A day for gay grooms and brides

The Mansion on Forsyth hosts Savannah's first LGBT wedding expo

SAME SEX couples are legally able to wed in 19 states, and depending on the outcome of individual court appeals, may soon be able to tie the knot in 12 more.

Georgia, of course, isn’t one of them. But that’s not stopping local gay, lesbian and transgender grooms and brides from planning their dream weddings.

Veterinary tech Shari Salaz and her fiancée Mandy Knight think they might like to get married on the beach, nothing too fancy but a ceremony that could accommodate their families, friends and three dogs. They’ve already decided on certain details, like what to wear.

“I’ve never been much for the big, poofy dresses,” muses Salaz. “I’m more into the flowing, hippie style.”

Her partner imagines more of a “no frills” wardrobe for herself.

“No wedding dress for me—as soon I was old enough to say ‘no’ to dresses, that was it,” laughs Knight, who proposed to Salaz by getting down on one knee while strolling down River Street. “I’m fine with pants and a dress shirt.”

Other wedding logistics, like whether to serve chicken or fish and what kind of flowers should adorn the centerpieces, still elude the happy couple. Lucky for them, Gaysavannah.com presents Savannah’s first-ever LGBT Wedding EXPO this Sunday, Aug. 24.

Hosted by the Mansion on Forsyth Park, the expo will transform the hotel’s sumptuous Viennese Ballroom into a wonderland of experts and tastemakers who can help with almost everything related to planning nuptial celebrations (except maybe keeping crazy Aunt Sally from knocking back too many bourbons and twerking on the dance floor on the special day.)

Representatives from Levy Jewelers, The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa, Ivory & Beau, Pie Society, Tybee Island Chapel, D.Vine Events, Maison de Macarons and other venues, jewelers, caterers, florists, stylists, bakeries, DJs, photographers and event planners will provide one-on-one attention to expo attendees.

“We’ve carefully curated a list of 50 LGBT-friendly vendors that span the entire spectrum of wedding preparations,” says GaySavannah.com operations manager and event organizer Angie Horne. “It’s going to be very chic.”

According to a study commissioned by VisitSavannah, the wedding industry brought $2.65 million in business to Savannah in 2012. That revenue is only expected to increase as the Hostess City continues to appear on “Most Romantic” lists in national magazines and websites, and Georgia’s current laws make obtaining a marriage license fairly simple for opposite-sex couples. When the state finally does strike down the ban prohibiting marriage equality, Savannah stands to gain a tremendous market share of gay couples with disposable incomes.

“I always say that the government could fix the economy real quick if they just approved gay weddings,” jokes Horne.

For those couples who would rather not wait until Georgia’s courts to catch up with the majority of American opinion, Sunday’s expo will also feature a historic mass commitment ceremony at 3:30 p.m in the Mansion courtyard, conducted by Unity minister Dale Worley and Rev. Steve Schulte of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church.

That’s right—show up in your fancy duds and voila!—instant wedding. The ceremony will be followed by a champagne reception upstairs at Casimir’s Lounge, where Joe’s Homemade will present a bleeding armadillo cake—a cheeky homage to the cult classic film Steel Magnolias.

Horne has been planning the expo since last November and acknowledges that tucked between the glitz and giddiness there’s a political element to the event. She invited every state representative as well as Mayor Edna Jackson, who had to decline due to a scheduling conflict but sent her regards and support.

“We also see this as an opportunity to celebrate the loving relationships that are negatively impacted by Georgia’s ban on same-sex marriage,” she says, adding drily that marijuana may well be legalized here before marriage equality.

As for Salaz and Knight, they haven’t set an exact date for their wedding and have considered moving to a different state where their union would be officially recognized.

“I love New York, and we could get married there tomorrow,” points out Salaz.

Still, they’ll be at Sunday’s expo, gathering ideas and entertaining options for their casual, canine-friendly beachside affair. They’re also looking forward to a traditional experience that until now has been reserved for opposite-sex couples.

“It’ll be exciting and fun to see all the queers out at once,” says Knight with a grin.