Couples today are making new wedding rituals

Brenda Sue Fulton (left) and Penelope Gnesin hold hands while exchanging wedding vows at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in December. It was the first time a same-sex couple had their wedding in the Cadet Chapel.
Brenda Sue Fulton (left) and Penelope Gnesin hold hands while exchanging wedding vows at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in December. It was the first time a same-sex couple had their wedding in the Cadet Chapel. (JEFF SHENG / Outserve-SLDN)
Posted: May 29, 2013

SEATTLE - "People used to ask, 'When are you getting married?' " Shelly Crocker says, leaning across the table at a north Seattle doughnut shop next to her wife, Sandy Kibort, and their daughter, Emma Kibort-Crocker.

"I always told them, 'Well, the entire state of Washington has to vote on it first.' "

Crocker and Kibort got that nod in November. Two months after Washington voters approved Referendum 74, the couple were legally wed in their synagogue. High school sweethearts originally from Minneapolis, Kibort and Crocker had been joined in a commitment ceremony in 1984, but waited to legally marry until they could do so in their own state.

That's a trend among same-sex couples, says Kirsten Ott Palladino, the Atlanta-based cofounder and editor in chief of, an online magazine devoted to same-sex weddings.

"As more states are legally recognizing same-sex marriage, couples are choosing to wait to marry in their home states," says Palladino. "We're not seeing as many people flying to Massachusetts or New York for their big weddings."

Palladino also cites a growing interest in incorporating religion into same-sex ceremonies, as Crocker and Kibort did.

"For a time, there was a backlash against including religion in same-sex weddings. Now couples seem proud to put religion and cultural traditions back into their ceremonies," says Palladino.

There's more freedom these days to choose a wedding that reflects a couple's relationship and budget, according to Steven Petrow, author of Steven Petrow's Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners (Workman, 2011).

This generation of gays and lesbians is creating a new set of rites and rituals incorporating both old and new traditions, says Petrow, who lives in Hillsborough, N.C., a state that doesn't allow same-sex marriage.

He cites one new tradition of sending the rings around to be blessed by all those in attendance. "It's like a metaphor for a group hug," says Petrow. "It's incredibly moving."

Today's same-sex couples often go with nontraditional wedding-party configurations.

"The maid of honor might be a man or the best man may be a woman," Petrow says. "And honored attendants are often a mix of close friends and family."

Often the couple walk down the aisle together, "or if they have kids, the whole family may process," he says.

Crocker and Kibort sent their two adult daughters, Emma and Hannah Kibort-Crocker, down the aisle before them.

"It was a very family wedding," says Kibort. "My kids pulled a prank on me in the middle of the ceremony and it was a crack-up. Everyone was laughing."

Like Kibort and Crocker, many same-sex couples tying the knot are in midlife, and have well-established relationships and children. While their parents may be given honored roles in the ceremony or reception, such as the first dance, many couples are planning and paying their own way.

It remains to be seen what trends will emerge for younger same-sex couples. Petrow notes that while his generation of gays and lesbians had no expectation of getting married, today's young people are growing up expecting to have the choice.

And just because they have the right to marry doesn't mean a couple will choose to do so. "It's impolite to hassle people - gay or straight - about getting married," says Petrow.

It is acceptable, he says, to ask how a same-sex couple who are getting married would like to be described. While many choose "husband and husband" or "wife and wife," he says it's a matter of respect to call them as they want.

"Until five years ago, the standard title was 'partner,' " Petrow says. "That's really changed."

While many same-sex weddings are apolitical, many other couples are passionate about politics and choose to include it in their weddings, says Palladino.

Crocker and Kibort included a reminder of their newly gained right by involving Seattle gay rights activist, former judge, and former Deputy Mayor Anne Levinson in their ceremony, alongside Rabbi Jill Borodin.

"We didn't want it to be a political event. It's a wedding," says Crocker.

"But our wedding was bigger than us," Kibort says. "It's a civil rights issue."

While political undertones are often present in same-sex ceremonies, Petrow reminds guests, "You're not being asked to vote for gay marriage by choosing to attend a wedding. You're being asked to show up and love a member of your family."

Guests should decline to attend if they can't support the couple's relationship, he added. "Same-sex weddings, like straight weddings, are at their heart about love and commitment. If you can't honor the couple, please stay home."

Crocker and Kibort even bristle at the term gay marriage.

"I don't gay park. I don't have gay lunch," says Kibort. "You don't say you're going to an interracial marriage. It isn't a gay marriage. It's a marriage."

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