For same-sex couples, not all wedding vendors are created equal | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

For same-sex couples, not all wedding vendors are created equal

"The good thing about living in Pittsburgh is that it's actually a pretty gay-friendly city."

Travis Hunt and Stephen Simpson
Travis Hunt and Stephen Simpson

The first time Travis Hunt and Stephen Simpson planned their wedding, they settled on having the celebration in Maryland, the closest state at the time that allowed same-sex marriage.

But a federal judge's decision last May to strike down Pennsylvania's ban threw an unexpected wrench into the couple's plans.

"When it became legal [in Pennsylvania], we just canceled everything," says Hunt, noting that the couple and many family members live in Pennsylvania. They began planning their upcoming May wedding essentially from scratch, finding new venues and vendors closer to their home just east of the city.

Though Hunt, 32, and Simpson, 42, were excited at the opportunity to become legally married in their home state, they planned their wedding to ensure that vendors wouldn't be surprised to find a gay couple. Because even as same-sex marriage gains traction in the courts of law and public opinion, most Pennsylvanians who don't live in Allegheny or Philadelphia counties still don't enjoy protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

"The whole process is just coming out of the closet every single time," Hunt says of the conversations he's had with vendors. He explains that on first contact, he hopes to leave a voicemail explaining what they're looking for, and that they're a gay couple. That way "if they don't get back to us [...] we just move on to the next name on the list.

"The good thing about living in Pittsburgh is that it's actually a pretty gay-friendly city."

Many in the local wedding industry say the vast majority of businesses are happy to work for same-sex couples. Still, "there are some vendors who just don't want to deal with it," says Erin Calvimontes, a wedding planner and owner of Divine Celebrations who helped plan Hunt and Simpson's wedding.

Her website lists her as a "Certified Gay Wedding Specialist," a certification that came through an online course designed to promote tolerance in the wedding-planning process. Calvimontes says she vets the businesses she works with "so [couples] don't have to come out of the closet every time they talk to a vendor."

She also produced and coordinated two installments of the "Celebrate Marriage Equality Wedding Showcase," an event held at the Heinz History Center designed to give same-sex couples a friendly environment to meet vendors excited to serve the LGBT community.

Maura Minteer, director of the events department at Heinz, explains that she was interested in hosting the showcase two weeks after the marriage ban was struck down to "get the word out quickly that we were embracing the change in the law."

But she isn't convinced they'll need to do it again. "In a way it's saying, 'You guys are still different,' where I would almost rather say, 'We embrace all; here's the show.'"

Marriage equality is finding its way into more traditional venues, too.

Randy Bush, senior pastor for East Liberty Presbyterian Church, says that one-third of the church's marriages next year will be for same-sex couples. He adds that church membership grew 9 percent last year — something he attributes to the church's inclusive stance on LGBT issues.

"When I've done these services, it's interesting to me and gratifying that the people who are witnessing this are adjusting their own internal vocabulary around weddings," Bush says.

Asked why he thought so many same-sex couples were electing to get married in his church, Bush says it's been a long time coming. "Frankly, it's just catching up on the backlog."

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