Gay Weddings Are No Different

Lesbian and gay weddings are no different from opposite sex weddings. Yet you may feel unprepared for a gay wedding you have been invited to. As I reported in the first part of this series, I started out on rocky though well-intentioned ground when I was first introduced to gay people. I didn’t want to be uneasy, but I was — for a while.

Maybe you do feel uneasy, though I hope you don’t. We make too much out of things that are none of our business. But here we are, finding out how human we all are no matter who we love or how. But as we begin to blend past conditioning with our new understanding we realize that while marriage is made up of life-changing promises no matter who you are, there may be some nuances that are particular to gay weddings.

Free Flowing Anxiety

Wedding and etiquette expert Stephen Petrow* correctly hit the nail on the head when he said, “There’s often this free-flowing anxiety, even amongst those who are supportive of same-sex marriage. Things that I’ve heard are people wondering whether if it will be like a gay Pride parade or festival, wild and crazy,” Petrow says. “I tell them, ‘No, I’ve actually never seen a ceremony like that.’ Although once and awhile I do hear about performers in drag as part of the reception. But like any other marriage, it’s a sacred ceremony.”*

Here are some guidelines on how overcome any anxiety and be totally present at your friends’ gay wedding so you can enjoy and bless the love that’s being committed to.

Do: Let the Couple Know That You Support Them

Last year I had the privilege of officiating for a wonderful lesbian couple. After the ceremony, we had lunch in a very nice restaurant overlooking Lake Michigan. Guests were seated at a long table in a separate dining room eating great food and enjoying the view. When the manager stopped by the table, she asked one of the wives what the celebration was about. The bride quickly responded, “It’s a birthday party.”

Needless to say I was surprised, AND sad. Even though the LGBT community has come a long way with the Supreme Court’s ruling on the legality of gay marriage, the groove of hiding the relationship runs deep, By the time someone gets around to having a same-sex wedding, they’ve probably been through a lot — from coming out to weathering discrimination to finding a caterer that can deliver the kind of menu they want at their celebration. All of this can take an emotional toll.

Without getting into a lengthy political discussion, taking a moment to let the couple know that you are celebrating not just their union, but their right to make that commitment is a simple gesture can mean a lot to the couple. Life has many challenges. A wedding is a time when we all show up and promise to help each other through the hard parts. The love and support of friends and family members, and that you are there to celebrate with them without judgment or prejudice is the most precious gift any same sex couple could ever receive.

Show your support in person or written down in your card. By attending their ceremony you are showing them you are more open than not. Letting them know they’re loved and supported by others, even if there are people who might not agree means a lot.

Do: Expect to see alternatives to traditions

I don’t see the any difference between a straight couple and gay couple’s love and affection for one another. But it’s important to realize the history of the wedding ceremony is based in patriarchy. Just as traditions don’t always appeal to straight couples, traditions much more often do not apply to most same-sex couples. Be prepared for some creativity in the rituals, and changes to the script. A LGBTQ couple may walk each other down the aisle rather than be “given away.” Don’t be surprised if there isn’t a mother-son dance or a bouquet toss. I love the idea of any couple reinventing tradition, and same-sex couples have a great opportunity to do so in a way that fits all our lives, our families, and our relationships. Enjoy!

Do: Listen for what the couple calls themselves

Not everyone drops their single identity by getting married. So they may have gender-coded words. Not every woman getting married wants to be called “bride”; nor wants to be called wife once married. Not every guy thinks of himself as the “groom” or husband. This may be very evident at gay weddings.

When in doubt of what a gay couple wants to be called, you can usually pick up on their preference by listening. Let the couple be the guides of the words you choose, and if you’re not sure, just use their names. If one in the couple refers to her mate as partner, don’t ask after her “wife.” Petrow wrote, “If you find it impossible to respect language preferences, consider moving to the North Pole or a small and uninhabited cave, where no one can bother you with their petty human emotions.”

Don’t…Ask the Question, “Are you going to have any children?”

Everyone knows how straight couples produce children if they so choose. If you don’t know whether a LGBTQ couple wants children, don’t ask if, when or how the couple plans to reproduce. Heterosexual or gay, not every married couple wants children. Mr. Manners, Stephen Petrow advises, “The decisions surrounding becoming parents are often intensely personal, not something anyone wants to discuss over cocktails with 25 drunk second cousins. Of course, this happens to straight people too, but for couples who are reproductively incompatible, the questions often become even more invasive. We’re talking about sensitive medical information here — if it’s not offered, don’t demand it. If we ever have a baby, I promise you’ll hear about it on Facebook.”

Do — Have Fun

With all this talk of same sex weddings, gay weddings are purely and simply a wedding. Whatever differences there may be in the ceremony, you are there to celebrate two people who have committed their love and lives to one another — so enjoy every moment.

Laugh, dance, eat good food, take lots of pictures. The happy couple wants nothing more than to see their guests enjoying their wedding every bit as much as they are. So have a great time!

More questions? Martha has great articles to help you gain understanding.


* Stephen Petrow is the author of The Essential Book of Gay Manners & EtiquetteThe New Gay Wedding: A Practical Primer for Brides and Grooms, Their Families and Guests and Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners: The Definitive Guide to LGBT Life, among others. He also writes “Civilities,” a Washington Post column about LGBT and straight etiquette and is the Hilton’s Modern Manners Expert.