Carmen and Chelsey focused on the decision to marry, not the institution of marriage itself, for their New Orleans wedding day. A day filled with delicious Southern food, hilarious and heartfelt toasts, and then a lot of dancing – oh, and the Second Line! Parading down the French Quarter late at night with their family and friends was maybe the most fun they’ve ever had.
Tell us a little about yourselves?
Carmen is a product liability attorney, and she also helps run a pro bono legal clinic for transgender people in Alabama seeking vital record amendments. She loves reading, queer theory, art, the Enneagram, and cocktail parties. Zoom happy hours have been saving her during COVID-19.
Chelsey works in finance at a real estate investment trust. She loves photography, traveling, camping, Home Depot trips, making jalapeno margaritas, and being in cozy clothes.
We’ve been together for four years – ever since Chelsey took a train from New York City to DC to be Carmen’s date to Barristers’ Ball (Georgetown Law School’s prom, basically). We met years before at The Dalloway (RIP), a lesbian lounge in NYC circa 2012-2014. We were both living there at the time, so we knew each other from the “scene.”
Tell us about the proposal.
Ah! Y’all covered our proposal. It was perfect! Chelsey planned the biggest surprise ever. We were headed to Paris for Thanksgiving in November 2018, and we had already designed Carmen’s ring. So Carmen knew it was coming but thought Chelsey had planned something for Paris.
The weekend before we left for Paris, we went to brunch before an interview Carmen had for a documentary a friend was shooting. They asked to shoot in the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, which Carmen learned later was Chelsey’s specific request. After the interview, they shot some “B-roll” of us walking, and Chelsey proposed. Chelsey nervously said, “I love you. I have one more surprise for you. Turn around.” When Carmen turned around, there were thirty+ friends and family members from all over the country standing on a bridge. They rushed towards us squealing, and it was so surreal. We kicked off the weekend with a champagne hour. It was the most fun weekend, and then we got to fly to Paris as fiancées.
Oh, Paris- how very romantic! Any stories from the lead up to the wedding, stressful or funny?
Our planning was relatively stress-free because we had a more extended engagement. We did get teargassed in Paris because our Thanksgiving trip coincided with the #GiletJaunes protests. Police teargassed a protestor underground in the metro where we were transferring, which filled the entire station with gas because it couldn’t diffuse into the atmosphere. It was a *terrifying* start to Chelsey’s first time in Paris, but the rest of the trip was spent relaxing, drinking wine, and daydreaming about the wedding.
What lead you to the destination?
Carmen wanted to get married in the South. She grew up in Mobile, Alabama, a couple of hours down the coast from New Orleans. We wanted to get married in a city people could easily fly to. We looked for reception venues that could host a seated dinner for 175 people and be the ceremony venue. The Court of Two Sisters has this big, beautiful courtyard where we had the ceremony, and then they have a long, windowed dining room for the dinner reception. It was magical.
Did you undertake any DIY projects for the big day?
We wrote our entire ceremony from scratch. We wanted to be thoughtful about every part of the ceremony and only keep the traditions we liked. Before the ceremony, we had a champagne hour and had “fun fact” napkins passed out that we created on Etsy. They shared facts about us as a couple (like, Carmen introduced Chelsey to crab claws, Harry Potter, and French 75s, and Chelsey introduced Carmen to Amish pastries, Yahtzee!, and budget spreadsheets).
Talk to us about your experience finding the perfect outfits.
Oh god, we did most of it online, so we ordered and returned so many things. It was so stressful.
Carmen initially wanted a black gown or a full-sequin gold gown but couldn’t find any she loved. She ended up with a long-sleeve white wedding dress and a full-sequin reception dress.
Chelsey had a white three-piece suit with a black bowtie. We both struggled to find outfits we loved, but eventually, we decided on something and knew that ultimately we wouldn’t care too much as long as we felt ourselves and comfortable.
What are your favorite moments?
The entire ceremony. Everyone had flutes of champagne, so the whole thing felt celebratory.
We had our parents stand to make their vows, in which they vowed to support our marriage and accept us into each respective family as their own. In the middle of the ceremony, we had a friend lead everyone in a gratitude toast to honor the queer activists who made our decision to marry possible. That was beautiful. We also had our officiant (a good friend of Carmen’s from Yale) read from Justice Kennedy’s opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court decision guaranteeing the right to marry to all persons. We also wrote our own vows, which was so special.
Our wedding parties danced out to the dinner reception. Carmen’s party to Shakira Hips Don’t Lie and Chelsey’s party to Lady Gaga Born This Way. We then danced out to Born to Be Yours by Imagine Dragons while everyone stood and twirled their napkins to welcome us to the dinner. It was the best, most magical feeling in the world.
Carmen gave the first toast, which was to her parents for throwing the wedding and all of the support they have given her over her entire life.
We had three friends who were a cappella group in college surprise Chelsey’s dad with a jazzy happy birthday performance for his 60th birthday. Afterward, one of Carmen’s best friends surprised them both by singing Moon River (Carmen’s favorite) a cappella. Moon River a capella over a sea of twinkling candles is something we’ll never forget.
Instead of tossing the bouquet into a sea of single people, we chose to have the single people toss back champagne while Carmen dedicated her bouquet to her mother.
And then, of course, the Second Line! Parading down the French Quarter late at night with our family and friends was maybe the most fun we’ve ever had. We paraded to Pat O’Brien’s for the after-party.
Did you incorporate any family or religious traditions into the day?
Carmen grew up in a bilingual household with French. One of her favorite French wedding traditions is the napkin-twirling for the newlyweds, so that’s why we had everyone stand and twirl their napkins when we entered the reception. It was so festive. Best decision ever.
We did not have any religious readings or references to a god during the ceremony. We focused on the tie between marriage and liberty, the holiness of intentional community and chosen family, and deep gratitude for our support systems. Our readings were Rainer Maria Rilke and Mary Oliver.
AMAZING!! Do you have a stand out vendor?
All of our vendors were fantastic. Hannah Pickle captured the day so perfectly, as did our video production team Montoto Productions.
And honestly, my bouquet was one of my favorite parts of the weekend! Antigua Floral is SO talented.
The food, the band, everything was incredible. Our wedding planner Brooke was an absolute rock star. She made the day seamless. She is also the sweetest human in the world.
What does marriage mean to you?
One of our readings was an excerpt from a Rainer Maria Rilke letter, where he talks about the importance of not merging in marriage. He says if the two people can realize that “even between the closest people infinite distances exist” and that if they can “succeed in loving that expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky,” then a “marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them.” This reading resonated with both of us. We love how different we are. We love who we are together, but both really love and respect who we are as individuals in the world, and marriage to us feels like a call to do that. To love who we are as a unit, but to always see and value the infinite distances between us.
Marriage also feels like a million house projects, so much yard work, boring debates about drape colors, doggy daycare scheduling, and now during COVID-19, washing dishes forever and ever. Though that would all happen regardless of whether we chose to marry!
Carmen loves being able to finally say, “wife.” She loves being able to come out in a conversation by dropping the word instantly.
Advice for other couples planning a wedding?
Weddings are hard to plan because they can get really expensive, and the headcount is real. We had a lot of heartburn about the wedding invites because we were constrained after the family invites.
But I wish I could go back and relax a little more. It’s okay not to invite people you haven’t talked to in a long time, even if you were close at one point. They will understand, and if they don’t, they will if they ever get married. I will never, ever have my feelings hurt for not being invited to a wedding after going through the process of a wedding list myself!
Only keep the traditions that make sense for you. It’s your party. Do literally whatever you want.
Photography by Hannah Pickle
Cake La Louisiane Bakery
Catering The Court of Two Sisters
Celebrant Joan Gass (Carmen’s best friend)
Ceremony & Reception Venue The Court of Two Sisters
Cinematographer Montoto Productions
Engagement & Wedding Rings Levy’s Fine Jewelry
Entertainment The Mixed Nuts Band, Kinfolk Brass Band
Florist Antigua Floral
H&MU Marlaine Reiner
Planner & Stylist Brooke Casey Wedding