By Connie Schultz
Kathryn Hamm was overjoyed last June when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.
But it was the IRS' "little press release" two months later that prompted Hamm and her longtime spouse, Amy Walter, to call their lawyer and accountant. Finally, the federal government would recognize all legal same-sex marriages for tax purposes.
"Is it time?" the women asked.
The experts' answer was unequivocal: Go for it.
Fifteen years after their wedding, Hamm and Walter are going to be legally married.
"The thing that made [the IRS announcement] so big is that it didn't just say, 'Federally, we'll embrace you in states that allow same-sex marriage,'" Hamm said in a phone interview Wednesday. "This will roll over into states that have the ban."
States like Virginia, where she and Walter are raising their 6-year-old son.
On Nov. 2, Hamm and Walter, both in their early 40s, will exchange vows in a courthouse in Washington D.C., where same-sex marriage is legal. About 120 friends and family will join them. Their little boy will be their best man.
This news is especially poignant for Hamm because of what she does for a living. For more than a decade, most recently as president of GayWeddings.com, she has been helping other same-sex couples plan their weddings. She also is the co-author, with photographer Thea Dodds, of the book, "Capturing Love: The Art of Lesbian and Gay Photography."
I reached out to Hamm after hearing from a mutual acquaintance that she has seen a dramatic uptick in business since the Supreme Court and IRS decisions.
"It just exploded," she said in a phone interview from Virginia.
"We're seeing a sort of wedding backlog. Amy and I are part of that. Like many couples, we've been together a long time. We're the headline in those stories about longtime couples coming out in droves to finally make it legal."
Like most weddings, these ceremonies require a lot of thought and planning, but there is a greater need for sensitivity from vendors and photographers. This is also still new ground for many couples and their families.
"The best thing you can do for a same-sex couple is the same for any couple," Hamm said. "Do your best to avoid approaching their wedding with preconceived notions of what it should be. Ask the couple, 'What are your( plans for the service and celebration?"
The bridal industry traffics in tired stereotypes, Hamm said, from attire to planning vows to photographing the happy couple.
"You can see an overwhelming heterosexual bias in the typical 'pose books' for wedding photographers," Hamm said. "It's not malicious. It's just what's always been. Lots of heterosexual, Caucasian faces, with the male taller and the colors coordinated."
Stock poses often don't work. A bride, for example, is often photographed leaning against a groom with her hand across his chest. "Do that with two women and it can look awkward, even groping," Hamm said.
Many same-sex couples are uncomfortable with public displays of affection, too, she said. Especially men.
"No matter how far we've come, you're still less likely to see men holding hands in public," she said. "In some places, they fear public affection could put their lives at risk. We have to be very mindful that we've all had a coming out experience that is all our own."
Interestingly, Hamm said she is seeing a growing number of straight people attend gay weddings, which tend to be creative and strikingly intimate, and leave wanting something equally moving for their own ceremonies.
"By the end of a gay wedding, you 'get it,'" she said. "You understand what you've just experienced, what they mean to each other. My hope is that every couple, straight or gay, sits down and thinks through this."
Hamm and Walter, who is national editor of the Cook Political Report, are planning a simpler ceremony this time around.
"We got married in the eyes of our community in 1999," Hamm said. "There is no doubt in my mind that that happened. This is what I call our 'legal elopement.'"
In a separate interview, Walter echoed Hamm's low-key approach. "I've sort of joked that we had a wedding, but we couldn't get married. Now we're getting married, but we're not having a wedding."
She paused, and her voice grew more serious.
"We have a son," Walter said. "I want him to understand the universality of family. I want him to know that every family is legitimate. ... He's still young. He thinks we're all getting married."
Such a happy time for that family, which makes me all the sadder to mention the one cautionary note from their lawyer.
The IRS may now recognize their marriage and their rights as a couple, but their home state of Virginia does not.
If one of them needs to go an emergency room, the lawyer said, make sure it's in Washington D.C.