Lindsey Bell enters contests all the time, so she didn’t even think twice about putting her and fiancée Megan Haupt’s names down for a sweepstakes to win an all-expenses-paid wedding in New Orleans — that is, until they won.
The contest was part of the New Orleans Hotel Collection’s #LoveWins campaign, a series of wedding packages it launched at three of its historic French Quarter properties last summer to celebrate nationwide marriage equality.
Organizers ultimately selected Bell and Haupt’s love story from the more-than 400 they received.
The couple met online 11 years ago. Bell, 33, is a web designer from Chatham, N.J., while Haupt, 36, hails from Ewing, N.J., and works as a private nanny.
The pair had their first in-person meeting for dinner and a stroll through Mercer County Park.
“Honestly, I thought she was shorter than I thought she’d be,” Bell laughed about her first impression of Haupt. “But she was just really sweet.”
“I liked her bubbliness and her smile,” Haupt said.
The couple took it slow, joking that they resisted the “lesbian U-Haul” stereotype. They lived an hour from one another but saw each other almost every weekend for two years. When Bell enrolled at the Art Institute of Philadelphia, they took the opportunity to move in together in the city.
“By not jumping into it, we became best friends and got to know one another and our likes and dislikes,” Haupt said. “It took us two years for us to both be like, ‘OK, this is what we’re ready for. We’re strong enough in our relationship to move into a new city and start our life together.’ I think first developing and fostering that strong friendship has been the key to us being together for 11 years.”
Over the years, the couple discussed marriage but wanted to wait until it was at least legal in Pennsylvania, which happened in 2014.
Ever year, Bell and Haupt vacation in Long Beach Island, and Haupt decided to pop the question, using her grandmother’s diamond, while they were watching the sunrise on the beach in August 2014.
Bell said she suspected Haupt was planning a proposal, but didn’t know when it was coming.
“I was definitely not awake at 6 a.m. either so that helped with the surprise,” she laughed.
Though they weren’t initially planning to have a destination wedding, Haupt said the location ended up being a perfect fit.
The couple had been to New Orleans before and appreciated its small-town feel, which they likened to that of Philadelphia. On their recent return trip, they said they appreciated the LGBT friendliness they encountered, especially from the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, where they elected to have the wedding.
“The hotel was phenomenal,” she said. “No one even batted an eye [because they are a same-sex couple]. I’d go down to the casino and the staff would be like, ‘Where’s the Mrs.?’ They were so gay-friendly and just truly so happy that we were getting married.”
“New Orleans in general tends to be a very LGBT-friendly community,” said Megan Emboulas, Bourbon Orleans Hotel catering-sales manager, who served as Bell and Haupt’s wedding planner. “Our hotel’s location, being in the heart of the ‘gay district’ on Bourbon Street, makes us the home for many LGBTQ events in the city throughout each year.”
Emboulas said the property hosts about 60 weddings a year, most of which are destination weddings.
All seven of the New Orleans Hotel Collection’s properties are TAG-Approved — earned for LGBT-welcoming policies and programs — and have hosted more than 100 same-sex unions in recent years.
The couple credited Emboulas with all of the heavy lifting on the planning end.
“I’m not the planning-type of person, so it was great working with Megan,” Haupt said. “She’d send us things and we’d say OK or not, she’d ask what we wanted to eat, what we wanted to do with this or that. I don’t know how she pulled it all off but it was the easiest thing you could ever imagine. She literally did everything perfectly.”
The wedding was valued at $5,000. About 35 friends and family made the trip for the Sept. 10 wedding, held at the hotel’s St. Ann Cottage. The ceremony was slated to be held in an outdoor courtyard, but rain moved it inside.
“I absolutely loved seeing all the excitement and nervousness in both brides early in the afternoon while they were getting ready separately, and then seeing all the nerves just melt away as soon as they saw each other for the first time,” Emboulas said. “Seeing them together, you knew that nothing could ever come between them.”
“You hear brides say their wedding day was the best day,” Haupt said, “and it really was.”