In many ways, Ashton Glasser and Jessica Ormston's May wedding at Runnymede Plantation was a quintessential Lowcountry event. The ceremony took place under a live oak draped in Spanish moss, a string trio provided the music, and the couple rode in a horse-drawn carriage.
Glasser says she had originally planned to host a reception in Charleston after the couple was legally married in Minnesota, but the arrival of marriage equality in South Carolina last November changed things. Suddenly her plans changed from a mere reception to a celebration of a bona fide marriage in the eyes of the state.
"It was just a beautiful celebration and ceremony of the love and the support that we're getting from the country and from our state, and from our friends and family," Glasser says.
Several of the local companies that helped with the Glasser-Ormston wedding will participate in a brand-new event at Charleston Pride this year called Get Hitched, a same-sex wedding expo and celebration at the Memminger Auditorium on Aug. 1 (see the full Pride calendar here). Vendors from event planning, photography, catering, and other companies will set up booths at the event to market their services to same-sex couples.
Thomas Smith, owner of IES Productions, helped organize Get Hitched.
"It's been really nice to see the support that's coming out," Smith says. "That's really the reason that we're doing Get Hitched is to educate the community and say, you know what, these vendors are excited about supporting you and supporting the community." In addition to wedding-related businesses, vendors at Get Hitched will also include lawyers, family doctors, and fertility specialists.
Smith's company has been involved in same-sex weddings and commitment ceremonies in the past, and he says that while many same-sex couples want the same things out of a ceremony as anyone else, some have been willing to break from tradition.
"What I really like about the same-sex marriages is that you have no rules, so we get to do what we want," Smith says. "There's not such a hang-up about saying, 'We're not going to walk down the aisle the traditional way.' It's OK to mix up your groomsmen and bridesmaids, and they can be either sex on either side, and it's just really a lot of fun stuff that we're now open to do, and I think it's going to really transfer over into the traditional wedding market."
One of the vendors at Get Hitched, photographer Rick Dean, says that while the wedding industry largely relies on word of mouth, he thought it was important to market his services at the expo. "For us, it's not that I'm seeing dollar signs. It's not about that," Dean says. "It's about support for the community, and it's about being respectful and wanting to be a part of everyone's marriages."
Dean says he hasn't heard of any wedding-related companies that would turn down business from a same-sex couple.
"I think that times are changing so quickly, and I think that people will be hard pressed to turn anyone away," Dean says.
Another company that helped organize Get Hitched is Hamby Catering & Events, a venerable institution in the world of Charleston weddings. Event Producer Ryan McKenzie says that in the seven years leading up to marriage equality in South Carolina, he worked with five same-sex couples on their weddings or commitment ceremonies, and many of them placed an emphasis on privacy. Since November, he says his company has won the business of 10 same-sex couples for 2015 alone.
Candice Wigfield, managing director at Hamby, says she tries to make wedding planning as enjoyable as possible — for all couples.
"Unfortunately, we have encountered some same-sex couples that have been met with some initial resistance from other vendors during their planning process," Wigfield says. "Because of that and because of our philosophy as a company, we really want to make each couple comfortable and to make it a fun environment for them to be able to plan their big day in a stress-free way."
In May, Hamby provided the catering for the wedding of Ingrid and Michele Brusseau at the Charleston Yacht Club. The couple was on vacation in the Florida Keys when the news broke of marriage equality in South Carolina last November, and Ingrid says Michele proposed to her right there on the beach.
"It was really romantic, and she was so genuine, and it was just beautiful," Ingrid says. "And then we came back and decided on May, so we had six months to plan a very big wedding."
Ingrid says she worried some vendors would turn down their business, but she was pleasantly surprised by all of the companies that gladly helped with the wedding. Having grown up in Hilton Head, she says she never thought such a day would come. "I can't believe how fast it happened," she says. "It was like, 'We'll never see that in our lifetime,' and then, boom, it was here."
When the day of the wedding came, Ingrid says it went off without a hitch. Michele's family came down from New Hampshire to participate in a big, traditional wedding, the setting was just what she wanted, and even the weather was pleasant.
"It was the best day of my life. I married my bride," she says. "You barely remember the day, it goes by so quick. You never get to eat the food that your caterer provided because you're talking to people the whole entire time, but it was just awesome. We wrote our own vows, and they were very sweet and personal, and I liked that. It was an amazing day."