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Legalities Aside, Gays Still Stand on Ceremony

Trends: Hawaii's court ruling has raised hopes, but same-sex couples aren't waiting. Commitment services are booming, and florists, registries and even some churches are cooperating.

December 06, 1996|MICHAEL QUINTANILLA and CONNIE KOENENN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The bridal dress--ivory chiffon--is ready. The invitations are out, the vows have been written and hors d'oeuvres for a 60-guest reception have been prepared. In most respects the plans for Saturday's ceremony at the Granada Hills Church of Religious Science sound like any other wedding, but one detail is different: Paula Davenport Julian is pledging her lifetime commitment to Angie Julian Davenport.

"We are walking down the aisle together because we want to spend the rest of our lives together," said Paula, who legally changed her name to include her partner's and vice versa.

While Tuesday's circuit court ruling in Hawaii has many fretting about the prospect of legalized same-sex marriages, there are no wedding bell blues in the gay community. Gay unions or commitment ceremonies, once an underground ritual, have blossomed in the past few years, especially in Los Angeles and New York, with a whole industry--from caterers to travel agents--rising to help out.

And many in the gay community expect this trend to accelerate, even though the court ruling was stayed pending appeal and a federal law has been adopted to allow states to disregard gay marriages performed in other states; undoubtedly more litigation will follow.

"Maybe society at large and governments have trouble with the idea, but human beings on a one-to-one level respond to commitment," said Sher Storey of South Pasadena. She and Jenepher White sent out invitations, registered for gifts at the Broadway and Crate and Barrel, had a minister and called it a wedding in June 1994. "We had a positive experience everywhere."

As they opt for high-profile celebrations, with admittedly special problems (How do they distinguish between the groom's side and the groom's side?), couples find themselves dealing with the complexities, the beauties and the occasional insanity of any wedding.

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"There aren't any numbers because no one keeps track," said Tess Ayers, co-author of "The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Weddings" (HarperCollins, 1994). She wrote it because she and partner Jane Anderson wanted a ceremony that "wasn't a '60s kind of hippie thing" and couldn't find a guide. "As we began to research it, I was stunned at the number of ceremonies and how many different variations were available."

Indeed, some in Hawaii are estimating that gay weddings there could be a $2-billion-a-year tourist industry. Andrew Rakos, a Los Angeles businessman and artist who designed a "band of infinity" ring used in same-sex ceremonies, is one of many entrepreneurs who sees a lively market in what he considers social progress. "The wedding ceremony is something you share with family and friends, florists, caterers, hotels and honeymoon vacations," he said. "The whole economy of communities are changed by it."

At Geary's in Beverly Hills, the largest wedding gift registry in the area, gay couples are excellent customers. "We had our first gay couple about five years ago and it was almost matter-of-fact even then," said store president Bruce Meyer. Kim Miller, who oversees promotions for 80 Macy's West stores, said they have so many same-sex couples they are redoing their registry form to get rid of the labels "bride and groom."

"In the past two years I've been to any number of lesbian commitment ceremonies--the last one in October probably cost $75,000 and was breathtakingly beautiful," said Ann Bradley, media director for the ACLU of Southern California. "For a lot of women, and lesbians are women, the dream of wearing a beautiful white dress and walking down the aisle is very important." Even more important is the public declaration of the commitment, she said.

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For Gabriel Reyes, a publicist, and Bruce Pitzer, a screenwriter, getting hitched this past summer was a matter of pride and love. "It was a symbol of our commitment to each other," Reyes said about the ceremony in which 60 other couples were united on Gay Pride Day in June. They stood on Astroturf, facing a chaplain and were serenaded by the West Hollywood Gay Men's Chorus.

Reyes and Pitzer, who have been together for 17 years, are planning a Hawaiian trip and hope to make it legal. "I want us to take formal vows on a mountaintop or by the ocean, someplace where we can commune with nature, where God would be our witness," Reyes said.

Increasingly, church can be an option. While Roman Catholic and fundamentalist Christian churches remain off limits, most faiths by now have found a way to accommodate ceremonies, said Paul Brown, co-author with Ayers of "The Essential Guide." Most welcoming are any of the gay churches such as the Metropolitan Community Church, or Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish congregations, Unitarian Universalist, Episcopalians and the Church of Religious Science.

As with heterosexual weddings, many traditions that now seem sexist have been altered to fit modern times. In Jewish ceremonies where bridegrooms were to stomp on a wine glass, sometimes the couple smashes the glass together, Brown said.

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