How same-sex couples will celebrate their commitments

GLBT couples around Minnesota race to plan August weddings

Phil Oxman and Harvey Zuckman got around the problem by hiring people they already knew. The couple are planning to get married at Minneapolis City Hall on August 1, and to follow it up with a full wedding at the end of next May.

They've already had a rehearsal of sorts: Eight years ago, they decided to throw a big party for their 30th anniversary. They booked St. Mary's Greek Orthodox Church, overlooking Lake Calhoun, as well as a gay caterer and a band they'd heard at a Human Rights Campaign dinner.

"We had quite a large celebration, thinking we would never have a wedding," Oxman says. "Little did we know that eight years later, we would do it again."

Liza Dungo and Mackenzie Labine
Photo illustration by Emily Utne
Liza Dungo and Mackenzie Labine
When they met 32 years ago, Denise Moreland and Deb Pearson were scared even to hold hands in the car
Benjamin Carter Grimes
When they met 32 years ago, Denise Moreland and Deb Pearson were scared even to hold hands in the car

Their May wedding will also be at St. Mary's, and the same caterer will feed their guests. More nerve-wracking are questions about the ceremony itself: Who do they want close to them? Who will hold the chuppah, the Jewish wedding canopy?

"We have a whole list of things that we need to decide that we just never thought we would have to think about," Zuckman says. "We can put on a party, but a ceremony's another story."

To answer some of those questions, they've enlisted their rabbi, Michael Latz of the Shir Tikvah synagogue. Latz, who married his husband last year in Canada, is working with three same-sex couples on upcoming ceremonies.

"They are doing everything that every couple who's ever gotten married has to do, and that's call their rabbi, pick a date, figure out who to invite," he explains. "I think the difference is, the couples I'm working with are in their 50s and 60s, and never believed that this would be possible in their life."

Latz usually meets with couples for five sessions of premarital counseling, but with his same-sex couples, he declared that step optional.

"I said, 'You know, you've been together for all these years, you really don't have to do it,'" Latz says. "But I had one couple who said, 'No, we want to do it. We want to do everything how everybody else gets to.'"

On a recent Tuesday night, Rod Stark and Howard Austin are picking out their wedding invitations.

"When the bill was introduced, right then I started planning my wedding in my head," Stark says as he flips through fonts and ribbon designs. "I was dreaming of the regular wedding that all little girls dream of having, but my version of that."

Stark and Austin, like other gay couples, had already defined commitment for themselves. They wear matching black crystal wedding bands; Austin is on Stark's insurance through his company's domestic partners program. But their August 6 wedding will still change things.

"I knew that there would be emotions tied to planning the wedding, but I didn't think that they would be as strong as they are," Stark says.

In addition to all of the protections that being legally married will grant them, the wedding celebration will also offer something else: acceptance. The chance to gather his whole extended family together, the way he has seen at all of their weddings over the years, will be validating, Stark says.

For Moreland and Pearson, being married is something they're practicing.

"We always called each other partners, and we're trying it out now, calling each other wife," Pearson says. "When I drop her off at the bus in the morning, I say, 'Goodbye, wife.' And it's like, 'Wife? What the heck is that?'"

"I don't know how it's going to feel," Pearson continues. "What happens on August 18 when we wake up and we're married? I have no idea."

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