament of marriage is between the couple. One person gives it to the other when they say ‘I do’. The priest, minister or anyone else is there purely to witness it. It [ marriage] was always present at gay unions , but written down as something else. I think the number of people who attended civil partnership ceremonies over the years is the real reason that the law changed,” says Franc.
“Families who had never been at a ‘gay’ wedding before saw what they were like. They saw that they were romantic, normal and fun and that someone’s sexual preference really didn’t come into it. For every one of our civil ceremonies about 250 people witnessed a couple share their love with their nearest and dearest and they all told about 250 more. Finally it just became mainstream.”
But changes in law do not always change in mindset make. How would McMeel help someone whose family’s conservatism makes them wary?
“It’s often just a fear of the unknown. Older people may never have been to a ceremony like it before and if you just talk them through it a lot of the fear goes away. If it doesn’t, don’t invite them. It’s your day.”
“You can bring stuff like that into the ceremony,” says Marion. “People can acknowledge that there are people who don’t feel comfortable. We had one couple where the father didn’t come. It was very, very sad. I spoke to the son, told him people would be whispering but if he brought it up, its done and dusted. But he didn’t want to.”
“But weddings are stressful times”, adds Franc. “ If it’s gay problems for you, it’s religion, divorced parents or a ban on children for another bride.”
Going by the movies you would think that gay weddings were all nipple clamped hotties, serving champagne and caviar while Liza Mr serenades the Brides or Grooms. But many gay people are traditional.
“They’ve grown up seeing their brothers and sisters, cousins and friends getting married,” says Marion, “and they want part of that. So we often have religious elements to the ceremony.” But as always, gays are at the forefront of reinventing the wheel, so what once was stale is getting a fresh lick of emotional potency.
Rather than being walked down the aisle by one parent, gay men and women are choosing to walk down the aisle with both parents who merge families symbolically at the altar. Or instead of parents, its flower girls who accompany them.
At one wedding Sharon arranged, there were two aisles for the grooms to make a simultaneous entrance and ascent; Marion has seen dogs as ring bearers while Franc has never organised a CP where the grooms didn’t have both best men and bridesmaids.
“I hate etiquette,” he says. “It’s such a severe word. It implies you are doing something wrong. You can’t do anything wrong at your own party. Enjoy your day, your way. If you’re happy, you bet the guests will be.”
John James Hickey, a 31-year-old civil servant, is getting married to 36-year-old Seán Moriarity, who owns a hair salon, in July next year.
“We’re getting married in Mount Druid in Westmeath. It’s just going to be small Irish wedding.
"So that’s about 200 people! The list was getting bigger and bigger so eventually we just had to sit down, write everyone’s name down and then start ruthlessly crossing people off. Otherwise we wouldn’t fit them all in a stadium,” said John.
“It’s important for us to have a spiritual connection. So our solemnisers will be from the Spiritualist Union of Ireland. I chose them because they were more vocal in their support for the ‘Yes’ campaign.
“Tradition has its place. But it also has its way of being reinterpreted too. For us, no one is going to be waiting for the other at the top of the altar.
"We’re both going to come in at the same time and both our mothers and fathers will accompany us down the aisle and present us to our extended families”
“We got engaged in May 2013, in London, beside the Oscar Wilde memorial in the city. Oscar was one of our long forgotten sons. I thought it appropriate to get engaged there —- to mark his life and the start of our lives together.
"For us, getting married in Ireland is the most important aspect of legalising our relationship.
"It’s something that no one expected to live to see”.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved