When you find the kind of love where you want to spend forever together, it can also be a moment when you feel unconditional acceptance. Especially when you’re queer, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and it’s exponentially harder to find love and acceptance in society and even in your own family.
But social acceptance of LGBTQ individuals is moving at a snail’s pace: steady yet slow. It’s more like we’re tolerated by the majority of the country, and accepted by a much smaller segment. In a 2001 Pew Research Center survey, Americans opposed same-sex marriage by a margin of 57 percent to 35 percent. It wasn’t until 2012 that more Americans (48 percent) favored than opposed it (43 percent). In a 2017 Gallup poll, support reached a new high: Sixty-four percent. Still, about a third of Americans remain opposed.
We have two mottoes in the marriage-equality movement: “love is love” and “love wins.” Love might have won two years ago, on June 26, 2015, when five out of nine Supreme Court justices ruled in favor of federal marriage equality.
But I see a different story, which doesn’t always feel like winning. Our love is not treated the same as heterosexual love. As the editorial director and co-founder of EquallyWed.com, a wedding resource for LGBTQ couples, and author of the new book, “Equally Wed: The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your LGBTQ+ Wedding,” my team and I routinely bear witness to painful experiences of LGBTQ people all over the world who are treated with disdain and ignorance while planning what should be one of the most wonderful moments of their lives.
It’s not just Equally Wed noticing the problems in the wedding industry. According to a 2017 study of LGBTQ weddings by the Knot and Q.Digital, 30 percent of female couples and 11 percent of male couples reported being “turned away from vendors or left feeling uncomfortable due to their LGBTQ identity.”
Happiness and joy do prevail over most of the weddings, but discrimination adds emotional challenges to what’s already an arduous task. Recently, I reached out to female-identifying women around the country to ask about their wedding planning experience. I asked about their challenges and their surprises. Here are a few examples.
Melissa Amstutz, a queer woman living in Portland, Ore., married Lindsay Trapnell last November on the coast of their state. “Many might be surprised to learn that homophobia is alive and well, even in Portland,” Amstutz says. “Our first obstacle was having to sell our first house the summer before [the wedding] due to constant homophobic harassment by our next-door neighbor.”
Tired of enduring eggs thrown at their car and physical threats, the couple moved away from the aggressive neighbor — and their first home — less than a year after they’d moved in and only a few months before their wedding. Amstutz and Trapnell’s wedding came together mostly through the creativity and generosity of their friends and family. But Amstutz says the vendors they did work with gave a feeling of just “putting up with” them.
LGBTQ couples not only have to endure homophobia and transphobia from the wedding industry, but often in their own families as well. While Trapnell’s family and Amstutz’s father “were loving and supportive,” Amstutz encountered problems with her sister, whom she’d grown closer to after their mom, another ally, died in 2014. “My sister is a conservative evangelical Christian but had said she would come to the wedding. But apparently our save-the-dates ‘made it real’ for her, and she decided she wasn’t coming. We’ve rarely spoken since, and honestly, after losing my mom, losing her has been the second biggest heartbreak of my life.”
As for my own wedding, as a queer femme living in Atlanta, I’ve encountered multiple forms of discrimination when planning it, in a state where anyone can be fired or kicked out of housing just for being gay or trans. (This could change after the Georgia General Assembly reconvenes next January and considers state Senate Bill 119, a comprehensive civil rights bill.) When my partner and I were planning our 2009 wedding (which we knew wouldn’t be recognized by our state), some vendors hung up on us or made proclamations about Jesus in their email responses. (We got legally married in Manhattan in 2011 but considered ourselves married after our June 13, 2009, ceremony in Decatur, Ga.) Some of my family members made ridiculous statements and skipped the celebration altogether. Still, my spouse and I were able to enjoy a love-filled event with our most cherished family and friends.
Even when we think we’re encountering people whom we hope will understand us, discrimination still happens. Van Barnes, a trans woman who married a cisgender man in St. Louis, tells me how, when she applied for her and her soon-to-be husband’s marriage license in 2014, the city hall clerk refused to issue the couple a marriage license that’s given to heterosexual couples, which features the words “bride” and “groom.”
“She saw my middle name on my driver’s license, which is Alan, even though everything legally says ‘female’ under gender on my birth certificate and driver’s license,” Barnes says. “She insisted that we be listed in the license, which said Party 1 and Party 2, and clearly identifies us as ‘other’ or LGBTQ. I challenged it, but she refused. The woman next to her wouldn’t even wait on us as she grasped her cross necklace and referred us to her co-worker who got her shady jab in and said ‘Girl, you look good. You almost fooled me!’ I didn’t let that ruin our special moment, as getting legally wed has been a goal of my life since childhood.”
Barnes and her husband found their minister online, a woman who claimed through her marketing to be LGBT-friendly. But friendly to gays and lesbians does not equal friendly to transgender people, which Barnes experienced firsthand. “She misgendered me the whole ceremony,” says Barnes, who had a small wedding on the steps of city hall. “[We] laughed it off, but still it shows how even ignorant an ‘LGBT-friendly pay me $180 bucks to meet you at city hall and marry you’ officiant can be. I’m so used to the ignorance. I try to let it roll off my back, but still they linger in my memory. Most of all, we didn’t let anyone steal our happy day.”
Ebony Mullins, a lesbian who’s African American, and her wife, Kym, who’s white, enjoyed their wedding-planning experience with their San Diego vendors. What surprised Mullins the most was when she experienced discrimination within the gay community, when, at her bachelorette party in Palm Springs, she was harassed at a gay bar when the staff and other clientele believed she was straight. Their photographer, hired because of her diverse portfolio, sent an associate in her place on the wedding day. Mullins said that the stand-in photographer told the couple that she hadn’t photographed a lesbian or interracial couple; Mullins said this comment seemed to imply that the differences in a lesbian or interracial wedding didn’t fit her ability to deliver a professional product. “It made us uneasy and we hated our photos,” Mullins said.
But she’s quick to add that none of this ruined her wedding. “Luckily our families all showed up and our dads walked us halfway down the aisle to join one another. People are not educated and just say stuff they think is right.”
In Concord, Mass., where Texans Addie Tsai and Brandon Hernsberger, who identify as queer and gender nonconforming, got married, it was logistics that caused the most challenges, not the people. “We were very fortunate that the people we did choose to have at the ceremony — less than 20 people — fully understood us and all our complexities. However, I did find that we largely limited the number of people we had at the ceremony — and who we included — because I wanted to feel that we could be most ourselves and be fully ourselves.”
Tsai and Hernberger decided not to get married in Texas because the state doesn’t represent their ideologies and political leanings. They thought the area’s heteronormative leanings might make their wedding less accepted. “We both walked down the aisle separately,” Tsai says. “Our music in the ceremony and in the reception, as well as what was quoted in the vows, was also chosen specifically to create a world outside of patriarchal weddings.”
Although every LGBTQ couple faces challenges when planning their wedding, the messages of resilience and celebration are what stand out. We may have won the freedom to marry, but the battle for social acceptance and understanding wages on.