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A wedding, but not the way she dreamed it

Kate Wrede stands with her bridal party: bridesmaids

Kate Wrede stands with her bridal party: bridesmaids Allison Longo, far left, and Nicole Cusano, and maid of honor Samantha Veccia, right, all of Medford. (July 23, 2011) Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

In Kate Wrede's childhood dream, she's in a sparkling wedding gown, surrounded by family and friends. Her father walks her down the aisle.

"I pictured myself just having fun, dancing, being beautiful," she said.

The person she'd eventually marry didn't come into focus until much later, about three years ago, when the groom turned out to be a woman. She met Dee Smith at a summer camp where they both worked as counselors and fell in love.

The Patchogue couple married Sunday -- in an interfaith ceremony shortly after midnight. They were among the first same-sex couples to wed on the day New York's Marriage Equality Act takes effect.

Their wedding, and those of thousands of couples around the state, mark the culmination of decades of struggle by gay rights advocates to legalize same-sex marriage. After years of debate, lawmakers last month made New York the sixth state to do so. Young couples like Dee and Kate are now poised to benefit.

"We were just drawn to each other from the beginning," Dee said. "It was up and beyond any connection we've ever had."

In May, she asked Kate to join her for a walk. They strolled down a dock stretching into Patchogue Bay. As the sun set over the blue-green water, Dee sank to one knee, pulled out a diamond-studded, white-gold ring and told Kate how much she loved her.

They'd planned to marry out of state in a year or two, but when the gay marriage law passed, Kate, 21, a personal trainer, and Dee, 25, a website designer, took it as a sign.

They thrust themselves headlong into wedding planning -- compressing the usual 12 months into three frantic weeks. But the challenges they faced went far beyond invitations and rings.

While Dee's liberal family embraced the marriage, Kate's conservative parents recoiled. They made it clear from the start: Don't expect us to attend the wedding.


'Not a monster'

Kate and Dee have very different "coming out" stories.

Dee and her twin sister grew up as tomboys, playing with their brother and other boys. They absolutely hated wearing dresses; Dee still does.

When she was 18, returning home for her first college break, her parents asked her to sit with them on the deck. It was a family intervention.

"They looked at me and said, 'We love you, and we just want you to be happy. We know you are a lesbian and we don't care,' " Dee recalled.

It was much harder for Kate.

She didn't think there was "something more" to her attraction to girls until she graduated from high school. Hanging out with gay friends as a freshman at SUNY Potsdam, she realized how comfortable she felt around them.

Kate thought about coming out then, but feared a backlash from her parents.

When she fell in love with Dee, she couldn't wait any longer. As she helped take down the family Christmas tree three winters ago, she summoned all her courage.

"I felt like . . . when you get really nervous and you are bottling something up and you need to explode," she said. "I told them that I was dating Dee, and that Dee was a woman."

Kate recalls her mom storming out of the room. Her dad stood there, stunned. Her older brother lashed out, saying their 90-year-old grandmother would drop dead if she knew.

Kate, crushed, grew distant from her family after that.

"It's all very nerve-racking," she said recently. "When you come out, you don't know who's going to hate you and who's going to be your friend, even in your family."

For a while Kate and her parents stopped talking, until she sent them an email. She was getting married, she wrote, and she'd like them to attend the wedding.

They didn't commit to anything, but they took a bold step. They invited Kate and Dee to their Medford home a couple of weeks ago for a family chat.

"They realized I am not a monster," Dee said afterward. "She is a beautiful woman and they expect her to be with a handsome man, like a Prince Charming . . . and I kind of ruined their dream a little bit. But it's really not their dream that matters to me. It's Kate's."


'Feel like a princess'

Clutching a pair of high heels, Kate walked into Village Bridal & Boutique in Babylon. One part of her dream was about to come true.

She was there alone. Dee, who planned to wear a tuxedo, was being traditional: She didn't want to see Kate in her gown before the wedding.

Kate slipped into the strapless ivory gown, silk and lace shimmering with sequins and beads. Catching her reflection in the tall mirrors, she beamed.

"Oh, wow. It's so pretty. . . . I feel like a princess."

At her feet, shop employee Theresa Barraza marked needed alterations with pins.

"I'm thinking of wearing silver shoes," Kate told her.

"Yes, that would be nice," Barraza said. "What about your mom? What color is she [wearing]?"

Kate's smile disappeared. She hadn't expected the reminder.

"I don't know yet," she said.


'Communal thing'

As the wedding neared, Kate and Dee packed lunch hours and weekends with appointments. Every night, they gathered around the coffee table in their walk-up apartment to check items off their to-do list.

One hectic Saturday, they met with the florist in Great Neck, rushed from there to pick up their invitations and select Kate's veil and headpiece in Manhasset, then set out for a Judaica shop in Syosset.

Via Facebook and Skype, they got in touch with Lev Baesh, a gay reform rabbi from Boston who agreed to preside over the ceremony.

The couple couldn't have pulled off the wedding, though, without a huge assist from a bunch of strangers.

Karin Caro, Dee's boss at a marketing firm, teamed with public relations specialist Ron Gold to find companies willing to sponsor the wedding.

The Viana Hotel and Spa in Westbury agreed to host the event at no charge and others followed, from the cake designer to the DJ.

"We are getting a wedding on a silver platter," Kate said. "It's a whole communal thing."

Shortly before the wedding, their biggest remaining roadblocks seemed to disappear. The clerk's office for the Town of North Hempstead agreed to issue a marriage license just after midnight and Justice Darrell Gavrin, of the Supreme Court in Queens County, volunteered to personally consider the couple's request to waive a required 24-hour waiting period.

But Kate's efforts to have her father walk her down the aisle appeared to fall short.

Despite her pleas urging him to reschedule, he kept an appointment for a surgical procedure -- part of ongoing treatment for bile duct cancer. With the surgery just three days before the nuptials, there was little chance he'd be physically able to attend.

Late last week, Kate still wasn't sure her mother, Beth, would be attending, but there were promising signs.

She went with Kate to see her in the fitted wedding gown, attended a bridal shower and asked her daughter to carry on a tradition: having a family Bible, her christening bonnet and her maternal great-grandmother's engagement ring with her at the ceremony. Kate promised she would.

Kate's mother and father declined to be interviewed, but Dee's parents, Randee and Michael Smith, owners of a Smithtown marketing firm, said they looked forward to toasting the couple Sunday as they are declared wife and wife.

Would anyone from Kate's family be there? Her voice cracked as she spoke of her wish -- that her parents celebrate her marriage with these words: "We are family, and we will love you anyway."

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