(DV) Before Christy Matthews moved back to Dallas, she worked as a wedding planner in San Francisco. But she didn’t do her first gay wedding until she returned to Texas. That wedding took place on New Year’s Eve, the happy couple’s 27th anniversary.
“They never thought they’d be able to marry,” Matthews said, calling their wedding one of the most joyous she’s ever attended.
Matthews’ parents are Mark and Lisa Daly, co-presidents of Fort Worth P-FLAG. Her brother, now 30, came out at age 18, right after he graduated from high school. She said her parents were leading the P-FLAG group within a year.
So there was no question when she became a wedding planner that same-sex weddings would be a focus of her business.
Matthews moved to California for college, then stayed in San Francisco and became an actress. She worked with a small theater company that did improv. That’s where she first learned the art of event planning.
The theater company traveled a lot, she said, so “we — ultimately I — had to do everything ourselves.” The skills that took, she said, are very similar to ones needed in event planning — working with vendors, creating a timeline, making sure everything is in place so that things go smoothly and as planned.
Eventually, Matthews went back to school and became a certified wedding planner. The course involved reading and writing contracts, business classes and, as a final project, planning a full wedding. She said fewer than 50 percent of students pass the course.
In California, Matthews had a partner in wedding planning. Last June, when her husband was transferred to Dallas, she came back home and set up her own business, this time specializing in same-sex weddings.
Matthews said she has noticed quite a few differences between gay and straight weddings. “The straight couples are very young” for one thing, she said.
That means in planning a straight couple’s wedding, she works mostly with the parents who are the ones paying for everything. Her same-sex couples, though tend to be older and self sufficient, which means parents aren’t often involved in planning phase. One exception is a young lesbian couple she’s working with now, who both have very supportive moms.
“Same-sex couples are established and know what they want,” Matthews said. While straight weddings tend to be copies of each other with little innovation, “Gay weddings are more custom,” she said.
Everything from venue to stationery are more individualized for same-sex couples in Matthews’ experience. She said one couple created their own font and drawing for their invitations and thank-you notes to better reflect who they are.
Same-sex couples are adapting some traditions and at the same time creating some new ones of their own, she said. Cocktails before the ceremony or a toast during the ceremony are becoming common in same-sex weddings, but are rarely seen in opposite-sex weddings.
Traditionally, the bride can’t see the bridegroom before the wedding. What about the same-sex couple that’s been together for years? Matthews said that’s not a tradition transferring to gay or lesbian couples.
In straight weddings, usually the bridegroom is standing up front waiting for his bride to walk down the aisle toward him. What are same-sex couples doing? “They’re finding different ways to walk down the aisle,” Matthews said.
She’s seen a variety of variations. Sometimes the couple walks down the aisle together and sometimes there are two aisles and they meet at the pulpit. Sometimes there’s an altar in the middle and the couple walks toward each other.
“There’s more a feeling of community with your tribe surrounding you,” Matthews said of same-sex weddings. “I don’t know that that much thought goes into it with a straight wedding.”
Same-sex couples are finding new ways of expressing their vows, too. “It’s more celebratory and less somber,” Matthews said, celebrating not only the couple, but the idea that they can get married.
And, she continued, “Engaged same-sex couples are more savvy in finding vendors who are inclusive.” That stems from years of working with companies to improve their workplace policies and benefits and watching out for companies making donations to hate groups.
Matthews said she vets venues before she suggests them to clients. She said she knows many couples are looking for somewhere with a cool vibe — maybe a downtown hotel like The Joule. In her vetting, however, she makes sure the company won’t just book a same-sex wedding, but wants to feature that wedding on its website.
She said if she found a venue to be anti-gay, she wouldn’t send a straight couple there either. Who knows who else they really don’t like?
A wedding planner can be particularly valuable the day of the event, Matthews said. Details of what happens that day can get most couples frazzled. Where do presents go? What needs to get to the hotel room and what needs to go home? Does the DJ have the names of the couple and know how to pronounce those names correctly? Who needs to be tipped? How does the couple get around on their wedding day?
While most couples know to book a venue, photographer, baker and florist, many don’t think about details like parking and transportation for the couple or guests. She said parking can be a headache and warned couples to think about valets, tipping and pay parking.
“It’s easy to say gay weddings are not different,” she said, “but that’s not true.” Bridal shows should become wedding shows, she suggested, because same-sex weddings are changing the entire industry.