Tuesday 27 September 2016

Here come the brides

Finding the perfect wedding dress is always a challenge - so what's it like when you have to find two of them? With same-sex marriage now legal in Ireland, our features writer talks to two happy couples about how weddings work when you are both the bride

Published 20/03/2016 | 02:30

A vision in white: Eleni (left) and Maryann on their wedding day.
A vision in white: Eleni (left) and Maryann on their wedding day.
Ann Louise Gilligan & Katherine Zapone at their wedding in January 2016

Maryann Cussen (32), a teacher from Dublin, and Eleni Cussen (33), a flight attendant from Chicago, got married in Eleni's hometown in September 2014. They currently live in Philadelphia with their dog, Bailey.

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Flight attendant Eleni Goumotsios met Maryann Cussen during her first ever trip to Ireland in July 2013. "We were on a layover in Dublin and we went to the Front Lounge bar," recalls Eleni. "Maryann walked in with two of her work colleagues and one of my friends stopped them and asked if they spoke Gaelic."

"We threw a few sentences together and got talking about their visit," laughs Maryann as she remembers the moment they met. It was the beginning of a globetrotting love affair. Eleni came back to Ireland two weeks later and the couple spent the following months travelling between Australia (where Maryann was then working) and the US.

They returned to Dublin for Christmas and Eleni suggested that they visit the Front Lounge for old time's sake. "Maryann went up to the bar to get drinks," she explains. "When she came back I gave her a satin box with an antique locket inside it. Inside the locket it read 'will you marry me?'"

Due to their busy schedules and Maryann's new teaching job, the couple decided to travel to Hawaii for their honeymoon before they got married. The wedding planning began on their return and the US was the obvious destination choice. "One of the main reasons we chose to get married in the US was because it wasn't yet legal in Ireland," explains Maryann. They decided on the W Hotel on Lakeshore Drive in Eleni's hometown of Chicago. "We wanted something with an outdoor terrace facing the lake for our ceremony."

They also liked the hotel's open-minded attitude. "We met a few vendors who assumed that we were friends getting married on the same day to other people... meaning men," says Eleni. "Then we would tell them we were marrying each other and they would get all awkward."

In early February, Maryann, Eleni and their parents gathered in New York for the legal ceremony; in September, a large contingent of family and friends travelled from Ireland to Chicago for the wedding celebration. The couple had two bridal suites on the big day and they didn't see each others' dresses until they were about to walk down the aisle.

"The only thing we discussed in advance was colour," says Maryann. "We were surprised by how close in style our dresses were, although up close they are very different. Eleni said she thought I looked breathtaking. She looked stunning, truly magnificent. It was a really euphoric moment." They had discussed the sequence when walking down the aisle. Both women wanted their fathers to give them away and they agreed that Eleni would go first. "I wanted her to break the ice," says Maryann. "I felt I'd mess it up if I did it."

The wedding was officiated by a pastor friend of Eleni's mother - "a really down-to-earth, free-spirited woman who brought dignity and humour to the occasion". They opted for a blending of the sands ceremony and the couple exchanged gold wedding bands. Maryann's is inscribed with 'I love you' in Greek and Eleni's reads 'I love you' in Irish.

Eleni, who is of Greek descent, says the Irish and Greeks have a natural affinity. "They hit it off from the start. There was much music and dancing from both traditions. The Irish boasted to have built Chicago, while the Greeks claimed to have fed it!" "We were over the moon with the turnout," adds Maryann. "Family and friends travelled from all over the world. That's what really made it for us."

The couple have both opted to take Maryann's Irish surname. "That was a tough one," she says. "We went back and forth a lot. We considered using both, but Goumotsios-Cussen is quite a mouthful. Our children would probably hate us. So we went with Cussen."

The couple currently lives in Philadelphia but hope to put down roots in Ireland soon. "We want to move home to Dublin and start a family in the next year or so," says Maryann. "The fact that our marriage is now recognised is a huge thing for us."

TD Katherine Zappone (62), originally from Seattle, and theologian Ann Louise Gilligan from Dublin married in Vancouver in 2003. They renewed their vows in Dublin's City Hall in January 2016 after Ireland voted yes in the marriage equality referendum. The couple are co-founders of An Cosán, Ireland's largest community education organisation.

Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan have made vows to one another on three occasions. The first time was in 1982, a year after they met while studying doctorates in Boston College.

"I don't remember that either of us proposed per se," explains Katherine. "We made, what we called at the time, a life partnership commitment and it just felt very natural." It was a low-key ceremony attended by close friends during which they exchanged rings inscribed with the phrase 'God is love'.

"We originally studied education and theology together," explains Katherine. "At the time that was our experience. What we felt for each other had to have come from goodness, or God as we called it."

The couple were officially married in Vancouver in 2003, shortly after same-sex marriage was legally recognised in the province of British Columbia. Again, they opted for a "small and intimate" ceremony in the home of their marriage commissioner.

There were no bridesmaids, hen parties or veils, and the couple have never taken a honeymoon. "We're definitely due one," laughs Katherine. "Although Ann Louise and I have travelled a lot during the years, and every day with her is just amazing - a little bit like a honeymoon should be."

Their third ceremony took place in City Hall earlier this year. This time around they pulled out all the stops.

"Once the [marriage equality] act took effect, people married outside of Ireland were automatically recognised as married here. But we wanted to bring our marriage home and have some sort of ceremony and renewal of our vows with friends and family," explains Katherine.

"It was about the decoration and celebration of our life-long love for each other and City Hall seemed like the right place to do it."

Deciding what to wear wasn't so easy. "We spent a little bit of time choosing our dresses and shoes for the ceremony in Vancouver but because this one was public in Dublin, we spent a lot of time trying to find the perfect dresses."

They couple knew they didn't want to wear bridal gowns but they weren't entirely sure what they should opt for instead. They eventually found what they were looking for after a number of failed shopping expeditions.

"We were very lucky to find an extraordinary sales assistant in one of the main department stores. It was our fourth time out and we were getting a little concerned.

"Ann Louise usually helps me buy most of my clothes but we needed the support of somebody looking at us individually and together. Believe it or not, we bought the two dresses together that evening and they were perfect."

Like many same-sex couples, they bucked traditional wedding attire. Katherine opted for a floor-length black sequinned number, while her wife went for a red lace gown with cream faux fur shrug.

The couple walked in together and broadcaster Miriam O'Callaghan oversaw the vows. "We've built up a lovely relationship with her over the years," explains Katherine. "She's supported our case and supported our organisation, An Cosán." O'Callaghan was one of many high-profile guests, which included President Michael D Higgins and wife Sabina.

It's been a long and arduous process for the couple who sought to have their marriage recognised by the State when they first returned to Ireland. They brought a case against the Revenue Commissioners to the High Court in 2006, but were unsuccessful.

Katherine says the ceremony in City Hall made it all the more special. "There is something additional in being able to make that pubic commitment of life-long love in front of your family and friends when you couldn't do it for so long."

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