Image via Workman Publishing.With the legalization of same-sex marriage and civil unions making a steady march from shore to shore (and in between), chances are there's a gay wedding in your future. If that wedding (or commitment ceremony) is your own, congratulations! If it's the wedding of a friend, coworker or family member, congratulations again! Either way, you'll need help getting ready to celebrate the day with grace and style. That's why I wrote The New Gay Wedding: A Practical Primer for Brides and Grooms, Their Families and Guests (Workman Shorts), which will help you navigate this still-unmapped territory, providing answers you won't find in traditional wedding-planning books. (This original e-book is adapted from my great big book on etiquette, eponymously titled Steven Petrow's Complete Gay and Lesbian Manners: The Definitive Guide to LGBT Life.)
The first thoughts about any wedding or commitment ceremony (after the romantic bits are taken care of!) usually center on logistics: the invitations, the showers, the attire, the gifts, and the roles of those participating. In other words, the etiquette. And that's the moment when you'll realize that many of the "rules" for same-sex weddings have yet to be figured out: Do gay men and lesbians get "engaged" in the traditional sense? Are the responsibilities of the wedding party different when you have two brides or two grooms? What kind of engagement or wedding showers are appropriate? Do you invite supportive or hostile family members? What's the right way to word a same-sex wedding invitation? And for our families: Is a same-sex wedding different than a straight one? Do you now call your loved ones "husbands" or "wives"? And finally, who pays for what?
Unsurprisingly, plenty of gay and lesbian couples find that old-school wedding traditions serve them remarkably well in the ceremonies and celebrations they devise: formal invitations, engagement parties, gift registries, and frothy white dresses or well-tailored black tuxedos. For others, there's a very strong spirit of invention in play as we create new roles and rites-not only for ourselves, but for everyone in attendance. The good news is that it's up to each individual couple to make these choices, decisions which will in turn become the foundation of gay wedding etiquette to come. You're making history!
Beyond the practical planning aspects, most gay and lesbian weddings will involve some deeper differences. Parents and other blood family members of the brides and grooms may find that they play a lesser part than they might expect. Often, gay couples marry or partner later in life (usually after having lived together for many years), which means that they may be paying for the ceremony and the reception themselves (which certainly lessens Mom and Dad's involvement), or that they have lifelong friends to whom they would like to assign the roles traditionally played by family members in the wedding party. And then there's the reality that some parents or siblings may be uncomfortable with the very notion of gay unions; for them, a less public role may be just what they're hoping for.
Another important difference, of course, is the ceremony's legal context. Depending on the state, the event may be an actual, state-certified wedding, a legally sanctioned civil union, or a private commitment ceremony whose meaning is more emotional than legal. This sizable factor isn't likely to be under your direct control. But take heart in the fact that every time two men or two women make the decision to publicly announce their relationship and affirm its strength, they're taking yet another step toward helping to change stereotypes of LGBT people and our families. And in that spirit, call these nuptials whatever you'd like: a "commitment ceremony," "wedding," "civil union," "love fest," or some other wording of your own invention. (Note that throughout this e-book, when I use the words "wedding" and "marriage," I'm referring to any kind of gay union, regardless of its legal status, not that anything less than full marriage equality is acceptable.)
Whether you're organizing or attending a same-sex wedding, the heart of the matter remains unchanged. A wedding exists in order to affirm a lifelong commitment between two people before an audience of friends, family, and loved ones. In that sense, same-sex nuptials may seem like every other wedding you've ever been to, except for the fact that they will involve two brides or two grooms-and a beautiful, identical pair of cake toppers.
Steven Petrow is the author of Steven Petrow's Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners and can be found online at www.gaymanners.com. Got a question? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact him on Facebook and Twitter.