Sarah Dowling and her partner, Linda Wolfe, celebrated their love for each other with a commitment ceremony July 27, 1997. They called it — and still call it — their “not legal wedding.”
An awkward phrase, but Dowling said it befits an awkward situation.
Now that same-sex couples can get married in Maine, Dowling and Wolfe want a legal wedding, but unlike some couples, the Freeport women did not take part in the swell of excitement last Saturday, the first day gay and lesbian couples could tie the knot.
“If Freeport had opened at midnight, we might have considered it,” Dowling said this week. “But we have family who live out of state and we want our legal wedding to be a celebration of our family, so we don’t mind waiting.”
Instead, they picked a date of July 27, 2013 — the 17th anniversary of their not legal wedding. That way, they won’t have to worry about remembering another anniversary date.
While some couples simply couldn’t wait and got hitched as soon as they could, Dowling and Wolfe are among a host of same-sex couples across Maine who are waiting, for various reasons, to have a legal wedding.
Then there are those couples who already traveled to neighboring states such as Massachusetts, where gay marriage was previously legalized, and don’t feel the need to have another wedding because they automatically became married in Maine at 12:01 a.m. Dec. 29.
But most same-sex couples in Maine seem to be doing what many heterosexual couples would: planning a wedding.
“All the couples I know want the same thing a heterosexual couple wants: a beautiful, thoughtful, heartfelt ceremony in front of family and friends,” said the Rev. Sue Gabrielson, parish minister at Sanford Unitarian Universalist Church and the faith director for the Yes on 1 campaign that led to Maine’s equal marriage law. “I’ve already booked four or five dates for next summer, which is more than normal at this point.”
The Rev. Myke Johnson at Allen Avenue Unitarian Universalist Church in Portland said she had not been asked to preside over a wedding the weekend of Dec. 29.
“Same sex couples in my congregation seem to be taking some time to think about it,” she said in an email.
Marriage licenses are issued by the clerk’s office in the city or town where the couple lives but are only good for 90 days. Many couples that plan to marry are likely waiting to get their license, especially if they are planning a wedding for more popular months in the spring, summer or fall.
Joan Montgomery, owner of the Maine Wedding Association, said same-sex couples have been coming to her bridal shows and wedding expos for years.
“People have been planning ceremonies already, but now they will be legal,” she said. “It doesn’t change anything for me.”
Montgomery said all of the vendors she works with, from florists to photographers to caterers, have been excited about the prospect of more business in 2013. The longer couples wait, the more likely they might be to plan a bigger, more lavish wedding. That’s good for the wedding industry.
Bev Uhlenhake and her partner, Sue Uhlenhake, both of Brewer, plan to get married on March 3. Like Dowling and Wolfe, that date is significant to them because that’s when the Uhlenhakes first exchanged vows seven years ago, on a beach in the Dominican Republic.
“We never want to have the question of ‘What’s our real anniversary?’ ” Bev Uhlenhake said this week.
Because March 3 falls within 90 days of Dec. 29, the couple got to participate in the excitement of Dec. 29 without having to host a wedding at the same time. They went to their town office to get their license on Saturday.
“There weren’t many couples I knew who went and got married right away,” Uhlenhake said. “Mainers are practical. They want a little time to plan.”
Dowling, too, said she and Wolfe will have a few months to plan their wedding, but they don’t expect it to be an extravagant affair, just a celebration and an affirmation of their relationship.
She said some things have changed since their not legal wedding. She and her partner have adopted a daughter, Maya Dowling-Wolfe, who is 11. She’ll get to be at the wedding this summer. The women also will be able to get married at their own church. In 1997, their Episcopal minister would not let the couple hold their not-legal wedding at the church.
By the time their legal wedding rolls around, there could be more changes. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to debate the federal Defense of Marriage Act sometime in June. That law defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman and means that married same-sex couples have rights in their home state but not federal rights.
If the court rules that DOMA is unconstitutional, any ambiguity could be eliminated.
“That would be nice,” Dowling said.
Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: