They met and fell in love two months after California voters approved Proposition 8, the referendum banning same-sex marriage, so Megan Sainsbury and Katie Kinder knew from the beginning that their shared dream of a big wedding -- brides in gorgeous white wedding dresses, declared by an ordained minister to be "wife and wife" -- would require them to think extremely creatively.
"We're actually very traditional," Megan says, "even though we're a lesbian couple."
So when they decided to get "married" in August, they hired a San Jose wedding planner and observed all the customs of a traditional ceremony.
And because the state refused to sanctify their union with a license, they devised a legal workaround. "There are ways you can create your own rules," she says, so both women dropped their last names and chose the same new last name. "Now we are legally the Sladers."
Along with thousands of other gay couples, on Monday morning the Sladers could get their first inkling of what will likely become the law of the land when the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to wade into the same-sex marriage debate. Among a range of options the court will consider is further consideration of Proposition 8; if the justices do nothing to upend the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal's decision to overturn the law, gay and lesbian couples in California would be allowed to legally marry.
"The second we can go to City Hall and make it legal, we will be there," Megan Slader says. "It will be so amazing to be able to do that. It's absolutely important. We don't let things we can't do get to us, but this is one of the things that has been tough."
In addition to changing the lives of same-sex couples who have lived in legal limbo as Proposition 8, and challenges to the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, have wended their way through the courts, a favorable ruling by the Supreme Court is expected to unleash a pent-up demand for gay weddings.
That possibility has not existed since a four-month window in 2008, between a state Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriages and the passage of Proposition 8, a period in which 18,000 couples took their vows. In the years since, even so-called "commitment ceremonies" like the Sladers' have slowed to a trickle.
"A lot of gay couples just sort of gave up on the whole process," said Misti Layne, a San Francisco wedding photographer, who works only a handful of gay ceremonies each year.
Gay unions are a tiny subset of the country's multibillion-dollar wedding industry, but groups like the Rainbow Chamber of Commerce of Silicon Valley hope that will soon change. "I think that's a huge market for us," said John Brehm, a sales manager at Corinthian Ground Transportation, a Cupertino limo service that advertises on the Purple Unions website.
Along with RainbowWeddingNetwork.com, Purple Unions is one of the few Internet hubs for gay couples in search of wedding planners and caterers attuned to their needs.
Gay commitment ceremonies are similar to straight weddings, with one notable exception. "I find them to be much more emotional sometimes, because people have waited so long," Layne says. "The parents are happy that their sons or daughters have found someone who means so much to them. Maybe it was a long road to get there."
Purple Unions went online in 2003, when the future of the gay wedding market looked bright. But companies such as OutVite.com -- which sells "invitations and announcements designed specifically for the gay and lesbian consumer" -- remain scarce.
Megan Slader, a personal trainer who works in Los Gatos, took a typically Silicon Valley approach to finding someone to midwife their wedding. "I literally Googled 'gay wedding planner San Jose,' " she recalled. "You always have a fear that somebody is going to react like, 'Whoa, this is a gay couple,' but she treated us like any other client."
"In their minds, they're married," says Maxine Goulding, the couple's wedding planner. "They just know in the eyes of everybody else, they're not."
Doing everything they could within the law was imperative because the Sladers hope to have children someday. "And we want to be able to tell them we are legally married," Megan Slader says.
Goulding works on only about four gay ceremonies a year because, she says, many couples get discouraged by the legal roadblock and decide to wait. "That hangs over their heads. I think when Prop. 8 does get settled, there are going to be more gay and lesbian weddings just because they'll feel like they're part of the group."
Now it's up to one of America's most exclusive secret societies -- the nine justices of the Supreme Court -- to decide whether they get that chance.
Contact Bruce Newman at 408-920-5004. Follow him at Twitter.com/BruceNewmanTwit.
What we might learn Monday: The U.S. Supreme Court could reveal whether it will finally weigh in on same-sex marriage. The justices may announce whether they will review the legality of Proposition 8, California's same-sex marriage ban, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal benefits to same-sex couples.
Same-sex marriage in California: If the court decides to review the Proposition 8 case, expect a ruling by the end of the term in June. But if the justices refuse to hear the case, it would leave intact a lower court ruling finding the ban unconstitutional, therefore legalizing gay marriage in the state. Same-sex marriages could begin within days. There's also a chance the court could put the Proposition 8 case on hold for now, preserving the status quo in California for months or longer.
Federal benefits for same-sex couples: The court is expected to review at least some of the Defense of Marriage Act cases.
Tune back in Friday? The court may wait to further mull how to proceed on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act cases until the justices' next conference, Dec. 7, and issue orders after that.