New traditions

Same-sex couples embrace and buck wedding customs


Bailey Sheridan and Becky Preble interact how you might expect any other recently married couple to, calling one another “sweetie” or making jokes about one always picking at the other’s unfinished meals. The two were just married in October, in a ceremonial landscaped garden in Preble’s childhood hometown in Vermont.

“We had talked about eloping, but the moms quickly said no to that,” Preble laughed. The two flipped through a guestbook from the ceremony as they talked about how they’d opted for a smaller gathering. In lieu of professional services, they relied on friends and family to contribute decorating, food preparation and photography skills.

It’s been two and a half years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all states must recognize and perform same-sex marriages. But the issue still isn’t entirely settled. Many states have seen the introduction of legislation to overturn marriage equality and ongoing court cases challenging things like spousal benefits and the recognition of out-of-state marriages. The Knot, a popular wedding industry website and marketplace, cites these legal uncertainties, as well as regional cultural intolerance, as partially responsible for shaping trends in same-sex weddings. As an example, on choosing where to have a wedding or honeymoon, The Knot notes, sadly, “Same-sex couples have to do extensive research to ensure that their destination-of-choice is safe for them to publicize their love.” Considerations like these have led to many same-sex couples opting to include, exclude or alter what have typically been traditional elements of opposite-sex weddings.

Sandra VanScott, a minister in downtown Reno’s Antique Angel Wedding Chapel, said that she has overseen about two dozen same-sex ceremonies annually since marriage equality was realized. “Prior to that we could only do a commitment ceremony or a Ceremony of the Heart, which wasn’t a legal status,” she explained.

VanScott said the chapel staff has been excited to perform same-sex ceremonies—and has noticed how same-sex couples will flirt with or alter tradition.

“When it comes to the women, one will usually wear a tuxedo,” VanScott said. “Not very many brides will both wear the gown. Now, when the men come in, many will wear matching outfits. The guys will almost always have the boutonniere, the cummerbund, will have their hair freshly cut and be freshly shaved. In a lot of the same-sex ceremonies, the couples may have been together for 10 or 15 years. They had to wait for it to become legal, so they do have a tendency to try harder and put in the extra effort.”

Another trend VanScott has seen in quite a few same-sex ceremonies is dogs. “Very rarely do the men have children,” she said. “Their dogs are their family, and they want them included in the ceremony and in the pictures.”

In the rite

Preble and Sheridan met in 2012 while working at the Patagonia retail outlet in Reno. Over the course of their relationship, the two saw the federal Supreme Court decision and state decision to legalize same-sex marriage.

Neither identifies as religious, and when it came time to plan their wedding ceremony, they had to decide what traditional aspects to include and what to individualize to fit their relationship. They smile when recounting their engagement and the absence of gender roles in popping the question.

Sheridan explained, “It became a joke of who was going to ask who first. We eventually just said that Becky was going to be the one to ask.”

On a hike while the pair were traveling in Alaska, Preble knelt and asked. Prior to this, though, she’d decided to ask Sheridan’s father for his permission. “In the perspective of being respectful to my partner’s family, I felt the urge to ask her dad’s permission—I think he was aware,” Preble recalled. “He knew we were committed to each other, and it had been long enough.”

Though definitely not always the case with same-sex couples, Preble and Sheridan said their families showed nothing but support for their relationship.

A 2017 survey conducted by The Knot found that one general trend in weddings, regardless of sexual orientation, is the personalization of the ceremony.

“We’d never actually been to another gay wedding before,” Preble said. In coming up with the ceremony planning details, she and Sheridan crafted theirs around details they had seen at weddings they had attended.

“I think we took a lot of it from my sister’s wedding,” Sheridan said. “She had just gotten married a few months earlier, so we looked at a lot of what she had done and picked the parts we wanted for ours.”

The two had asked Sheridan’s older brother to officiate, but a stomach virus the night before had sent him to the hospital and forced a last minute change to a brother-in-law who was also ordained as an officiant. “People said there’ll be one thing that goes wrong,” Bailey laughed at recalling the last minute change of plans.

“Bailey and I both had bridesmaids and a maid of honor, as well as best men, who were our friends who are a gay couple,” Preble said. “We both wore dresses, we both walked down the aisle with our dads, and each had our own father-daughter dance. And we both did a bouquet toss at the same time.”

The couple wanted an outdoor venue and had camped in tents with friends and family in the riverside garden venue in the days leading up to their ceremony. Both chose to keep their own names, though they explained this was largely due to the paperwork involved with a legal name change. Not all of the elements of their wedding strayed from tradition, however.

“At our bacherlorette party, which we did together, there were penises on everything!” Preble recalled with a laugh. “That was probably the most traditional thing!”

When considering the influence of wedding ceremony tradition, Sheridan said, “I think gay weddings are so new that they don’t have traditions to follow. We asked our families, and they said ’It’s about you! Do whatever you want!’”

Writer Stephanie Hallett, in a piece on wedding trends, took it a step further, saying that the refreshed ceremony planning of same-sex weddings is having a noticeable influence on straight-identified ceremonies. In particular, she noted the inclusion of a quote from the Supreme Court’s decision to recognize same-sex marriage rather than including a Bible verse, or that designer wedding dresses now stray from the strictly vestal white formal wedding gown that has been traditionally popular.

Despite the specifics of the form it takes, the wedding ceremony is still just two individuals formalizing their commitment to each other. While walking through one of the chapel rooms inside the Antique Angel, VanScott acknowledged this, adding, “There’s really not that much difference. Couples come in, surrounded by family, and walk down the aisle. … No matter who we have, the ceremony is all excitement and butterflies.”