Eco-friendly Ridgefield Inn, a Haven for Weddings

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The two Pakistani brides dressed in traditional native costumes looked lovingly at each other as Justice of the Peace Barbara Simkins pronounced them married.

“They looked absolutely magnificent,” says Simkins, who with her fiancé Natacha Friedman runs green ROCKS inn in Ridgefield, where the wedding was held.

A self-described “happy corporate refuge,” Simkins opened green ROCKS inn in 2008, describing it as the state’s first eco-friendly inn. The couple emphasizes “the little things done each day to be gentler on the earth and on human beings,” Simkins says.

The inn has found many ways to lessen its carbon footprint such as using organic bedding and towels that do not contain formaldehyde, to serving organic, locally grown food. This niche matched her own green sensibilities, she says.

“When marriage equality took effect (on November 12, 2008), the wedding piece of our business - pardon the pun - organically evolved,” Simkins says.

For many couples, marriage is an option they never thought they would have. “The ceremonies are so joyous, so loving, so real,” she says.

Family support of same-sex couples has been uneven at the weddings, she says. “Some come to us and get married totally alone without any family. There are still parents who don’t accept their children who are gay and it’s heartbreaking to see that. Often in couples, you see one partner’s parents supportive and accepting, while the other partner’s parents don’t want anything to do with it,” Simkins says.

“The families meet for the first time at the wedding. Everyone’s usually extremely nervous and on their best behavior, but they end up having a fabulous time. It’s so heartwarming,” Simkins says.

Wedding fashion is “all over the board,” she said. Some go casual — such as the men from Denmark who got married in jeans and tank tops. However, many male couples choose to wear tuxedos, she says.

“There are really no rules, though. People are making it up as they go along,” she says.

“When I interview same-sex couples, they often need guidance. Unlike many heterosexual couples, they haven’t studied the bridal magazines or wedding etiquette,” Simkins says. “They want it elegant, really enjoyable, full of love, laid back, and of course, memorable.”

Simkins recently presided over two back-to-back weddings, one involving a straight couple and another a gay couple — all of them friends. “We called it our ‘mixed doubles,’” she says.

As for the Pakistani brides, there would be no photos taken of their marriage. “In their country, if they were caught, it could be punishable by death,” Sinkins says. “We put all the cameras away. That’s when it really struck me that sometimes we take so much for granted in this country.”

The inn can accommodate up to 40 guests indoors. The lower level, with its fireplaces and sweeping staircase, is where the weddings are held. There is also an outdoor deck and a large lawn where a wedding under a tent can accommodate up to 100 guests.

Simkins performs almost all of the ceremonies. “My ceremony is kind of like when people make spaghetti sauce—you start with the base and then add all sorts of spices, depending on who you are making it for,” she says.

Most weddings are fairly traditional. People often want to bring their dogs and musical instruments, she says.

 Margaret DeMarino is a free-lance writer based in New Haven.

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