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When florist Red Williams, 38, first heard that same-sex marriage was legalized in Oregon, he dropped to his knees and cried. After 14 years of being together, Williams and his partner, Kevin, 57, were finally able to get married.
Williams hopped on his black Harley Davidson and rode home, eager to tell Kevin the big news. The reality of the new law didn’t hit Williams until he walked down the aisle on the day of their wedding.
“I remember being so emotional that my friend had to literally hold me and help me walk down the aisle,” Williams said. “When you don’t have something for so long, it’s a big deal. You don’t take this for granted.”
According to a census analysis at the Williams Institute, there are 11,773 same-sex couples in the state of Oregon. As of May 19, 2014, those couples have been able to acquire marriage licenses with the same rights and benefits as traditional heterosexual couples.
It has only been half a year since same-sex marriage became legal, but professional wedding vendors are already starting to notice some gradual changes in the atmosphere and in the wedding industry.
Steve Sharp, 66, is a wedding officiant who has been joining couples in holy matrimony for 12 years. According to Sharp, there is a different feeling, a different vibe at gay weddings. He remembers officiating a wedding for two men. When he pronounced them husband and husband, a woman in the audience stood up and started singing Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration.” Soon, everyone else in the audience stood and danced as they sang “Celebrate good times, come on!”
“I remember watching them all dance and I thought, ‘you don’t see this at many weddings,’” Sharp said. “In same-sex weddings, there’s a feeling of breaking a mold, not sticking with convention. A little loose, a little more creative.”
Playful swing music fills the room in a small shop on a busy corner in southeast Portland. Along the walls are rows of smooth jackets, trousers, and vests. A colorful tie bar sits on a small table. A giant poster on the wall contains silhouettes of a man and a woman wearing suits as they pose next to the words, “Finest custom clothier for all.”
Duchess Clothier is a small business that prides itself in creating custom clothing for everyone. It is the place that many people who identify themselves as part of the queer community can go to find his or her wedding outfit.
Engly Lim, 33, a newlywed who just married her girlfriend of 6 years, knew she always wanted to wear a suit on her wedding day. “I’ve always considered myself a very colorful person so I wanted to wear something that would emulate that,” Lim said.
“It can be hard for women to find the perfect suit to get married in,” said Katie Reynolds, general manager of Duchess Clothier. “We’ve seen an increase in our business inquiries especially now that same-sex marriage is legal.” Duchess Clothier is one of the only clothing lines in Oregon that offers styles that are queer-friendly.
“We want everyone we work with to feel respected and beautiful on their wedding day,”
Lim met with Duchess’ Reynolds to put together a suit for a summer wedding. After ten weeks of planning and designing, Lim married her fiancé in a light gray suit with purple silk lining. She wore bright purple leather Oxfords top make the whole ensemble even more special.
“The more businesses treat all their customers with respect and make them feel special, the better off this community will be,” Reynolds said. “Hopefully we can lead by example.”
Joni Whitworth, founder and owner of bartending service Mint & Mirth, believes that despite Oregon being a fairly gay-friendly environment, there have been some companies that have not fully accepted same-sex weddings as a part of the state’s wedding landscape. After organizing and designing a styled bridal shoot that featured a wedding with two male grooms, Joni decided to submit the photos to various bridal blogs.
“One of the blogs said that we weren’t in line with their publication guidelines. They were basically saying, ‘we don’t do gay weddings,’” Joni said. “They didn’t want two guys kissing on their pretty little blog.”
Many people opposed to marriage equality cite religious reasons. Some vendors rallied together to form the Christian Wedding Professionals Association. The group’s mission statement states that their goal “is to provide professional wedding vendors the insight, ideas, support, information, and many other critical needs in order to be a successful Christian business.”
“At queer weddings, there will always be the unspoken weight of the people who don’t show up to the wedding. I felt this at my own wedding,” Joni said. “But the people who do come are almost super-fans. They have a boundless love for the couple. They are so supportive, and they want to be totally committed.”
Lane Bigsby, owner of event rental business Something Borrowed, is one of the many vendors looking to get rid of the exclusive nature of the wedding industry.
“Weddings are about love, something that everyone can experience,” Bigsby said. “We as vendors have a responsibility to show that we support all types of love.”
In light of same-sex marriage legalization, Bigsby began making changes to the company’s website and contracts. She removed exclusive words such as “brides and grooms” and replaced it with more inclusive language like “Partner A and Partner B” on their contracts.
“When you use language like 'bride and groom' on your PR, we have to be okay with knowing that you have uninvited and dis-included all the couples that have one or more genderqueer, trans* or gender-fluid people, or two grooms or two brides,” Joni said.
It has only been seven months since same-sex marriage became legal in Oregon, but the future for the wedding industry looks bright.
“It isn’t like the 80’s or the 90’s anymore, where all the weddings were religious and traditional,” Williams said. “The picture of what a family looks like is different now, it can look like many different things and I see that diversity showing itself in the weddings that I do. People are creating their own traditions.”
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