I remember not that many years ago, it was common in lesbian circles to refer to long-time girlfriends as one another’s “wives.” No wedding had occurred, and in many cases, there were no legal documents – certainly not a marriage license or civil union certificate. Presumably, the ladies had been together for a while, shared a home (and probably a few pets) and wore rings on their left hands. That’s all it took to be considered “married” in the gay community back then.
As an aside, sometimes we threw around the term “wife” way too casually, didn’t we? I recall being referred to as the “wife” of women who I had no intention of marrying. Apparently, if you were a lesbian serial monogamist in your 20s before gay marriage was a thing, you could rack up a lot of “wives.” For me, the fact that same-sex marriage was either illegal or very uncommon was a sort of dating safety belt. I got to make disastrous relationship choices for a solid decade with no legal consequences. Yay!
Then, in the very first lucky break of my entire life, I met someone who I actually do want to marry just as gay marriage was gaining in popularity. The timing of our courtship allowed my fiancée and me to progress from dating to engaged to (almost!) married along a pretty “traditional” timeline. For us, throwing a formal wedding with a big white dress, diamond rings, bridesmaids, overpriced food and tons of stress makes sense and feels right.
But, for gay and lesbian couples that have been together for many years, same-sex marriage making this very late entrance to the party might create a bit of a predicament. If you’ve been together for 10 or 15 years, a large wedding could feel a bit anti-climactic. In your hearts you probably already feel married, and you have most likely already merged your lives in the ways that any married couple would.
However, I don’t believe that means you have to miss out on the experience of making your union legal or celebrating your love in a public way. Why should you be penalized because you were lucky enough to meet the love of your life before marriage was a real option for lesbians? You shouldn’t be. So, here are some ideas on getting married when you’ve already been together forever.
Have a big fat gay wedding
I’ll go ahead and get this one out of the way because I think everyone who wants to have an elaborate and formal wedding should have one. I don’t care if you’ve been together for 10 years or 50 years. Maybe you already have children together and your mortgage is paid off. Who cares? If you have visions of a white dress or a snappy suit, a first dance, a three-tiered cake, and all of your family and friends gathered in one place, then that is exactly what you should have. If anything, your wedding should be even more meaningful because you’ve already proven that your love can stand the test of time. So, cheers to you, lifelong lovers!
Turn a significant anniversary into a wedding
If you’d like a celebration with some of the trappings of a traditional wedding, like cocktails, cake and dancing, but don’t want the whole nine yards (a bridal shower, a 40-pound dress, or the opinions of every single person you know, for example), then I say plan an anniversary party/wedding hybrid. If you’re celebrating your 15th anniversary, a very special party might feel more natural than a full-blown wedding. A significant anniversary is an excellent opportunity to make it legal with your lady, if you haven’t already. And, if you call it an anniversary party rather than a wedding, you will free yourself to pick and choose only the elements of a wedding you really want to incorporate into your celebration.
Two women and a judge
I know plenty of couples that have been together for five plus years that want to legalize their commitment to one another, but don’t want the hoopla of a big wedding. As my dad said to me when I got engaged: “You’re gay, you have the perfect excuse not to get married.” Not the sentimental response I was hoping for, but he has a salient point. If you want to be married, but don’t want the expense and stress of a wedding, grab your girl and board the next plane to New York, Massachusetts, Iowa or another one of the few other U.S. states where same-sex marriage is legal. I think there is something very sweet and romantic about a private civil ceremony where the focus is 100% on your love – and not at all on the place settings or the flavor of the cake or the million other details that can drive you crazy when you’re planning a wedding. (Dad, if you’re reading, I’m sorry, but this does not mean you are off the hook for that catering bill. This is my advice for other people.)
Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Carrie MacPherson
Two words: destination wedding
If you’re a little older and have been in a committed relationship for many years, you (and your friends) may have a little more disposable income than the average pair of 20-somethings tying the knot. You also may have the wisdom to know that a wedding is just one day and that for the same price, you could have beautiful destination wedding with only the people who matter most to you. Think more sandy beaches and fewer seating chart debates. Round up your nearest and dearest and jet off to a beach house on Martha’s Vineyard or an all-inclusive resort on the Mexican Caribbean – two of many scenic spots where same-sex unions are legal. You’ll come home with a marriage license and a tan. It’s a win-win for low-key couples that love to travel!
Skip straight to the honeymoon
If even a smallish destination wedding is more than you want to take on, fast forward to the honeymoon. If you have been together for 10 years or more, then you and your lady deserve a honeymoon whether or not you have a wedding. If you want to make it legal while you’re away, choose a place that recognizes same-sex marriage. Spain, Argentina South Africa and Belgium are all great spots for a honeymoon, and are places where gay marriage just so happens to be legal. Bon voyage!
Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Goldmund Lukic
Been together forever? How do you plan to tie the knot?