A Queer Surprise Home Wedding in Milwaukie, Oregon: Andi + Jess

For a few months after getting engaged, we had been penciling out our dream wedding and it kept getting more and more expensive and out of reach. Andi and I explored pushing out the date a couple years and saving as much as possible so we didn’t have to take on so much debt, but ultimately we were disheartened by how long we had to wait to do the damn thing that we had just excitedly committed to doing, and neither of us are known for our patience.

As we were talking about doing an engagement party in the meantime, the idea came up that if we were already bringing our people together to celebrate our commitment at an engagement party, why not just do a small ceremony instead?

The other reason we went this route is because as the plans for a more traditional wedding got more real, it became clear that some of the traditions around family would not be possible in our reality. My mom is not supportive of our marriage for religious reasons, and the pain of not having her with us on a more traditional wedding day felt like too much to keep that ball rolling. I also didn’t want to deal with that angst for multiple years as we saved for a bigger wedding, so shortcutting to the actual event filled with love and our community became too appealing to turn down. We recognized early on that the surprise factor would translate to a significant risk that many people would miss out, but at that point we were already considering doing a courthouse elopement so we figured some were better than none.

The post-ceremony was an almost entirely practical decision: we had a lot more people than we thought would RSVP “yes,” so we needed to find a space for 50+ guests for several hours. We moved all of our furniture out of the common spaces to make room for the surprise and ceremony, but decided to limit that to just an hour before heading to our local bowling alley for the remainder of the party.

We collected vintage photographs of queer women to use in our decorations as a way of honoring them and their histories as it relates to our personal journey together. All of the women in the photos lived in a time where their relationships and identifies were largely criminalized, forcing the women into the associated closets. We had their photographs as part of the decorations as reminders to our guests (and ourselves) of how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go. Andi and I wouldn’t be able to get married in such a public way if it wasn’t for the strong queer women that came before us.

Our officiant was our best friend Xochilth, who I met freshman year of college on move-in day to our dormitory. I’ve known her now more than 13 years and consider her my sister. Andi quickly “adopted” her, as well as Xochilth’s daughter, Lyanna, who is my god-daughter.

The four of us planned the ceremony over our weekly family dinners in the short time leading up to the wedding. We couldn’t have done it without them. Xochilth was both the officiant and my best mate – I was still trying to finish decorations when the hair & makeup artist arrived! Kristy (the makeup artist and our dear friend) put together the candles in the fireplace and finished the bows on the tables while I showed Xoch everything else we still had to make. Somehow she was able to get it ALL done in only a couple short hours – it was impressive and amazing.

Xochilth started the ceremony with a land acknowledgment to show respect for the original inhabitants of the land and their stewardship for the land as well as hopefully increase a little awareness in the room of histories that are often suppressed or forgotten.

“As Jessica and Andi’s relationship has grown, so too has their commitment to social and racial justice. It is important for us to spend a moment of recognition and respect for the Indigenous peoples whose ancestral lands we stand on today. We are standing on occupied land previously the home of the traditional village sites of the Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Chinook, Tualatin, Kalapuya and Molalla Tribes. We honor those who have been stewards of this land for thousands of years.”

We wrote our own vows and printed copies, asking our guests to follow along and commit to helping hold us accountable to them.

We decided early on that we didn't want to do a traditional registry. Andi and I have lived together for several years and have everything we need, so we asked folks in lieu of gifts to consider donating instead to one of three charities representing causes we are passionate about. We chose TransLifelineRAICES Texas, and the Washington Environmental Council.

While many of our guests headed to the bowling alley for the after party, we asked our family to hold back for photos followed by the prayer circle. Prayer circles were a tradition from my faith culture growing up where everyone holds hands and you have a designated person to start and wrap up the prayers. Once each person is done with their prayer, they pass it along to the next person by squeezing their hand. People are welcome to pray or skip to the next person by just continuing the squeezes, which allows for people to participate or not depending on their comfort level. My oldest brother started the circle and Andi's grandma "Nana" ended it with a reading from scripture. 

It was an extremely powerful experience for Andi and I because we've both felt the deep effects from the trauma of exclusion by our religion. For Andi it was when her church abandoned her as a young person just coming out, and for me as an adult by my mother's rejection of my marriage. Having our family embrace us in our shared faith on our wedding day was a powerfully healing experience and something we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.

We are so thankful for all of our family, friends, and chosen family who participated in our most special day. Extra special shout out to the few members of our community that we shared the surprise with who all came together and helped us pull off our most perfect day, including making sure we were fed and that all of our concerns were minimal and taken care of. We could not have pulled it off without their help and support and love.

Words by Jess, one of the brides, as told to Amber Marlow. Photos by Jamie Carle.

queer surprise home wedding table centerpiece featuring vintage photo
queer surprise home wedding plants and string lights on banister
queer surprise home wedding andi and jess by river
queer surprise home wedding couple walking down path through woods
queer surprise home wedding andi and jess on woods path
queer surprise home wedding couple by railing above river
queer surprise home wedding andi and jess with drinks at party
queer surprise home wedding guests reacting to surprise
queer surprise home wedding guests clapping
queer surprise home wedding Xochilth officiating ceremony
queer surprise home wedding guests during ceremony
queer surprise home wedding guests at ceremony
queer surprise home wedding andi and jess holding hands during ceremony
queer surprise home wedding ceremony kiss
queer surprise home wedding andi greeting grandmother after ceremony
queer surprise home wedding jess hugging guest
queer surprise home wedding kiss outside
queer surprise home wedding laughing candid outside
queer surprise home wedding guests holding hands during prayer circle
queer surprise home wedding little girl looking at camera during prayer circle, holding jess’s hand
queer surprise home wedding andi and jess outside bowling alley sign
queer surprise home wedding andi and jess smiling at one another outside bowling alley


Photography | Jamie Carle Photography

Baked goods | Sweet Pea Bakery | Back to Eden Bakery

Hair and makeup | Kristy Costanzo Makeup

Rentals | Interstate Special Events

Florals | Portland Wholesale Florist

Andi’s bowtie | Fox and Brie

Andi’s ring | Haute Butch

Andi’s suit | Sumissura

Jess’s crown | Luna and Stone

Jess’s ring | Gem Set Love

Jess’s dress | Metisu Boutique

Jess’s jacket and shoes | Modcloth

Underwear | TomBoyX | Pencil Test

Jamie Carle photography portland oregon


Jamie Carle is a photographer in Portland, Oregon, who is LGBTQ and socially conscious. They feel like the industry needs a revolution, and are more than happy to help couples create change and celebrate themselves. Jamie loves being in the pacific northwest, avocado, and trashy reality TV.