Modern Manners: Same-Sex Weddings

Last week, New York joined five other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing same-sex marriages. Wedding planners, take note: As early as July, same-sex couples may begin marrying in the Empire State.

Finally! This is terrific news—and gives us a whole new set of wedding etiquette questions to ask (and answer). In many ways, the next same-sex wedding you attend will seem like every other wedding you’ve ever been to except for the fact that it will be two brides or two grooms (and the cake toppers will be the same sex).  After all, a wedding is about the commitment and love between two people.

Still, we’re in the throes of creating a new 21st century tradition, which means a slew of etiquette questions. How do you address the new married couple? …Which mother of the bride gets first dibs on choosing a dress to wear to her daughter’s wedding?… If you don’t support same-sex marriage, is it hypocritical to attend your gay friends’ wedding?

To kick off the discussion, I phoned Steven Petrow, the author of a new etiquette guide to gay and lesbian manners. His book is (aptly) called Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay and Lesbian Manners and here’s  what he has to say:

Will I insult the couple if I ask questions? Not at all. It’s all so new. Intention is a big part of manners. Both straight and gay people are well meaning, so don’t worry so much about making a faux pas. If you don’t know how to refer to a couple now married, ask if they are going to call themselves husband and husband or wife and wife, for instance.

The Parents

If I’m the mother of a bride or groom, will my role be different? You will probably be playing a supporting role at a gay wedding. On one hand, this is good news because you are probably off the hook for paying; generally gay and lesbian couples are marrying after being together for many, many years, and they have the means. But this also means that you’ll probably be outside of the inner planning circle. You get to be an honored guest, in essence. Show up, show your love, make a toast.

Should parents offer to pay even if the couple is financially comfortable? If it’s within your means to buy the flowers or pay for the rehearsal dinner, please go ahead and offer that to the grooms or brides. They’ll appreciate the gesture.

But don’t expect to be the one picking the colors of the cocktail napkins? Nor the tuxedo accessories.

There are two mothers of the bride. Who picks her dress first? The two mothers in law are just going to have to talk to each other to coordinate that.

The Couple

What do I call the members of my wedding party? There’s a lot of gender bending these days. Generally, we’re opting for the catch-all phrase “honor attendants” to refer to a maid of honor who may be a man or to a best man who may be a woman.

Where do I seat guests at the ceremony? Traditionally the bride’s family sits on one side, the groom’s on the other, but most gay couples are feeling the love from friends, from their community, and from family, and are mixing it up. It’s a really nice metaphor.

My friends are my family. How do I show that? Armistead Maupin refers to our circle of friends as our “logical family,” rather than biological family. Friends are the ones who have supported us for years. They should have places of honor, head roles in the wedding party, be witnesses in the signing of the contract.

The Guests

Will the vows have a political undertone? We’ll see that in New York, with the first wave of weddings, where equality and freedom to marry will naturally be a part of the vows. I have gotten questions from straight parents wondering whether a wedding is like a Pride festival or a political rally. It’s generally not.

What will be the same as at a straight wedding? Like any wedding, arrive on time or 20 minutes early. Send a gift. Use the registry if there is one. Or make a donation if the couple asks for that instead, because being somewhat older they may have the accoutrements of life and want their wedding to help further a cause, like gay marriage in other states.

What if I don’t believe in gay marriage? You can be a well intentioned person and still have politics that differ, I think. But when possible, family should trump politics. Attending a same-sex wedding does not mean you have to raise a Gay Pride flag in your backyard. It simply means you love and support these people.

Readers, do you agree? Does this sounds like good manners? What do you think?

(image courtesy of