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Brian and Toby: A same-sex couple’s wedding story

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With ambitions for a large and relatively lavish celebration, Brian and Toby hired one of the top planners in the same-sex-wedding industry, Bernadette Smith, who has worked with hundreds of clients since the first legal gay marriages in the U.S. took place in Massachusetts in 2004. She’s written three books about gay weddings and, as founder of the Gay Wedding Institute, has offered training for the mainstream wedding industry about how to boost business with same-sex couples.

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In this May 25, 2014 photo, Brian Rubin, left, and Toby Sowers sign their Jewish marriage contract as the officiating rabbi, Sharon Kleinbaum, looks on before their wedding at the Hudson Theater in New York. Since 1992 Kleinbaum has been the spiritual leader of the Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in the West Village, one of the worlds largest synagogues focused on serving the LGBT community.
Brian Rubin, left, and Toby Sowers sign their Jewish marriage contract on May 25, 2014 as the officiating rabbi, Sharon Kleinbaum, looks on before their wedding at the Hudson Theater in New York. David Crary, AP
Toby Sowers, left, and Brian Rubin watch as Raven, right, performs during their wedding reception at the Hudson Theater in New York. Raven, aka David Petruschin, has gained a wide following since appearing on the TV reality show
Toby Sowers, left, and Brian Rubin watch as Raven, right, performs during their wedding reception at the Hudson Theater in New York. Raven, aka David Petruschin, has gained a wide following since appearing on the TV reality show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Courtesy Isaac Oliver
Raven, center, performs during Brian Rubin and Toby Sowers wedding reception at the Hudson Theater in New York. Brain, who grew up assuming gays would never have the right to marry, said the wedding was all a treasured fantasy come true.
Raven, center, performs during Brian Rubin and Toby Sowers wedding reception at the Hudson Theater in New York. Brain, who grew up assuming gays would never have the right to marry, said the wedding was all a treasured fantasy come true. Courtesy Ben Grube
Toby Sowers, second from left, and Brian Rubin, left, cut the cake during their wedding reception at the Hudson Theater in New York.
Toby Sowers, second from left, and Brian Rubin, left, cut the cake during their wedding reception at the Hudson Theater in New York. Courtesy Barbara Carroll

Toby Sowers, left, watches as his fiance Brian Rubin is kissed by their dog, Daisy, in their apartment in New York.
Toby Sowers, left, watches as his fiance Brian Rubin is kissed by their dog, Daisy, in their apartment in New York.
Richard Drew, AP

Smith relishes the opportunity for creativity in her work. The opening procession, the first-dance ritual and other traditional wedding components may take on a wholly different cast, or be dispensed with, and there’s now a booming niche industry offering advice on etiquette for same-sex weddings.

“It’s exciting to have that freedom to create our own rules and traditions and philosophy,” said Smith. “It’s nice to see gay couples expressing themselves and gay culture at their weddings.”

Brian and Toby booked the Hudson Theater for their wedding. For decades after its opening in 1903, it was a Broadway mainstay. More recently, it has served as a TV studio, movie house and nightclub, and now functions as a deluxe venue for weddings and other special events.

The stage would serve initially as the setting for the chuppah — the traditional Jewish wedding canopy — and later in the evening as a showcase for some not-so-traditional entertainment.

The guest list grew — to about 230 — and so did the budget, approaching $200,000 for a three-day weekend that included a cocktail reception on Saturday at a rooftop lounge, the wedding on Sunday, and a brunch on Monday. The cost was shared by Brian and Toby themselves, and Brian’s now-divorced parents.

In the late 1990s, Brian said, his father was dismayed to learn that his son was gay. Now he was enthusiastically hosting a dinner for members of the wedding’s inner circle.

“My father and I have come a long way,” Brian said. “When I came out to him, he said, ‘It’s just not OK.’ Fast forward to now: He invited so many friends to the wedding. He’s proud.”

Brian recruited his rabbi, Sharon Kleinbaum, to officiate. Since 1992 she has been the spiritual leader of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in the West Village, one of the world’s largest synagogues focused on serving gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. A political activist since her youth, Kleinbaum has been engaged in the campaign for same-sex marriage as far back as 1991, when she performed a wedding for a lesbian couple in Georgia.

Kleinbaum met with Brian and Toby a half-dozen times, helping craft details of the service and counseling them on the Jewish traditions and beliefs that would be evoked.

Toby is not Jewish and has no plans to convert. But the couple aspires to have children with the assistance of surrogate mothers, and Toby says he’d be happy to have them raised as Jews.

The two men said they avoided major disagreements on the wedding planning, although there was occasional stress. Toby, 31, described himself as a “Waspy optimist” who assumed everything would work out. Brian, 40, admitted to micromanaging.

“I’m a perfectionist,” he said. “I get frustrated if details are not being attended to.”

They got help from Brian’s mother — Lilly Rubin of Encino, California — who last summer organized a wedding in her backyard for her gay daughter. She made a chuppah for that ceremony, and brought it east to be used again in New York.

“Lilly’s expectations of us were the same as for any couple,” said Toby. “She’s asking, ‘When are the thank-you notes going out?'”

As the guests arrived, a dozen or so family members and close friends gathered in a small room in the theater’s basement to watch Brian and Toby sign their ketubah — the traditional wedding contract.

“You guys are in awe that you live in a moment in time where you can sign this,” said Kleinbaum, reminding the group that the right to marry still seemed miraculous to many gays.

Upstairs, the crowd oohed when the gold-trimmed red curtain was raised to reveal the wedding canopy.

Then came the procession. First down the aisle was the grooms’ dog, Daisy, led by actor/singer Kevin Cahoon, a close friend of Brian’s. Then the grooms’ sisters and their families, including Toby’s 9-day-old niece, Olivia. Then the parents.

Finally, hand in hand, the couple themselves — Brian in a gray tuxedo, Toby in a black one.

Kleinbaum exhorted the guests to put away their cameras and cellphones. “And turn Grindr off,” she added.

The couple exchanged rings, then read their vows to one another.

“I always have the best time with you, whether we’re front row at Madonna or at home watching bad reality TV,” said Toby.

“There’s nowhere I feel safer than by your side,” said Brian, on the verge of tears. “Wherever we are, I only feel right with you beside me, holding my hand.”

Kleinbaum paid tribute to those in the LGBT community “who fought hard to make sure a day like this could exist.” By Jewish tradition, the groom ends the ceremony by breaking a glass with his foot; at the Hudson Theater, there were two grooms and two glasses.

As Brian and Toby kissed, the guests rose to their feet, cheering.

There were hours of revelry still to come — dinner, toasts, the slicing of a four-layer carrot/chocolate/red-velvet cake topped by two little grooms. And dancing galore: the couple’s first dance, Madonna’s “Crazy for You”; a Jewish hora during which the newlyweds were hoisted up on chairs; finally, a group hug to the strains of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.”

Serving as star performer and occasional master of ceremonies was Raven, aka David Petruschin, a drag queen who’s gained a wide following since appearing on the TV reality show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Raven managed four costume changes during the evening, starting with a white bridal gown.

For Brian, who grew up assuming gays would never have the right to marry, it was all a treasured fantasy come true.

“I am living the wedding of my dreams,” he said.

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