It’s 5 A.M. on a Sunday in February of 2015, and an Uber is on the way. As Alice gathers the luggage for their trip to Curacao, Rachel pulls out a surprise—a ring. Before even answering the proposal, Alice rushes to the other room and returns with a ring of her own.
“That’s the one thing I was worried about—a counter-proposal!” Rachel, a Brooklyn-based education recruiter, tells me as she recounts the story of her engagement to Alice, her then-girlfriend of three years. It wasn’t the first time Rachel had popped the question, either: “I tried to propose after about three weeks of being together,” she tells me.
Her now-wife Alice, who works in education technology, wanted a little more time to prepare. “I told her to make sure the next time she proposed, it was the right time," she explains. "I didn’t want to take the proposal from her, but I did want to make sure I had a ring! When the proposal happened, I felt so happy, but very rushed—an Uber was coming! We had to get to the airport!”
At the airport, Alice & Rachel tried to order Champagne to celebrate, but the eatery didn’t serve alcohol until noon. They settled for an orange juice toast.
For some LGBTQ folks, being able to ask your partner to marry you still feels like a surprise. The relative novelty of same-sex marriage leaves couples with few obvious ceremonial traditions to follow as they choose how to celebrate this life-altering event. From popping the question to saying ‘I do,’ these couples are forging their own not-so-straight paths to the altar.
Jovan, our Email Marketer here at Food52, tells me he never expected marriage to be an option when he was growing up. He and his now-husband Louie, who works for an arts nonprofit, met in 2011 and decided to move in together in 2013, though same-sex marriage was legal by that time in New York State.
“We had been talking about wanting to make our relationship more official, and being able to get married still felt a bit weird to me,” he explains, so the two entered into a domestic partnership to make it more than just dating: “It was a commitment thing, an insurance thing, but also not yet wanting to be married.”
The two marked their domestic partnership with silver rings, which would later come to serve as de facto engagement rings.
“We were driving back to the city after visiting family in Chicago,” Jovan remembers. “We were somewhere along I-80 in Ohio when we both just blurted out ‘Do you want to get married?’ We just sort of agreed on it.”
Jack, a pharmacy student, and Brad*, an attorney, had a bit more of a traditional proposal. “We were in Paris over this past New Years," Jack remembers, "It’s so cliche! We were eating a very nice dinner at this chateaux, Apicius, and once we were having a digestif, [Brad] pulled the ring out of his breast pocket. I was honestly so surprised—it was in a fairly large box, and I hadn’t even noticed it!”
Jack hasn’t been wearing the ring since: “It’s going to be my wedding band. I know people sometimes do an engagement band or an engagement watch, but those just felt weird to me. Brad doesn’t even have a ring yet—I’ll get him a band for the actual wedding.”
The wedding may not be for a while, though; Jack isn’t finished with pharmacy school and residency for another four years, and the two don’t seem to be in a hurry. They see the engagement as its own next step in the relationship. “We’ve been together for five years, so it felt like a way to bond us more.” He pauses and adds, “Oh god—we’re gonna be the living sequel to that Emily Blunt movie!”
Though they haven’t delved deeply into wedding planning yet, Jack has some ideas for what he would want. “I’d just want to get dressed up on a random Tuesday, go to the magistrate’s office, and then throw a celebration.” When asked what traditions he’d want to include, he tells me, “My family is small, we just don’t have a lot of traditions.
Most of the traditions I can think of go with and cater to the bride’s side of things: garter, bouquet. None of it felt like it applied to us.”
Jovan and Louie felt similarly apart from tradition. “I’m Serbian and Louie is Filipino. Part of not wanting to be traditional is that, how can we be traditional when we’re the definition of non-traditional?” Still, the pair managed to have some fun with wedding mores. “We wore white scarves, got something blue and borrowed from friends, but it was all a bit informal and hodge-podge.” The pair married at City Hall, having some friends join them to witness the marriage and exchange of rings (gold rings from Chinatown—“upgrades from the silver ones we wore for our domestic partnership, but still a little low-brow,” Jovan jokes).
After they were married, they headed with friends to Olive Garden in Times Square. “We called my parents from the restaurant—they were so concerned, they offered to pay for us to celebrate somewhere nicer. I told them, you don’t get it: We came to Olive Garden because when you’re here, you’re family!”
Still, the couple’s family wanted a chance to celebrate the marriage, so the following Memorial Day, a pig roast barbeque was thrown in Chicago. As Jovan explains, “The one thing our two cultures have in common is pork!” At the party, the couple wanted to keep the attention off themselves as much as possible. “We both left home pretty early. We’ve both been independent for a long while. We didn’t register for gifts—we have what we need and can buy what we want. We just wanted a chance to have fun and celebrate in a general way, not have it all be about us.” Laughing, Jovan adds “Luckily, my brother and his wife came with my newborn nephew, and he pulled plenty of attention!”
When planning their wedding, Rachel and Alice were fortunate to be free from any huge expectations of what the day should look like. “Both of our parents got married with backyard potlucks,” Alice tells me. Rachel adds, “We were able to have our wedding be an honest reflection of what the two of us would want—neither of us ever envisioned ourselves in big white dresses.”
Instead, Alice wore a blue knee-length dress while Rachel donned an ivory jumpsuit (“I felt like I had the best-kept secret with that jumpsuit idea,” Rachel starts, “and then I saw Solange’s wedding!”). The wedding ceremony and reception took place at Three’s Brewing in Gowanus, Brooklyn on a beautiful day in May this past year. They kept the decorations simple, bringing into the space small flower arrangements and some signage.
For party favors, they invited NY Drawing Booth to create custom digital portraits for each of their guests, which were then printed right on the premises, and for wedding cake they subbed in a Van Leeuwen ice cream truck. For their own photographs, Alice and Rachel hired Erica Camille, a wedding photographer who specializes in LGBT weddings and candid shots (“so we didn’t have to worry about traditional wedding poses or look too staged. Whenever we try to take a nice picture, it comes out looking like a joint-LinkedIn profile picture!” Rachel jokes.)
Since they skipped having a rehearsal dinner the night before, the couple headed outside at the venue a few minutes early with Rachel’s mother and a close friend (who were sharing the duty of marrying the couple) to go over what would happen with the ceremony. Then, the rest of the family came out and sat in chairs while the rest of the guests formed a semicircle standing behind the family.
“We had a standing wedding on purpose—it helped things to feel less formal, more inclusive, and made people more vocal during the ceremony,” Alice explains. Though the standing ceremony was certainly not traditional, the pair did weave in one family tradition—a reading by Alice’s parents, which they had read together at their own wedding. As Rachel explains, “Though my parents are wonderful co-parents, they are no longer married, so this was a wonderful way for Alice’s parents, who are still together, to welcome us into married life.”
In addition to the reading, the couple also borrowed something from another same-sex ceremony they had recently attended: a community vow, which everyone in attendance repeats alongside them. (They'd invited less than a hundred guests.) “The best advice I received on who to invite to the wedding," Rachel says, "was to think of who you want in your life going forward, who is going to champion the two of you as a unit.”
The vow was a way to ensure the couple would be aided by their community, and to emphasize the importance of each person in attendance.
When asked if there was one thing they did at their wedding that they’d want to pass on to others as a sort of tradition, there was no hesitation with their answer—the community vow. “You cannot and should not rely on your partner for everything.” Rachel explains. “You need the support of the people around you.” Case in point: The couple who inspired Rachel and Alice to make a community vow also housed them in their apartment the night before and night of the wedding (so Rachel and Alice’s families could stay at their apartment), and hosted a brunch for them the day after the wedding. The newlyweds then flew off to Sayulita, Mexico for their honeymoon.
Since then, the pair has been enjoying settling into their first month of marriage. The best part? Rachel laughs and says, “She can’t get enough of calling me ‘‘my wife!’”