It all started when a group of friends, on the night that the bill to legalize gay marriage in New York passed, decided to organize a chapel to marry off same-sex couples en masse. "But we didn't know a single thing about wedding planning," says Bex Schwartz, one of the event's organizers, who had become an ordained minister a few years prior. So The Knot offered up wedding expertise, and some of the city's top wedding professionals stepped in to make the event a reality: David Stark Design provided wedding flowers, City Cakes New York donated cupcakes, and 14 pro photographers and 14 wedding officiants donated their time.
The result? Twenty-four unique same-sex weddings to commemorate the gay marriage bill's passing on June 24 and its enactment on July 24. Manhattan residents Leila Haghshenas and Bryn Taylor, who have been together for two years, were the first to get married. "Before the law passed, we had already planned a nonlegal celebration for November," says Haghshenas. "We never envisioned what our ceremony would look like so all of this is such a pleasant surprise."
The Pop Up Chapels
Haghshenas and Taylor, along with the other 23 couples, were married under one of two chapels that "popped up" (literally -- they were both built in less than two hours early on the day of the event), created especially for these engaged couples. The structures were the product of a quickly conceived architecture competition, the brainchild of Marc Kushner of Architizer (an online community for architects). Architizer challenged New York architects to design unforgettable chapels worthy of the historic occasion.
Out of more than 50 entries, judges (including Kushner, Schwartz and wedding planners from Just About Married, who helped coordinate the day) selected two winning designs from architecture firms ICRAVE and Z-A Studio. ICRAVE's design (Haghsenas and Taylor's chapel) took the shape of a square canopy of colorful hanging ribbons creating a shimmering rainbow effect—a winner because it was the one out of several rainbow-decorated entries that handled the iconic gay symbol in a tasteful way, Kushner says.
The second chapel, "Kiss," was built from layers of honeycomb cardboard sculpted into an elaborate twist. Guy Zucker, head of Z-A Studio, says that the design reflects the idea of marriage. "It's two separate entities layered together to make a stable structure," he says.
"Kiss" played host to the wedding of Jen Nagale and Rose Yndigoyen, who, like the other couples, only found out they'd be participating in the event one week earlier. "I walked into David's Bridal a week ago totally panicked," Nagale says. Luckily, she found a classic silk strapless dress that fit off the rack. "We actually had a commitment ceremony about a month ago, and as we were leaving, we heard that the law had passed. So this is great timing," she says.
The Wedding Details
Though the couples shared the chapels throughout the day, each wedding was unique. The couples chose the design of their wedding flowers, customized the flavors of their wedding cupcakes and met with their photographers and officiants over email and Skype leading up to the event to personalize their experiences and write their vows. Some couples bucked tradition and opted to walk down the aisle side by side, while others chose one person to wait at the altar and the other walked down the aisle.
"Same-sex ceremonies are inherently creative," says officiant Barbara Ann Michaels, who officiated two of the day's most unique ceremonies. Jazell Andujar and Deb Choi wore traditional Korean dress for their ceremony and included several Korean wedding customs, as well as parts spoken in Spanish. Katrina Olson and Tiffany Hopkins's wedding included rituals from several different cultures, like jumping the broom and handfasting, to represent same-sex couples from around the world. Their finishing touch? A juggling performance instead of a ceremony reading. "I love that these couples did what's most true to themselves," says Michaels.
After each wedding, guests and photographers gathered around as the marriage licenses were signed. "It's great for our families to have the state's acknowledgement of our relationship," says Martiza Lumpris, of her wedding to Alma Rodenas-Ruano. The couple, who have been together for 27 years, say they're thrilled their kids will no longer have to ask why their parents aren't married.
By the end of the day, all of the couples, who ranged in age from their mid-20s to their mid-60s, came from all over New York and had relationships lasting from 2 years to more than 30 years, had said their vows. More than 70 volunteers and 17 wedding-savvy partners were there to pull the whole thing off. And if that weren't enough, Tony-nominated actor Rory O'Malley (and cofounder of Broadway Impact, a gay advocacy group) stopped by to congratulate the newlyweds, and Broadway star Elizabeth Stanley performed a song.
But the real feat? All 24 weddings went smoothly. "I'm really neurotic, so people kept telling me, ‘Relax, it's not your wedding!' Well it kind of is. It's like 24 of my weddings," says Schwartz, who officiated two of the ceremonies herself. "But this is pretty much exactly what I envisioned."
The Knot thanks David Stark Design and Production, DavidStarkDesign.com; Just About Married, JustAboutMarriedNY.com; Kodak Gallery, KodakGallery.com; Architizer, Architizer.com; City Cakes New York, CityCakesNY.com; Alma G Salon, AlmaGSalon.com; Classic Party Rentals, ClassicPartyRentals.com; Gay Ever After, GayEverAfter.com, Scratch Weddings, ScratchWeddings.com; Arcadia, ArcadiaNYC.com; Broadway Impact, BroadwayImpact.com; Divalicious Catering, DivaliciousCateringNYC.com; Domain Chandon, Chandon.com; Logo, LogoTV.com; Wedding Coterie, WeddingCoterie.com; and Whisk, WhiskNYC.com
Photos by Robert Wagner Photography