“We set out to find the perfect, rustic (read cheap) wedding venue that would cope with our many Scottish, Swedish and English wedding guests, including several children and the odd alcoholic“
Will you marry me? A question that, as a 30-year-old gay man, I had never really banked on being asked…I had hoped, soppy romantic that I am, but I’d never been bold enough to expect it.
Yet there I was; on the steps below the Sacré Coeur, balding, hugely unfit, and still panting after a brisk walk up and down the hills of Montmartre, with my better half – dry-mouthed, bug-eyed and nervously fidgeting in his pocket for the ring – popping that often elusive and much sought-after question.
In hindsight, I realise that the proposal shouldn’t necessarily have come as such a surprise…aside from the fact that we just happened to be on a surprise anniversary holiday in Paris, the romance-capital of the World, same-sex couples tying the knot is no longer as exotic as it once was. Civil partnership legislation came into force in Scotland in December 2005, and over the following two years, more than 2,000 gay ceremonies took place.
Admittedly, there was probably a certain amount of back log, with a surge of couples who had wanted to commit to each other legally for years bursting to make use of the much anticipated new law. But with an average of almost 60 civil partnerships per month I think it’s fair to say that the gays of Scotland are embracing their right to wedded bliss.
My man and I, plus all our family and friends, certainly were! But I have to admit, while I was well up for tying the knot, I hadn’t actually really considered the amount of work that goes into organising it. It’s all very well to say ‘I do’, but finding a suitable venue, a decent outfit and agreeing on a guest list is a different matter altogether.
With the proposal out of the way, and quite a few months of passive engagement bliss behind us, it was time to get down to the nitty gritty. We had spent a great deal of time talking about the big day and building castles in the sky that would make an average fairytale wedding look like The Royle Family in a caravan park. However, planning the actual event with two huge families, a bunch of high maintenance friends and a rather tight budget proved a very different experience indeed.
We decided to start with what seemed like the logical first step; the venue. After initially booking a fancy Art Deco hotel in the centre of town, with a penthouse function suite and a castle view, we soon realised that in order to accommodate our modest finances and immodest families, we’d have to down-size.
Not to worry; the hunt’s half the fun, right? Still glowing with the eager enthusiasm of two Brownies selling tablet for commission, we set out to find the perfect, rustic (read cheap) wedding venue that would cope with our many Scottish, Swedish and English wedding guests, including several children and the odd alcoholic.
Having ruled out budget hotel chains and several of our favourite bars which weren’t licensed for children, we were beginning to feel deflated when a good friend mentioned that she had been to a ceilidh at a little bohemian, city-centre oasis of a cafe, which apparently had a charmingly antique, wood-panelled function area on the first floor.
The café itself, and the filthy staircase leading up to the hall, should have told us to approach with caution, but not even a bunch of vegan Spaniards with dreads smoking wacky-baccy could have prepared us for what lay ahead.
The hall, as it turned out, with its tin foil-clad windows and piles of junk in the corners, was about as charming as a fart at a dinner table. Call us snooty gays, but as hard as we tried to see the potential, we just couldn’t get over the feeling of having crashed someone’s junkie squat. Composing our wrinkled noses into what hopefully resembled polite smiles, we made our excuses and exited swiftly, feeling itchy and a bit depressed.
Several weeks of disappointing venue explorations followed, with all candidates being too expensive, too impractical, or just plain impossible. We even arranged a tour of a hotel in Dunfermline at one point, but thankfully my partner cancelled it after I broke down in tears, sobbing something incoherent about Buckfast and queer-bashing.
Just as hope was starting to fade, an acquaintance mentioned that many years ago her sister had gotten married in a small hotel at the southern outskirts of the city centre, which at the time at least had seemed very pleasant. Slightly nervous of arousing anticipation, we made an appointment to meet with the manager.
While the hotel in question is by no means the central, chic boutique hotel we had originally dreamt of, it’s definitely a very big step up from the other plausible venues. More importantly though, the function room is affordable, pleasant and takes up to 190 guests, and the staff have proved to be very accommodating, even offering us the option of bringing our own bubbly for the welcome drinks.
Feeling rather pleased with ourselves, we moved on to what seemed like a much more straight forward task; the guest list. After all, how hard can it be to invite people to a party?
Having informed everyone and their uncle about the engagement and pending nuptials we’d always known it was going to be a big event, but even with 110 seats at out disposal at the Registry Office, we were struggling to squeeze everyone in. Add to that a sweet but somewhat over-eager father-in-law who persistently keeps inviting any random relatives or friends he happens to get talking to when he’s had a drink, and our lovely, spacious Registry Office hall was suddenly beginning to feel slightly cramped.
Originally, I argued that settling the guest list is no big deal; people will understand that not everyone can come and that this is essentially just a themed party, not the negotiation of world peace. But I soon learned that my casual attitude was not only naïve, but also rather foolhardy.
Apparently, wedding guest lists are not only dead serious, but also, an invite is pretty much a friendship deal-breaker. Even if you’re not actually friends.
As this realisation was dawning, I found myself questioning how exactly you explain to someone you’ve known and socialised with for the last 10 years that they’re just a bit too boring to make the cut. And then there’s the proverbial minefield of making your husband-to-be understand why you want to invite a good friend who also happens to be an ex-boyfriend.
One thing I have learned over the last year is that, between falling out over exes, venues and invites, making it to the altar is a minor miracle in its own right. Not that I would have answered the big question any differently in hindsight, but maybe I would have been less likely to laugh off the concept of a wedding planner.
Having said all of that, I couldn’t be happier about how everything is turned out. We negotiated who to invite and why, where to get hitched and what to wear – I resigned myself to the fact that a kilt’s probably the closest I was going to get to a fluffy white dress – and had a great day full of family, friends, food and drinks.
And while same sex couples getting hitched is no longer the extreme it once used to be, the really beautiful thing about gay weddings today in my opinion is that it’s not yet bogged down by convention.
Sure, you still face the same dilemmas as any other couple planning their big day, and of course there are gay people who want a traditional wedding, but once your grandmother’s got her head around two men declaring their undying love in public, it’s easy enough to be as avant-garde – or indeed as conventional – as you want.