Meet the wedding celebrant who wants to put same-sex marriage on the map
Infinite Love's Sam Goodchild shares her advice for engaged queer couples
In our once-in-a-lifetime Win Your Dream Wedding Day competition, you have the chance to nab your very own fairytale wedding day worth £15,000. The prize includes a venue, a photographer and even your own dedicated wedding celebrant, Sam Goodchild from Infinite Love. We spoke to Sam to find out more about her company and why she couldn't wait to get involved with our fab contest.
DIVA: Tell us about you and your company.
SAM GOODCHILD: I started practicing as a celebrant when my friend asked me to officiate at her wedding in May 2014. I’d been training as a multi-faith spiritual minister so had been learning the art of ceremony. I remember I felt so nervous but as the ceremony started, everything fell magically into place. It felt like "coming home". From that moment, I knew this was what I wanted to do. As a celebrant I work with people at some of the most significant moments in their lives; naming a new baby, getting married, renewing their vows or saying goodbye to a loved one at a funeral. So the name Infinite Love came to me because what I do is celebrate love in many of its forms. Something really special happens to us during ceremony – it can be profoundly moving, uplifting and healing. So what I do is create that special, unique ceremony to reflect the couple I am working with. The celebrancy profession is still quite young in this country, unlike in Australia where it is well established. Many people here don’t realise that they can have a totally personalised ceremony, and often may give the ceremony the least thought out of their entire wedding day. In my opinion, this means that many couples, their friends and families, are missing out!
What sets you apart from competitors?
I’m quite unusual in the celebrancy world as my background is as a multi-faith minister. So I have experience of spiritual and inter-faith themed ceremony. I later trained again as an Independent Celebrant with Fellowship of Independent Celebrants and focused on non-religious ceremony. I now also regularly work for FOIC training their new celebrants. Although I teach new celebrants, I learn more from them! The creativity of the people I meet really inspires me and continuously gives me ideas I can use with my couples. I don’t use a template or standard script but write the ceremony from scratch after meeting the couple.
What’s your experience of working with same-sex couples?
This year I had the great privilege to officiate at a gay wedding for two wonderful men. It was such an honour as one groom had only recently come out after years not living his truth. It was especially moving as all his friends and family including his children attended, giving him so much support. There was also a lot of humour and fun in the ceremony, which they wanted to be informal and relaxed. Another very young male couple I am working with are acutely aware of how significant it is that they are able to marry. One groom commented that this was so important to him when he knows that so many previous generations have been denied that right.
In July I was honoured to take a ceremony for two really vibrant women at their glamping wedding. In my experience same-sex couples are keener to move away from tradition and then we can be a lot more creative. For example, in a heterosexual wedding, the bride traditionally enters on her father’s arm and stands on the left. The two "glamping" brides I worked with chose to walk down the aisle together, following their bridesmaids who danced their way down ahead of them!
The same-sex couples I have worked with often want to emphasise the importance of equality in their relationships during the ceremony. They also want to know that I am LGBT-friendly. Although my role as an independent celebrant means I work according to the couple’s beliefs and whatever I believe is irrelevant in that context, the couples want to know for sure that I do not hold any prejudice. My concern is not whether a couple are the same-sex or not. I think it’s far more important to know whether they are in love and ready to make that commitment to each other.
Do you think the wedding industry generally is inclusive enough of same-sex couples?
It seems to be grinding its way into 21st century! I suppose I maybe see a distortedly positive view as I live in Brighton and exhibit at alternative and quirky wedding fairs. So I do see evidence of inclusivity. That said, it does appear that the mainstream still focus on "Mr and Mrs". Venues offer "the bridal suite" (which excludes our lovely gay grooms). Often the photography, marketing materials and websites are bride and groom focused. So this is clearly not inclusive. Also the language we use needs to be updated. For example, we still say "groomsmen" and "bridesmaids". At a wedding I did, one of the brides corrected anyone who said "groomsmen" asking them to say "bridesmen".
Often there can also be an assumption that a gay or lesbian wedding is the same as a heterosexual wedding but this isn’t necessarily the case. Gay and lesbian couples are more likely to throw out the traditions – father "giving" away, first dance, ring bearers, tossing the bouquet. But some couples like to keep the tradition, or twist it. Others invent their own. The wedding industry, in my view, doesn’t generally reflect this flexibility yet.
And there are still a lot of assumptions made. If two women arrive at a wedding fair together, many suppliers will assume one is the bride and the other is maid of honour but they could both be brides. Thankfully there are more suppliers now who offer same-sex wedding products such as wedding stationery and invitations. This has increased in the last couple of years - previously you would struggle to find them.
Tell us about your favourite wedding memory.
Just one? There are so many! I’ve officiated many ceremonies. One that stands out is for a bride who was a member of a Kazoo band. She had a talented friend singing "Silly Love Songs" during the ceremony and then as a surprise all of her kazoo band guests stood up and started joining in with the tune on their kazoos. It made everybody laugh.
Another moment was the bride who wanted me to ask, "Who gives this bride away?" And then she responded, "I do. She gives herself away!"
What advice would you give to a couple planning their wedding?
Focus on what’s important to you. Remember it’s your day. It’s your chance to be as creative as you like. You get to choose everything. From venue, to hairstyle, and right down to table napkins. People may give you their subjective opinion but it’s not about them. It’s all about you. Don’t listen to the naysayers. This includes where you have your wedding and who conducts your ceremony. If the location isn’t licensed but you have your heart set on it, or you want a personalised ceremony that includes wording and readings outside the remit of a registrar; you can do the legal bit separately at the register office for less than £50.
Why have you decided to take part in this competition?
Anything that raises the profile of lesbian weddings and really puts them on the map is important to me. The Same Sex Marriage Act was only introduced in 2014. That’s just three years ago! That’s hardly a forward-thinking society. In the 17th century there were cases of women disguising themselves as men to marry another woman. It seems ridiculous that someone had to go to such lengths to be with someone they love. In 1971 the Nullity of Marriage Act was passed, explicitly banning marriages between same-sex couples in England and Wales. So we have come a long way since. But not far enough.
I also want to raise the profile of celebrancy and celebrant-led weddings. I love working with lesbian couples because in my experience, they are really keen to place their unique stamp on the ceremony. So we get to be really creative together. Currently, marriage law still doesn’t reflect what people want. In order to have their ceremony recognised as "legal", couples face many restrictions on the venue they use, wording they use and who conducts the ceremony. I feel passionate that the state shouldn’t dictate these things to people. Couples should have the wedding ceremony of their dreams at the location they want with the celebrant they have chosen and this should be recognised as valid and legal. Currently if couples want to their ceremony at an unlicensed location or to have a celebrant-led wedding, they have to jump through an extra hoop and register their marriage at the register office to do the legal bit.
What can the winners expect from you on their big day?
The winners will get their own celebrant dedicated to creating a wonderful, personalised wedding ceremony for them. They will meet me throughout the process and I will get to know them, discuss ideas and make lots of suggestions. They will then receive a draft ceremony script which I will draft after our meetings. This will be updated until it’s just right for the winners. I will then officiate at the ceremony on the day for them and conduct it according to their wishes. I love it when the guests say, "I’ve never experienced a wedding like that before" as they leave. But the biggest compliment is when they say, "That ceremony was so them."
Find out how to enter our Win Your Wedding Day competition by clicking here.
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