The good news is that the bigots are losing. The bad news is there still needs to be a large mental shift in society and yes, that includes me.
Take the title of this article for example. I chose to call this a same-sex marriage, sometimes I call it gay marriage but really, it should just be called… marriage. Quite honestly, the penis ratio in a marriage should not define it and yet for a lot of people, it still does. For me, marriage should just be down to love and commitment between consenting adults.
Okay, the last disclaimer before I start getting into more detail. I’m a straight, cis-gendered white guy whose take is always going to be influenced by this. I am, however, a humanist and an ally so I’ll do my best and stand ready to be corrected by my LGBTQIA friends.
History of Same-Sex Weddings in the UK
It’s possible to go back hundreds of years for examples of same-sex couples, as I recently learned at an amazing talk by Holly Cruise on the Queer History of Britain. I highly recommed Holly’s talks and that’s not just because I’ve worked with her.
Same-sex weddings have been legal in the UK for just under 7 years now with the Marriage Act 2013. Legal that is in England and Wales. Scotland came in at the end of December 2014. Northern Ireland took quite a bit longer and only passed legislation at the end of 2019 which came into force in January of this year.
So What’s So Good About Gay Marriage?
You know, besides from the recognition that it’s no one’s damn business to dictate to others who to love.
Well, from talking to Mark and Tim, who’s wedding I shot in Manchester last year, one of the major perks was that nobody really knew what was expected for their wedding (To be fair, having known Mark for many years, I did kind of expect some Lego and Jurassic Park references, and I wasn’t disappointed). I’ll write a separate blog about their wedding soon though and keep it more general here. The main point though is that there hasn’t really been time for traditions and expectations to be built up when it comes to same-sex marriages compared to hetero-normative ones.
Couples can either try and fit into traditional roles, with one partner playing the “role” of the bride and the other the groom. Or, couples can forge their own path and do away with tradition entirely.
I suppose the greatest thing about same-sex marriage, the freedom to choose, may also be the thing that will take the most working out together when planning the big day.
Where can a same-sex wedding take place?
Pretty much anywhere any other wedding can take place. The Church of England, unsurprisingly is still somewhere in the 1800s and hasn’t quite caught up with modern society and is the one institution in the UK to still be prohibited from carrying out ceremonies for same-sex couples. Outside of the CoE, AFAIK there is no requirement for venues to have to hold same-sex weddings. It’s always best to check with venues and celebrants straight up (no pun intended for once) to make sure they are informed and enlightened before parting with any money.
Giving Away the Bride
Or you know, whatever. The traditional role, where the father gives his daughter to her new owner, has always bothered me. I do understand that this is not really the case anymore and that it is just a lovely moment for the (usually) father to accompany his daughter at a special moment, but the historical baggage is still there. What I have seen instead at the same-sex marriages I have shot is usually more the couple accompanying each other into married life and I find this quite special. I’ve also seen the couple walk in together but down separate aisles then walk out together down the centre aisle once married.
Which Surname to Use
So you’re getting married and the normal approach is to take the man’s surname right. But what happens when there are two men or two women. Do you flip a coin or what? The approaches I have seen have been to double-barrel the surnames (but who comes first? – pun intended this time), choose the one you both like the most (don’t tell the other family you don’t like theirs!) or better still, you have the option to create your own surname.
Public Displays of Affection
As a wedding photographer, it’s great when a couple can’t keep their hands off each other and are constantly holding hands or stealing kisses. Easy visual clues that the couple is in love. What took me a while to realise was that this isn’t always shown as openly in same-sex couples. I suspect that this is down to societal views on homosexuality. Gay men, in particular, don’t always openly show their love for each other. After being repeatedly told by society that they are wrong, suffering physical and verbal abuse, is that any surprise? I even still hear people occasionally say that “it’s ok to be gay, but not in front of people”. This doesn’t seem to be quite as much of a problem for lesbian couples who’s weddings I’ve shot, but it still needs keeping in mind.
So for me, and any other wedding photographer reading this. My (blindingly obvious in hindsight) solution is to talk to the couple and see what they are comfortable with in advance. This makes the couple shots a lot easier to shoot. What I also noticed was that there are other, more subtle ways couples have of showing affection, if you lookout for it. One couple would gently bump shoulders every so often, rather than holding hands.
My advice for couples who are worried about couple shots because of this is the same. Talk to your photographer about your concerns. We may not care that you’re gay, but we haven’t lived it either and can’t fully understand your concerns without it being pointed out to us.
A nice little storey to finish with…
The photo above is from the wedding of Hannah and Nicola whose same-sex marriage I shot last year. We went to Cosby beach in Liverpool for their couple shots. On our way to the beach, a lovely gentleman saw them and invited them into his rose-garden for some photos. We took the shots, thanked him then carried on to the beach for some more photos. This was taken on the way back to the car, the gentleman had taken down the flag that was on his flagpole and replaced it with the pride one instead which touched us all with his thoughtfulness.
Ok, so the last bit wasn’t quite the last bit 😆
For my final year project in uni, I decided I wanted to learn more about the LGBTQIA+ community. I’m fascinated by things that I can’t quite experience myself and want to always be a better person, so I put together the following collection of images and alongside quotes from those involved. I think here is as good a place as any to share them so enjoy.