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Untraditional traditionalists

By |2018-01-16T00:05:21-05:00April 27th, 2006|Uncategorized|

By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
Whether you call it a holy union, a civil union, a commitment ceremony or, yes, a wedding, same-sex couples have been making commitments to each other for centuries. And, just like their straight counterparts, same-sex couples have felt free to play with, modify, discard, or add to the traditional elements of the ceremonies that bind them.
Despite right-wing hysteria that giving legal recognition to the unions of same-sex couples will lead directly to polygamous weddings, nude street dancing and the breakdown of Western civilization, none of the couples interviewed by BTL for this article married a third person, took part in public nudity or helped along the downfall of Western civilization.
What they did is what couples have been doing since there have been couples – affirming their love for and commitment to each other before their family, friends, and whatever forces they hold sacred.
Reverend Mark Bidwell, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit, married his life partner Greg Owen in a huge ceremony in May of 2003. Almost 200 friends and family attended as Bidwell and Owen blended elements of the Christian ritual of marriage with an even older tradition – elements of Native American wedding ceremonies.
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During the ceremony a Native American member of Bidwell’s congregation gave the couple “the traditional blessing, where she wrapped us in a blanket, and presented us with token gifts that would have been presented to a native couple when they married.”
And because Bidwell and Owen are generous, they took the standard gifts that are usually presented to members of the wedding party to a new level.
“We had a day of beauty at a local hair salon,” Bidwell said, “[With a] pedicure, manicure, facial, hair, wax – the works, as well as champagne, cheese and strawberries.”
“Instead of a token gift, we did things together,” he added.
Linda and Cathy Schneider, who have been together for 11 years (That’s another thing that seems to be true of same-sex couples; their unions break straight tradition by lasting longer) have celebrated their union so often that, according to Linda, “I can’t remember how many times,” the couple have celebrated their private commitment publicly.
However, Linda does remember the couples’ wedding on Point Pelee in Canada in 2003.
During the ceremony, which was officiated by Rev. Bidwell, “We centered ourselves in the middle of the beach and set up our altar, [and then] we combined the traditional Christian with Native American ceremony,” Linda said. “We did not wear white dresses – nothing as far as fancy special clothes. You’re on the beach, you dress for the occasion.”
The Schneiders may have started a new Canadian tradition as well, because the two were the first to become married on Point Pelee.
“Before we went to Canada to get married I contacted the people at the national park and asked if we could do that,” Linda said. “The woman called back and said that they had never had a wedding on Point Pelee before and if we wanted to we were welcome to, but they couldn’t guarantee us privacy. I told them if we wanted private, we’d get a building.”
Of the Schneiders’ commitment to making a statement by being out and proud about their relationship, Linda said, “I expect to be asked questions. If I’m not asked questions then I haven’t done my job.”
“We’re making a statement,” Linda said. “We’re letting people know we love each other, this is not something that’s going to change – and we’ll keep doing it until they get it right,” and give the couple the legal and social respect they deserve.
The couple is so committed to their partnership, in fact, that Linda is undergoing the expensive legal procedure necessary to change her last name to her wife’s – until then, she said, she is forced to sign legal documents with her legal last name, but uses the last name of Schneider in all other settings.
Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center Executive Director Leslie Thompson married “the ever-lovely Colleen Hamlin” in January of this year.
“She wore a champagne wedding dress,” Thompson said. “Lordy, she was hot.”
Contradicting the expectations of her friends and family, though, Thompson did not wear a tux.
Instead, Thompson greeted her bride in lavender silk pants, a camisole made of the same material as Hamlin’s gown, a purple velvet jacket and purple cowboy boots.
“I was stylin’,” she said, laughing at the memory.
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Rather than have one bride waiting at the altar for the other, Thompson and Owen walked to the altar down the outside aisles. Nor, during their reception, did they “do the garter thing” or the bouquet thing, “Because that was a little too hetero,” said Thompson.
One tradition, though, the two stood firm on; they did not see each other from midnight on the day of their wedding until they met each other in the church.
And, of course, there were two brides on the cake.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.