With family split between Mississippi and Minnesota, and friends coming from New York, Los Angeles and everywhere in between, we had to accept that anywhere we chose to get married would be a destination wedding for the majority of our guests. So we decided to embrace the journey and make it a destination wedding for everyone. We’d spent many amazing anniversaries and holidays in Palm Springs during the six years we lived in Los Angeles, and one of our favorite things to do on vacation was to drive out to the center of Joshua Tree National Park and take in the expanse of Keys View. The trip through the park is surreal, and the desert landscape becomes more and more alien the further you get into the park, with the Joshua Trees and the rock formations growing larger and filling the horizon.
We had to keep things small because the bus we chartered to go out into the desert only seated 50. Having an hour and a half drive out to the location of the ceremony could’ve been an inconvenience, but it ended up being one of the highlights of the trip. We stuffed canvas gift bags with teal wayfarers, sunscreen, water, trail mix and habanero potato chips, packed a cooler full of wine and beer and hit the road. We kept the two seats next to ours empty so that friends and family could take turns visiting us, and we stopped at a rock formation to take pictures with all of our guests. It is our sincere hope that everyone left the weekend with a new Facebook profile picture for the ages.
The ceremony itself was held at Key’s View, a lookout point where you can see as far as the Salton Sea, the Santa Rosa, Indio, San Jacinto and San Gorgonio Mountains and the San Andreas Fault. Surrounded by our friends and family we were both overcome with emotion during the vows, and I had a particularly ugly cry moment which won’t be seen on social media. After nine years together, I was surprised by just how much marrying my life partner meant to me. We’ve been committed to each other for years, but bringing our families together in the desert really hit home for me just how fully merged our lives have become—and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
On the road back we passed around a microphone for toasts, and we were blown away by the outpour of love from our families—the whole trip plays out in my head like a movie every time I think of it and I can remember everything in vivid detail. From my sister outing me as a weird kid with a crush on Alexander the Great who used to eat his poems so no one would read them, to John’s little brother thanking him for never making him feel small and his sister recounting how he would dress them up as ladies of the night and shoot music videos, to our dads and our best friends roasting us and our moms telling stories about our childhoods, to Stephen Guarino using his speech as an excuse to announce he thought John’s dad was hot, it was a hilarious, emotional ride. I’m pretty sure I was crying the entire time, out of gratitude and emotion.
We knew that planning the wedding remotely, without having the chance to deal with vendors face-to-face, would be a challenge, but we decided it would be worth the hassle. Thankfully, all of the businesses we dealt with were incredibly professional and made the process painless for us. It wasn’t until after the wedding that I stopped to appreciate how easy things had been for us; we didn’t encounter a single issue, and we didn’t encounter a single individual that seemed uncomfortable working with a gay wedding. Although it’s certainly no surprise that we found gay-friendly wedding services in Palm Springs, I was struck by just how vulnerable you are when planning your wedding. Emotions are running high already, and not just because you’re spending a lot of money; you want to give your friends and family a great experience and you want this to be a day that you will remember for the rest of your life. My husband John (I get to say husband now!) and I have coordinated film shoots and thrown live events for hundreds of people and we were still an anxious mess in the weeks leading up to the ceremony. I can only imagine how painful it would have been to have one of our vendors pull the rug out from under us because they didn’t feel we should have the right to get married.
That’s why it’s so important that we fight back against anti-gay “religious liberty” laws like the one that is currently awaiting a vote in my home state of Mississippi, or the one that recently passed in North Carolina, where John went to school. No one deserves to have the happiest day of their life tainted with bigotry. Anti-discrimination laws exist to prevent unfair business practices, and an individual’s personal beliefs should not be allowed to adversely effect other people’s lives and livelihoods. I wouldn’t want to buy a cake from a bigot anyway, but I can think of nothing more traumatizing than having a vendor arrive at your wedding only to decide they no longer want to do business with you because of your sexual orientation. I am grateful for the warm reception we received in Palm Springs, but had we decided to get married in Mississippi, we should be entitled to the same treatment a heterosexual couple would receive. It saddens me to have to write this, because everything in our lives is in some way touched by bigotry, even our greatest triumphs and our greatest joys.
Thankfully, we got our cake from an adamantly gay-friendly baker, Cakes by Roman, who made gingersnap and traditional icebox cakes topped with succulents to accompany John’s grandma’s homemade sugar cookies. We decided to hold the reception at the house we were staying at with our friends, 866 Olancha, a beautiful mid-century home with a grapefruit tree and a fountain. We picked up vegan options at Native Foods the day before and had Smoke Tree BBQ deliver catering. Golden Road Brewing sent us cases of their lager and hefeweizen, which was particularly fun for us because we both bartended at the company’s restaurants back in the day, and Mint Bartending, a boutique local bartending company, came up with a menu of great custom cocktails. “Kit” was a bourbon and rosemary old-fashioned, “John” was a take on the cucumber and gin EastSide Cocktail and “Albee,” named after the feral Maine Coon that stalks around our living room, was a spicy jalapeño margarita.
There wasn’t much room for a dance floor, but we cleared an area to have a first dance with our moms to The Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun.” We had one too many drinks and decided it would be fun to jump in the pool; thankfully John convinced me to take off my suit first. The next morning, we had our families over for Bloody Mary’s by the pool and John briefly lost his wedding ring while putting towels in the washing machine, setting of a scavenger hunt with everyone scouring the bushes and Grandma Eileen digging through the trash. Joshua Tree and Palm Springs were already such important places to us, and now they have taken on even greater meaning. Every time I think of the desert I’ll remember our families coming together to support us as we begin our new life as a married couple. I don’t know where the road ahead will take us, but I’m excited for the journey.
KIT WILLIAMSON is an actor, filmmaker, and activist living in New York City. He best known for playing the role of Ed Gifford on Mad Men and creating the LGBT series EastSiders, which is available on Vimeo On Demand.