Chapman and Tomlinson planned their wedding a year in advance, selecting their guest list, invitations, venue, dance band, wedding cake, rings, tuxedos and flowers – all without knowing if the ban on gay marriage would be lifted and they could actually marry.
Tomlinson, a retired ordained clergyman, and Chapman, an artist, live in the Gulfport Arts District with their Yorkshire terrier, Isabella. The couple say they decided to marry in Gulfport because of their strong ties to the community.
“It was important to be united in Gulfport so our families could see the inclusive and loving Gulfport community,” said Tomlinson. “Our guests from the north loved the warm days, bright blue skies and the magnificent sunsets of Gulfport. Some guests remained for a week and combined our wedding with their vacation.”
And, it looks like other couples may be following Chapman and Tomlinson’s lead.
According to Jon Ziegler, Gulfport cultural facilities technical events specialist, there has been an increase in the number of weddings scheduled at the Casino for 2015. By the end of January, 27 weddings were already booked for this fiscal year – that’s the typical number of weddings slated for the Casino in an entire year.
“Five of the upcoming weddings are for same-sex couples, with two more in the works,” said Ziegler. “We are just waiting for final decisions.”
An even greater number of weddings is likely as the city of Gulfport has placed listings and photos of the location on popular wedding websites, such as TheKnot.com and EngaygedWeddings.com.
Chapman and Tomlinson say they wanted to utilize the eclectic offerings of Gulfport lodging, restaurants and businesses. Thirty guests attended the rehearsal dinner at Neptune’s Grill and the after-wedding party at Tangelo’s. Out-of-state guests stayed at the historic Peninsula Inn, attended the Tuesday Market and Art Walk, made purchases at local shops and enjoyed the variety of food offerings at Gulfport restaurants.
In all the festivities, however, the couple says their favorite moment – after all the waiting and the planning and finally seeing their wedding day arrive – was at the end of the ceremony.
“Our 100 guests, some who had traveled from all over the country to attend, were asked by the Reverend Brad Rice, the associate pastor of King of Peace Metropolitan Community Church in St. Petersburg, if they will acknowledge, honor and support our new life together,” said Tomlinson, “and all joyfully exclaimed, ‘I will!’”
UPDATE: The event at the Casino on January 19 was a religious marriage ceremony. Michael and Thomas were legally married before the planned ceremony.
From Thomas: “Our union was originally planned as a Commitment Ceremony in the event the marriage ban was not lifted. The invitations, mailed months in advance, announced a Commitment Ceremony. We planned to marry whenever the state approved. When Florida gave the okay we were united in a civil ceremony. On the 19th, as planned in advance, we were united in a religious ceremony.”