Celebrating Your Special Day, Done Your Way

Wisconsin’s LGBTQ newlyweds share their wedding experience and advice.

All the Colors of the World

Sam Smurlo & Logan Kirwin

October 28, 2017 | Monona Terrace & Wisconsin Brewing Co | Before we even got engaged I told Logan, “When we get married, I want a giant wedding party and I want it to be a rainbow.” Once it came to actually planning the wedding, we really wanted a day that reflected who we were. We chose Wisconsin Brewing because we enjoy going to breweries and trying new beer, and we chose Monona Terrace because it really exemplifies Madison and reflects our choice to start our life together here.

We made rainbow candle holders out of dice and paired them with board games for centerpieces. We used hockey pucks for seating cards, and built our card holder out of rainbow Legos. The day of the wedding, everything came together: What once seemed like jumble of ideas turned into a gorgeous backdrop. The actual wedding day, though, was focused on the people: not only Logan and I, but also all of our friends and family. I didn’t need a reminder that marrying Logan was a good decision, but watching the friends and family from all aspects of our lives celebrating us and bonding with each other solidified the reasons why we work for each other. If I were doing it again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Planning Tip | No matter how much you accomplish for that wedding, you could always do more. Don’t get bogged down by feeling like you need to finish everything. Prioritize the things you absolutely need to have, and then let the nice-to-haves happen as they will. If they don’t get done, odds are they weren’t that important in the first place.

Rocky Mountain High

Stephanie Budge & Megan McDonald

July 28, 2017 | Alta Lodge, Alta, Utah | We decided to get married in the Rocky Mountains in Utah. Stephanie is from Utah and grew up hiking and skiing ther. Megan discovered hiking in her 20s and realized that she couldn’t imagine her life without it. When we met, being outdoors and sharing our love of mountains/hiking was a huge part of our connection.

Our wedding day was simply beautiful. We decided to get married during the wildflower festival so that our friends and family could enjoy the mountains when the flowers are at their peak. The weather was gorgeous. It was important to us to spend each day in Utah hiking and we made it a point to sneak away the morning of our wedding and spend a couple of hours, just the two of us, doing just that.

Prior to the ceremony, we decided to take a chair lift up to the highest peak at the nearby Snowbird Ski Resort. Our amazing photographer, eedahahm, captured pictures of us riding the 15-minute ride up the canyon and took photos of the teenage boys saying that they “shipped us” as they were on their way down. Once at the top, eedahahm directed us to walk over a snow bank to get a picture on top of a small bridge. The pictures at the top were completely worth hiking around barefoot in our wedding-best and getting dirty before the wedding even started.

It was important to us to keep the wedding small. Stephanie’s three-year-old niece walked down the aisle in a rainbow dress and rainbow feather boa and rocked her role as the “rainbow girl.” We decided to write our own ceremony, which included a spot where our brothers (who co-officiated) shared touching stories about their memories growing up with us. We asked Megan’s dad to read a hilarious poem about love and the singularity and we asked Stephanie’s best friend to read a poem about social justice and queer marriage. We wrote our own vows, which felt deeply meaningful to us and our guests.

Planning Tip|Budget: We decided to do a Friday wedding and this ended up being a budget-friendly option. Stephanie bought her dress used on a website; it was in great shape and was budget-friendly.

The most important part for us was a mountain location, good food, and affordable rooms for our guests. We prioritized those and decided to forgo paper invitations, flowers, a DJ, decorations, and wedding favors.

Gendered/hetero-normative experiences: We called the Men’s Wearhouse (East side) prior to making an appointment for a fitting for Megan to make sure that they would be affirming of having a woman come in to try on suits. They were very nice and affirming on the phone and in person, but clearly did not have a lot of experience fitting someone who isn’t a cis-guy. Ultimately, Megan decided to go with a women’s suit from Banana Republic because it wasn’t cut too femininely, but also fit her body.

We ended up giving feedback to our venue because the forms were really specific about a father/daughter dance and what to do with “bridesmaids” or “groomsmen.” They were super open to feedback and we could tell that they were really invested in us having a good experience.

General advice: We decided to go on our honeymoon directly after our wedding, mainly because our jobs have different flexibility around vacation time. We knew this was going to make us feel a bit more stressed, but we didn’t feel like we had many options. We recommend to others that they wait to go on a honeymoon, if that is something they are planning.

Having a small wedding out of state brought up a lot of feelings of sadness related to who we were not able to invite. One of the ways we decided to celebrate our marriage with others was to have a local party at Brittingham Park beforehand and invite our entire Wisconsin community to have pizza and beer with us. The celebration in Madison was lovely and wonderful. We would advise others having a wedding far away from their hometown to do the same!

Carried Away

Michael Bruno & Jim Smith

November 12, 2017 | Overture Center | Such a wonderful gathering of family and friends that came together to share our love and commitment to each other. We went from planning a small, intimate ceremony in our back yard to a 200+ gala in the beautiful Overture Center. We were amazingly calm that morning, and as we saw the beautiful faces in the crowd, we felt the love and electricity in the air.

We used Craig’s Cakes in Verona for our groom’s cake, and the cupcakes and Catering A Fresco at Overture for the buffet. Our friend Sharon Mylrea with Mylrea Interiors did our floral arrangements. Jason Braden with Jeweler’s Workshop helped design and execute our wedding rings. We did away with most traditional wedding ceremony procedure and had the woman who introduced us, Jackie Bradley, as our minister. Our friends with Gin, Chocolate and Bottle Rockets wrote and played two original songs written by them and Jackie, too.

Surrounded by Love

Kristopher Gasch & Shane Burkart

August 26, 2017 | Wisconsin Rapids | When Shane and I signed on to the state domestic partnership registry in 2011, I was contacted by my church asking how I could reconcile my “lifestyle choice” with my faith. There was very little contact after 2011, but our engagement started the year-long process that ended in my excommunication from the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod church. I met repeatedly with the pastors, during which time they compared members of the LGBT community with pedophiles and drug addicts. They presented me with a document stating that “I request to be peacefully released to my own care and guidance,” as though if I weren’t a member of that particular church I would be completely on my own. They strongly urged me to sign it, as it would take the burden off of them to actually excommunicate me. I told them they were the ones with a problem, and if they wanted me gone they would have to go through the entire messy, complicated, and public process.

After a year (almost to the day) of meetings and discussions, I attended a voter’s meeting at the church. In the WELS synod, women are not allowed to vote on church matters. I sat in the room as they discussed me and my “sinful lifestyle.” I also took my turn at the microphone and introduced myself, as most of the people there didn’t know me, so they certainly didn’t know I was in the room listening. Stating once again that “the greatest of these is love” made no headway. I sat there as all the men’s hands went up around me in a unanimous vote to excommunicate me.

When I posted about the experience on Facebook, I received messages from people across the country expressing their support. Shane and I also received letters and phone calls from many local churches inviting us to join a congregation that is more open and accepting.

With all of that in the rearview mirror, we set out to plan our wedding. Fortunately for us, we were immediately welcomed into the Episcopal Church in Wisconsin Rapids. What a drastic difference, walking into a church just a mile or so across town where they were reading the same exact words in the same exact book, but instead of excommunicating me they started the process of planning our wedding.

Shane and I both felt strongly about hosting the wedding in our hometown of Wisconsin Rapids. We speak so often about how much we love living here, it felt disingenuous to invite 300 of our closest friends and family to another town. We decided to hold the ceremony in our backyard at Midport, our mid-century modern dream home on the banks of the Wisconsin River. We’d only moved in about three months before we got engaged, but we knew right away that we wanted to get married there.

What formed was a unique and heartfelt wedding ceremony that involved friends, family, and a lot of music. It rained all morning, leaving us with a last-minute decision to proceed in the rain or move the entire thing indoors. We decided to proceed with the outdoor ceremony, and ultimately the rain would stop ten minutes before we walked down the aisle. We moved a church organ into the yard for the ceremony and a friend came up from Madison to provide the music. The choir consisted of two dozen singers from the Monteverdi Chorale of Stevens Point, a group with which I’d sung for a decade. Walking down the aisle to Gabriel Faure’s “Cantique de Jean Racine” fulfilled a dream I’d thought about for over 15 years.

To mark the start of our next chapter as husbands, we created a new family crest which incorporates elements from our past together as well as shared interests. The Latin motto roughly translates as “In all things: music, laughter, and adventure,” and the crest was hand-carved into the signet rings we exchanged at the ceremony.

We wanted the reception to be held somewhere that people had never been before, a challenging task in a small town. We decided on an old airplane hangar built in the 1920s at the Wisconsin Rapids airport. When we walked through it the first time it was full of airplane parts, dust, and crickets, but we knew it could be transformed into the perfect venue for us and our 300 guests. We spent several weeks (with the help of many great friends) cleaning and organizing in the hangar to make it work. It is a functional airplane hangar, and had never really been used for anything else, so it took a lot of work to transform the space. The morning of the wedding there was an airplane parked on the dance floor!

Planning Tip | We tried our best to make everything as personal and custom as possible. I work in my family business (third generation), a printing company. As such, having proper invitations and printed materials was very important. Letterpress-printed and foil-stamped invitations in grey and silver set the tone, and the envelope was lined with a custom watercolor of the view from our backyard. One of the entrée options was chicken marsala, created from my own personal recipe. Our cake was topped with tiny wooden figures of two old men carved by a dear friend. As he said, “I just want them to be old men together.”

When I was younger, I hated being called a “pansy.” Deciding to take the term back, our tables were filled with potted pansy flowers flown in from Canada and grown at my aunt’s greenhouse. The bar featured locally made liquor from Great Northern Distilling in Plover, WI. We moved potted trees into the hangar in remembrance of family members that have passed away. The trees were then planted at Midport after the wedding. We both enjoy jazz music, so we were thrilled to work with Swingshift, a 15-piece big band based in Wausau that filled the hangar with the sounds of Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and all the great masters from the 1940s. It continued to rain throughout the evening, but at that point it just added to the cozy atmosphere inside the hangar.

Save the Last Dance

Katy & Jillian Werginz

September 30, 2017 | Monona Terrace | Our day was perfect, complete with sunshine, family, friends, great food, and an amazing DJ. We enlisted the help of a friend who is a wedding and event planner, Sarah Welch of Eventful. She’s based out of Appleton and is a big LGBTQ ally. We were excited to have booked DJ Boyfrrriend to do our music and she totally nailed it. Our guests kept complimenting the music and the dance floor was never empty. Our day was over before we knew it, but couldn’t have asked for a better day and people to share our love with.

Planning Tip   It’s a busy day! Make sure to have someone that will manage each location of your wedding. The last thing you want is be bombarded with questions from location management; have someone you trust be able to be approached and answer questions for you.

Have fun, enjoy those who made it a point to help you celebrate. Before you know it the last song will play, and it will be time to say goodbye.

Island Breezes

Jeff Clark & Tim Hagen

April 3, 2017 | Sint Maarten | We held our ceremony on Dawn Beach located on the beautiful Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. Our family and a few friends joined us and we all stayed in a large villa on the beach. We wanted to celebrate in one of our favorite places and we absolutely love Sint Maarten for its beautiful beaches, laid-back vibe, and amazing food. Traditional weddings are not our style so we aimed for a low-key, low-stress day. We made our vows on the beach, toasted with cocktails by the pool, and had dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. Simple, fun, and representative of us!

Planning Tip | Make your day about something or somewhere you love. Whether you keep it simple or make it extravagant, your day should represent you as a couple and your guests will appreciate the authenticity.

Making Our Own Rules

Alyssa & Angela Orlowski

October 20, 2017 | The Edgewater | After getting engaged in California in June 2016, we truly thought the big day would never come. Next thing we knew, though, October 20, 2017 arrived: 74 degrees, sun shining, and it was go time. The two of us were very traditional the night before, sleeping in different hotel rooms and not seeing each other until the next day. The morning of we each had different “activities” planned leading up to when we would meet one another for the “first look.” Nails, hair, massage, morning walk, etc. Throughout the day, Angela sent Alyssa small gifts, starting with Starbucks at 7:00 a.m. and ending with a cheap ballpoint pen that we used to write our vows and a love letter. The people in our wedding party truly enhanced our celebration. We did not follow the tradition of all women on both of our sides, but we chose those people in our lives who we wanted to stand beside us, regardless of gender.

The rainbow flag is an undeniable symbol of the LGBTQ+ community, so it was important that it was present at our wedding somewhere. We didn’t want over-the-top rainbows everywhere, but wanted something with elegance. Our officiant, a close friend of ours, wore a rainbow bow tie after Ang saw an image of an officiant wearing a rainbow stole.

We also tossed out the “rule book.” We walked down the aisle separately, but both of our parents walked us. Alyssa was very adamant about this. Similarly, we did a parent dance, dancing with our dads for the first part of the song, and our moms for the second. If you had a two (or more) parent household, why minimize the importance of the other parent(s)?

Our dads did not give us away (after all, we are strong, independent women who are not owned by anyone), but rather, our officiant asked each set of parents if they would take the other daughter and accept them into their family as their own. This was very meaningful for us and a beautiful, emotional part of the ceremony.

When the day finally arrived, it felt like a fairy-tale that went by too quickly. It was perfect. We had a pocket of sunshine and 70 degree weather when historically it should have been 50 degrees and possibly rainy! It was homecoming weekend in Badger-land and that Friday night, the night of our wedding, the city let off fireworks. We had an unobstructed view from the Edgewater. An incredible surprise that we’ll never forget. Being gay and growing up, we didn’t think we’d ever get the chance to experience a wedding day. The emotions from that alone were yet another part of what made this day so special to us—and, of course, knowing we’re spending the rest of our lives with our favorite person.

Planning Tip | Do what you want—it’s your day, it’s about you and your unique love. Ask the people you want to be in your wedding to stand up with you, regardless of gender. Make it kids-free. Wear what you want! Add the details you want. We sent physical wedding invites (Design That Flies out of Milwaukee—we found out about Jenny Silva at the Milwaukee LGBT+ Wedding Expo) but saved a couple hundred dollars doing the Save the Dates via a private Facebook event. We highly recommend this; it’s exciting to be able to see the instant responses and the cost is $0.00.

Our First Look was unreal—a moment we will forever treasure. We highly recommend a first look moment before your ceremony. Weddings are expensive, so choose carefully what you pay for (venue, photographer, and DJ were our top priorities). We passed on a wedding cake, but instead served a sweet treat later in the evening. After a four-course meal, we were convinced our guests would be too full to enjoy the cake for the price it was going to cost us ($800, easily). Instead, we served s’mores at about 8:30 p.m., so this way the guests had time to build back up an appetite after working it on the dance floor. Again, weddings are expensive, so choose carefully where you invest.

Download a wedding app; it will keep you on track! We used and loved WeddingWire. Deadlines are a very real thing, so protect yourself from procrastination. If you plan on drinking, just get “the right amount of tipsy.” You’ll want to remember the evening, as well as be able to socialize appropriately with everyone vying for your attention. Choose a venue that is experienced in weddings and offers support. The Edgewater was perfect for this; they connected us with our DJ (John Sherman with Celebrations Entertainment) and our photographer (Tim Fitch). Our wedding concierge, Shae, was there the day-of ensuring any kinks were worked out, no wedding planner necessary. Overall, enjoy and cherish your day, take pride in your love, and create endless memories.

A Place Called Home

Michael & Jesse Hoffmeister

September 17, 2016 | Christ Presbyterian Church & Monona Terrace | June 27, 2015 was the day we were engaged, which happens to be the day after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. We were elated and felt so lucky that we would have the opportunity to celebrate our love surrounded by our family and friends. When we started planning, we knew Madison would be the perfect place to celebrate. Although neither of us grew up here, we met here in 2010 and now call it home.

Prior to our engagement, we began attending Christ Presbyterian Church on the near east side of Madison. Although they had never had a same-sex wedding before ours, we knew we wanted to be married in the church’s sanctuary. After talking through our options with one of the pastors, the church came together to make a decision. They ultimately decided to allow same-sex marriages in the church, and we are still so grateful that we were able to be married there!

Throughout our planning, we always came back to one theme: We wanted our family and friends there, and we wanted them to have fun. We gave ourselves just over a year to plan so we could ensure everything worked out. We chose our venues and vendors by taking advantage of what Madison has to offer. Since we had a lot of out-of-town guests, our events were centrally located to minimize need for driving during the day.

On the day of our wedding, we woke up excited and relieved that all the planning was complete. Although we had a fairly traditional wedding, we decided to spend the day together instead of seeing each other for the first time walking down the aisle. The day was filled with so much love and laughter, and of course, a few tears. We were so grateful to have the opportunity to celebrate our love in such a public and open way.

Planning Tip | Take a deep breath and know that it’s okay if something doesn’t work out as planned. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if the flowers look perfect or if the DJ plays all the right songs, what’s important is that you’re married to your best friend.

Also, give yourself time during the day to just step away together to take it all in. We took a few minutes after dinner to head outside to watch the sunset and just be together without other people or cameras.

Following the Vision

Robert Kobuch & Mark Sannito

July 1, 2017 | Maple Bluff Country Club | We both come from big families and there were many traditions we wanted to keep, but others to make our own. This was about celebrating our union and making this unity uniquely ours. The first part of staging our wedding was deciding on our colors. My favorite color is blue. Mark’s favorite is red. Traditionally, weddings are set white. Hmm, I feel like I’ve seen this palate before: red, white, and blue—and it’s going to be in the first week of July. Oh geez, it had Fourth of July written all over it! How do we stage a wedding around a holiday and still make it our own? We had to draw some additional inspiration. I selected oceanic hues, while Mark’s were more vibrant with fiery and deep red tones. Instead of white, we used ivory linens to incorporate more light but earthy tones. This did what we needed to set our wedding part from the holiday and still use the colors we had chosen.

Mark and I have always enjoyed that we put a unique spin on what otherwise would be considered the norm. There is nothing better than a little bit of nostalgia, but a guestbook that would just sit on a shelf collecting dust wouldn’t do. My sister, Sonia, mentioned how cool it would be if we had a portrait of us with a matte border that guests could sign. We were sold on that idea instantly. My brother mentioned he’d do a pencil sketch as a wedding present and we used that as the photo. It now hangs in our library nook and we can look upon all the signatures of people who were in attendance on our special day.

Dinner was a tough one; we’ve never liked having to choose a meal months prior to actually eating it. Executive chef Steve Hahn made a recommendation: He laid out a five-star Italian buffet that was absolutely exquisite. For anyone who thinks buffets are tacky or cheap, you just need to know how to do it right. It is almost impossible to appease everyone. Put in a nice combination of meats, vegetables, breads, salads and sauces—there should be something for everyone.

For the cutting of the cake—an age-old tradition and one where you get to see the couple make a fool of themselves a little—we stuck with the Italian food theme and split a cannoli. We did it “Lady and the Tramp” style until both our mouths met for our big kiss. It was truly amazing and one we still get comments on to this day.

The parents’ dance was tough. My mother had just passed away in December and Mark’s younger sister was battling cancer. Both our mothers would be absent. So, we had everyone in attendance file into two lines for an opportunity to dance with us. Each person got about 30 seconds and a chance to spend a personal moment for our special day.

As the evening came to a close, we shared one last parting gift with our guests. Most people might give their attendees a trinket or some keepsake. We envisioned our guests having so much fun that they might be feeling it the next day. Like any good hosts, then, we made sure they left our wedding with their own cure-all for… a night of libations. We included sparkling mineral water, bitters, aspirin, Alka-Seltzer, and something sweet and something salty as a treat. This was truly a day to be remembered, and we’ve had so many people tell us how exciting and interesting our wedding was. There’s also something very exciting about taking age-old traditions and making them your own.

Planning Tip | Have a well thought-out plan, make spreadsheets for budgeting, and/or have a contingency if something goes wrong. My best advice overall is, when the day comes, just enjoy yourself. Things will go wrong or be outside your control. You and your guests will have a much better time if you just laugh it off.

You are still going to do your darndest, and that’s important, too. Wedding invitations are much more than RSVPs with time, date, and location. We used ours to set the tone of our event with DOs and DON’Ts. We asked our guests not to drink and drive, and gave information about cabs, Ubers, and Lyfts to get home safely. We also gave dress code advice.

Having a personal attendant is clutch. Your best person or person of honor will be by your side all day, but your attendant will handle all the other stuff, so you don’t have to. Our attendants handled our cell phones, and questions from the guests or staff of the venue. They find you when the grandparents are looking for you or handle that one crazy uncle that sometimes gets out of line. Lastly, you and your photographer need to have chemistry. You are inviting someone who is probably a total stranger into the most intimate part of your life. Amongst all the recommendations we got, we met with Spencer Micka. He wanted to meet us before we went any further with cost or planning. We got to know each other over coffee and talked about our expectations and what he was able to provide. Mark and I had such a profound connection with Spencer that he ended up feeling like family to us. We knew that’s who we trusted to capture our day.

One last caveat for lovebirds: Don’t forget that this is your day. Close friends and family are going to tell you that they might not like your ideas. You can take those opinions into consideration, but don’t let them define what you and your significant other envision for yourselves.

Weathering the Storm with Love

Nancy Noet & Sandy Eichel

October 7, 2017 | Warner Park | Our day was magical and completely by our design. We made every decision based on our wishes, not other people’s expectations. For us, that meant a small number of attendees and an outdoor setting.

We had our ceremony at Warner Park, underneath a colorful structure that was surrounded by trees and open water. We wrote the ceremony and had one of our dearest friends serve as officiant. Because she knows us so well, she was able to share personal insights and stories about both of us, which made the ceremony feel warm and intimate.

We also asked four of our close friends to select their own readings and to keep them secret until the ceremony. The “surprise” readings were a beautiful gift to us, and they were far better than anything we could have picked for them.

Sandy used to be an opera singer, and she’s still a talented musician. Not surprisingly, music has been an important part of our love story. At the wedding, we relived two very special musical moments when Sandy performed the aria she serenaded me with on our second date, as well as the sweet folk song she sang to me just before asking me to marry her.

Even the weather had a memorable role in our wedding. The sun was shining for most of the ceremony, with the wind steadily picking up all along. Just as we were pronounced married, a torrent of wind and rain came through (a tornado had touched down just a mile from our location). Safe under the shelter, we laughed it off. The whole thing just made the day even more memorable.

Keeping the wedding small allowed us to treat our friends and family to drinks and an incredible meal at our favorite restaurant, Sardine. Before dinner, two more of our friends delivered champagne toasts that they prepared especially for us. We spent the rest of the night enjoying our friends and family over an amazing meal.

Our entire wedding day was a wonderful celebration of us and some of our most cherished relationships with friends and family. We wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Planning Tip | Focus on the things that matter most to you and plan accordingly. Also, take some time for just yourselves on your big day. We spent the morning with each other, buying flowers at the farmers’ market (a solid secret tip if the season’s right), making arrangements, and getting ready. It was much-needed quiet time that set up the rest of our magical day. And be prepared to deal with unexpected things and don’t let them interfere with your plans. A tornado touched down just a mile from our outdoor ceremony but we laughed through the rain and wind before heading out to our reception. We didn’t let anything, including Mother Nature’s worst, throw us off. Finally, laugh. A lot. You’ll love the photos.

Vacation Wedding

Brent Bergstrom & Nick Westphal

July 18, 2017 | Key Largo, Florida | We wanted a destination wedding from the start. Our families and friends would support us no matter where we said, “I do,” so we picked the Florida Keys! We pictured towering palm trees, blue water, and a white sandy beach as the backdrop for the big day. Little did we know we would be planning the trip of a lifetime!

Before the big day, we incorporated a much-needed pre-wedding vacation for two days, enjoying all that Key West had to offer. A must on the island was visiting Duval Street for some amazing shopping, food, and local fun. We also opted to visit the Southernmost Point, Mallory Square, and of course, an amazing drag show!

On July 18 we said, “I do” on the beautiful Coral Beach at Key Largo Lighthouse. The venue had it all: a place for us and our wedding party to stay and a beautiful property that accommodated the rehearsal and dinner, picturesque ceremony, wedding dinner, and reception.

The morning started with mimosas and hibiscus flowers coupled with excitement. So many things happened so quickly: the flowers and cake arrived, the tables were set, the ceremony was coordinated, and the music and food prepared. By 4 p.m. the guests had arrived via car or trolley and were enjoying amazing hors d’oeuvres and drinks.

The ceremony was on the beach. A wooden walkway from the main house was the path to the ceremony. As we headed to the walkway, we were each joined separately by our mothers to walk us down the aisle. Some hugs with family members were exchanged before we joined each other. Tears were shared, rings and vows exchanged, and a few laughs tied all of the emotions together. The final moment of the ceremony was closed with a loving kiss.

As we left the altar, we put on yellow sunglasses and recessed to music by none other than Kelly Clarkson. We are truly blessed. Our lives would suck without each other.

Planning Tip | We learned a lot about ourselves as a couple through planning the wedding. We highly recommend a wedding coordinator or planner if you are going to have a destination wedding. Ours had so many amazing connections to vendors and helped clarify how to make our dream a reality. Plan on having a great photographer and videographer. Plan well in advance. A lot of venues need to be booked a year or two out, and will need a down payment. Assign duties to your wedding party, but also consider a smaller wedding party to make sure they can follow through with a destination wedding. We were lucky to have such amazing friends to stand up in our wedding and follow through with duties when needed. Make sure you find the special moments for just the two of you. Throughout our time in the Keys, we had several moments to ourselves that became special memories. Something as simple as a walk on the beach together can make an indelible mark on your future.

We Are Family

Andrew Wanek & Fred Barnhart

July 29, 2017 | Madison Central Library | Fred and I live and work in different cities, approximately two hours apart, and have a network of amazing friends and family that support us, although they’re spread throughout the Midwest and the coasts. Our wedding was an opportunity to bring these communities together and proclaim our love with their witness collective blessing. Plus, we love to throw a party, and marriage equality is still very much party worthy! By locating our union in the light filled Madison Central Library we were able to make it feel a lot like an outdoor summer wedding, while also controlling the climate and adding a great sound system.

The ceremony was a mix of both traditional and new elements, with readings from both the Bible and Native American prayers that celebrate love as love. Our daughter was the maid of honor, and Fred’s great niece and great nephew managed the rings and the flowers. Fred’s parents were able to participate from a distance by watching through Facetime just a few feet in front of us, which was especially poignant since Fred’s father just passed away at Thanksgiving. Earlier in the day our sisters and other family and friends gathered to help us decorate the venue with a mix of local fresh flowers and fairy lights.

With every detail we wanted to emphasize that ours is now a bigger family. Guests were greeted by our daughter and her friends who took Polaroid snapshots of them in lieu of a guest book. They then exchanged their photos for a personalized program that was hung on a wall – making a mosaic of our two tribes. Each program had only a clue to which table they were assigned, which made for a fun icebreaker between guests as they discovered their seat. And we blended guests at the tables so that they had the chance to connect with people they may have only heard stories about. Finally, to really drive home the message, we played Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” as our recessional.

We wanted our day to represent our roots and did so with our choices of food, music, and drink (including a specialty cocktail with Wisconsin gin and Indiana honey). Fred is a library administrator, and given our venue, we could not resist using a book theme as a centerpiece to identify each table. We chose books that had an impact on us, including Tales of the City and How Homosexuals Saved Civilization (for a particularly witty table).

A DJ worked well for us. He was able to tailor music that kept both young and not-so-young dancing all night. With great joy, the dancefloor swelled whenever a classic gay anthem (like Gloria Gaynor) played. And of course, a Wisconsin wedding needed a few polkas. In the end, the day turned out better than we could have imagined. Although at times we questioned the energy and expense we were putting into planning our wedding, it was worth it all and more.

Planning Tip | People are going to ask how they can help you. Let them! Be prepared with tasks they can help with. It helps them feel more a part of your event, and it can take some stress off of you. Also, our photographer shot our wedding “documentary style.” We liked capturing everyone in a more natural state rather than in a formal pose. Plus, we did not need to take time between the ceremony and reception for contrived shots. Once the vows were done, the party had begun.

Tradition Meets Progress

Nick Johnson & Jake Siudzinski 

August 18, 2017 | Park Hotel | People always say your wedding day is the best day of your life. Well, it was BY FAR the most wonderful day of our lives, a day neither of us will ever forget. The day we got to marry our best friend, in a room surrounded by nearly all of the people we love in the world. There was so much love in the room. Our hearts have never been fuller.

We both wanted a fairly traditional wedding. We wore black tuxes, decorated everything in white, had a string quartet, and had a reading from Corinthians. We stayed in separate rooms the night before, and made sure we didn’t see each other until the first look. We had flower girls and ring bearers (one of which was our dog, Dane), and had a mix of both men and women in the wedding party. We had our respective mothers walk us down the aisle, and the entire room stood for each of us as we walked down. We kept it traditional, but really made it our own.

One of our favorite readings was the Obergefell v. Hodges majority opinion from Justice Kennedy, which granted same-sex couples the right of marriage throughout the United States. It was an incredibly moving reading, both of us holding back tears as the words were read and the greatness of the moment soaked in. That feeling of realizing this really was happening, and we’re seen as equal in the eyes of the law, was unbelievable. We’ll never forget the love and pride we shared during that reading.

We absolutely love Madison and are very proud of the city we call home. Our venue was the Park Hotel, right on the Capitol Square, and each dinner table was named after a Madison landmark that meant something to us (Sotto – where we met, Barriques – our first date, Shamrock – our favorite bar). Our rehearsal venue was on top of the Ovation 309 building, which has incredible panoramic views of Madison, the lakes, and campus. We really wanted to show off the city we love to our out-of-town guests. We are both Wisconsin alums, so we of course had to invite Bucky too! He was quite the hit.

One of the most memorable parts of the day were the remarks done by our officiant, Nicolle Grasse, Nick’s aunt, before she announced us husband and husband. She read an adapted version of the poem written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, ending with:

“And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love;

Cannot be killed or swept aside.

Now fill the world with music, love, and pride.”

We most certainly did that night, and plan to from here on out!

Planning Tip | Take the time to soak it all in. Throughout the day, we would frequently pause (together or separately) and look around the room at all of our family and friends gathered in one space. It’s a truly amazing feeling to have everybody you love in one room. The day flies by no matter what, but doing this every now and then seemed to slow it down.

The Simple Things

Kathryn & Teddi Swartz

June 10, 2017 | Bishop’s Bay, Middleton | The day of our wedding meant everything to us. The sun was shining bright and the typical Madison summer heat was cut by the fresh-smelling wind off of Lake Mendota. We wanted a wedding that was going to be as enjoyable for our guests as it was for us. We wanted simplicity and beauty. We wanted love—everywhere. It’s six months later now, and we are still speechless and overwhelmed by the love and support our friends and family showed us on that day. We truly enjoyed and savored every moment of our wedding day.

Planning Tip | Honestly, the best thing to do is keep it simple. Stay true to what you want out of your special and don’t get caught up in the details of all the things everyone else has done before you. All that matters is that this day represents you and your loved one. And as much as possible, don’t sweat the small stuff. At the end of the day, you are getting married to someone you love and that’s all that truly matters. Things will go wrong and you’ll have to deviate from the plan, that’s just the reality of a day like this. The only thing you have control over in the end is celebrating what went right! Have some FUN with it!

Something Old, Something New

David & Kristina Cunningham

July 15, 2017 | Hancock, Minnesota | It’s a funny story, kind of. We were actually visiting the grave of Dave’s father when things suddenly clicked. We knew that we had to be married near his Mother and I finally agreed to set a date after many years of keeping him guessing (I’m sure that this goes without saying, but my husband and I have never been “typical”).

Thinking that we’d throw a casual party at the Cunningham homestead, the farm where my husband and his mother had grown up, we spent months planning the most perfect farm wedding I could imagine. Then, as it often does, our plan had to change and the most amazing opportunity presented itself. With only three months to prepare, we changed focus and decided to marry in the exact church where his parents exchanged vows 63 years ago.

As you probably suspect, as a trans woman marrying into a devoutly evangelical family, things were never going to be simple. Going into our wedding with minimal support from his relatives and no support at all from mine was, to say the least, daunting. Quickly enough, we were shown that we had all of the family we needed in our close friends, our true family. Suddenly we had friends, musicians, photographers, and a bunch of queer nuns jumping into their cars and driving 600 miles to ensure our perfect day. A great friend even stepped forward to make not one, but two gorgeous gowns for me!

The week before, Dave and I said our temporary goodbyes as I loaded the car full of gingham, burlap, and four tons of other wedding supplies to spend the week with my mother-in-law to be. I know this is totally atypical, but I used needing to be there a week early as an excuse to spend quality time with this wonderful woman that has become a mother to me.

This was the week that I learned the true fortitude of Cunningham women. I was a complete and utter mess at the prospect of pulling off the wedding, but my mother-in-law and two nieces in particular kept me propped up and moving forward. If it hadn’t been for them, I probably would have wandered off into a cow pasture, dazed and confused.

I’ve never been so thrilled to see my husband as I was the night before our wedding, when he appeared in the church basement where I’d been making dozens of strawberry pies for our guests. We finished up, rehearsed with our pastor, and called it a night.

Our wedding day was a dream. We spent the afternoon visiting locations from my husband’s childhood, chasing the perfect wedding photo before the ceremony.

The ceremony could not have been more perfect. I walked down the aisle toward the man I love, as my friends played violin and piano. I barely choked back my tears. As I looked at the faces surrounding us, in that moment, I knew that everything was exactly as it should be.

So that’s our wedding story. My favorite part of the entire experience, though? The night of our wedding, the night that most couples head off on a whirlwind honeymoon, we stuck to our plans to spend the evening with my brand new mother.

We were finally home.

Planning Tip | Together, we spent so much time focusing on whether or not our loved ones would show up to our ceremony and celebration. Almost too late, we realized that we were misplacing our focus. Enjoy the love from those that are eager to celebrate your union with you. Those will be the moments that you remember. Make as many of them as possible. In no time at all you’ll have forgotten about who wasn’t there, and only remember those that were.

Cunningham photos by Corey & Steph Neuman of LOVE Photography

Arm in Arm in Arm in Arm

Monica Allen & Dan Nicholson

June 24, 2017 | Madison | When Dan and I discussed what we envisioned for our wedding, we made it clear to each other that we wanted it to be as true to who we are as possible.

Nothing has been traditional about our relationship ever since the night we first met at Inferno Nightclub in December of 2013. Or the second time we met at Inferno Nightclub in May of 2014. Or the third time we met at the Inferno in June that same year. I’m a nonbinary, agender, VERY queer person and Daniel is a punk rock dapper man, and to top it all off we are both polyamorous individuals. Traditional ceremonies are great for those who desire them – but we both agreed that we would prefer to do things our own special way.

With the help of friends, we folded nearly 400+ pieces of paper decoration (mainly cranes and flower designs). I made my own bouquet out of opalescent paper, ribbons, and marbles. We gave each other tributes (a mask and a cane) instead of rings. We made up everything as we went, even the language (instead of “bride” and “groom”, we referred to each other as “wifeking/pride” and “champion”). I have always felt uncomfortable signing guest books, so we asked our friends to write love letters or draw pictures and place them in a treasure box. We urged those who wanted to give gifts to instead donate to organizations near and dear to our hearts, including GSAFE, OutReach, Planned Parenthood, Lakeland Animal Shelter, Porchlight, and DAIS. Everything was as homemade as we could make it, and if there was anything we couldn’t make ourselves we knew we could count on our friends to make it happen. Karen Corbeill (known for her work with the Bodgery) even built a portable photobooth us!

Despite all of the support we received, we still had some trepidation in regard to how we would navigate the often murky waters of the wedding industry. I have felt erasure in many ways, from having identified as bisexual at a young age, to continuing to be perceived as femme even after I correct people, to having my relationship with Daniel be treated as one that is heterosexual. Affirmation can often be very hard to find even within the community. Luckily our photographer, Samantha Dutcher Waldron of Dutcher Photography, made all the difference in our wedding. In working with Sam I felt like my identity was not only respected, but celebrated. Fun fact: Samantha actually took one of the very first pictures of Dan and I as a couple!

Planning Tip | My biological family was not at our wedding. This decision was the best for me, but I was not prepared for the incredibly lonely moment where Dan and I would be walking up the aisle and I had no one I grew up with to hold my hand or tell me they were proud of me (even though I understand objectively that that sort of thing is not inherently necessary).

Then I looked behind me and saw all of these amazing friends who I am in the process of growing up with. I asked if they would walk with us and, despite the spontaneity of it, they said yes! We walked up the aisle with a crowd of loved ones, arm in arm in arm in arm. I honestly couldn’t ask for a better family than my own community.

You deserve to feel safe and you deserve to feel happy, so do what you can to maximize those feelings. It is absolutely okay to reach out if you need support. Also, remember to have a snack on hand and hydrate often.