What color should the wedding cake be? Who gets the engagement ring? Should the engagement ring even be a part of the proposal process? These are some of the issues that will need to be resolved if and when the Supreme Judicial Court's ruling to legalize gay marriage becomes law next year. At least one thing is certain: The music at these ceremonies will be slamming.
"Anything from gospel choirs to pop music to show tunes -- I hate to be so cliche, but it's true," says Bryan Rafanelli, 41, co-owner of Rafanelli Events, an event planning company in Boston. "I could imagine there would be some disco weddings, '70s or '80s parties. That's been our culture, to go to clubs and dance and have fun. That's the place where it's going to be thrown wide open."
The difference between straight and gay weddings will be in the details, according to Boston-area bakers, jewelers, florists, and wedding planners. It's a trend that Sarah Myles, co-owner of Spruce Floral on the Waterfront, says is occurring throughout the field as straight couples personalize their ceremonies. Although the territory is too new for anybody to make definitive statements, there's an overwhelming belief that the gay community will embrace traditional three-tiered cakes, rings, and receptions. They'll just add an extra dose of flavor to the proceedings.
"Just making the decision to have a marriage or commitment ceremony," says Ellen Bartlett, owner of Brookline's Cakes to Remember, "is sort of acknowledging wanting to be a part of the general community. People are still walking down the aisle, doing things attached to the whole marriage thing, but with a twist, much more of a twist than a lot of couples do."
When Rafanelli and his business and life partner, Mark Walsh, 43, realized they could soon make their own 14-year relationship legal, they discussed what they'd want in their ceremony. It was a classic talk that touched on where it would take place, how big it would be, and what the wedding cake would look like.
"What we're asking for is what everyone else has," says Rafanelli. "It'll just be brighter and more colorful."
Bartlett has baked one or two wedding cakes a year for commitment ceremonies. Her creations are usually in the three-tiered wedding cake format, not "fantasy sculpted cakes," she says. It's in the colors that her confections get an infusion of personality. No white frosting for this group.
"They think about what they're doing in the rest of the room with the decor," Bartlett says.
So she's made a cake of orange, purple, red, blue, and green for a male couple, and a cake with alternating tiers of pink and purple with a touch of gold for a lesbian couple.
In its seven years, Rafanelli Events has done three commitment ceremonies. "Very classic," says Rafanelli. "Two of them were in hotels." One, for two women in 1997, started with a traditional Jewish ceremony in the backyard of a house and continued with a black-tie hotel reception. There was a first dance. The couple cut the cake. It was the little things that made the ceremony stand out: They decided not to throw a bouquet. Neither wore garter belts. Both wore white dresses.
Business people aren't holding meetings yet to decide how to deal with this potential boom. At the moment, there are no plans to do so because they say planning the details of a same-sex wedding will be no different from doing so for an opposite-sex one.
But the possibilities are in the backs of everyone's minds at Rafanelli Events. When bright-colored plates were unveiled during a design presentation last week, onlookers murmured that they would be great for commitment ceremonies.
There's a suspicion among some in the wedding planning business that the legalization of same-sex marriages may cause a spike in weddings next year. It's simply a case of pent-up demand. "There's a whole group of people who haven't been allowed to get married who now certainly can," says Rafanelli.
Myles is not so sure. She discussed the issue with friends. "There aren't a lot of people interested in getting married," she says. She later adds: "It's a new thing in Boston. Who knows how anybody's going to react? . . . One has to wonder if there's going to be more of a serious look at it, more serious steps taken in the planning, in using florists. It wasn't legal before; maybe the [commitment] ceremonies weren't taken to the level they could be."
Many people have already formed unions with their partners through commitment ceremonies. Shreve, Crump & Low, Tiffany, and other jewelry stores have advertised rings locally to the gay community for years.
Last year Deprisco Jewelers in Downtown Crossing joined the pack advertising in the Pink Pages, a telephone book geared to the gay community, says Donna Deprisco, the store's vice president and general manager.
These days two or three lesbian or gay couples a month visit Deprisco to buy bands that are hammered, handcrafted, or decorated with small diamonds. Deprisco doesn't expect the numbers to rise next year.
After all, there are other things these couples need to think about.
"How would I propose to Mark," Rafanelli wonders, "assuming he's not going to propose to me? Who asks who?"
In this fog of confusion, Rafanelli is at least sure about one thing: "I don't want a diamond, I'll tell you that."