The ABCs of a Gay or Lesbian Wedding Party

steven petrowQuestion for Steven: My best friend is planning her civil union wedding ceremony with her life partner and she wants to have a traditional wedding party, with bridesmaids and groomsmen. I have agreed to prepare the program for the ceremony, but I’m not sure how to identify the members of the wedding party correctly. I’m especially perplexed about what to call her partner’s best friend – “the best woman”?

Steven answers: You certainly aren’t the first one to be confused about how to identify members of the wedding party at a same-sex affair. In fact, LGBT ceremonies often stray from traditional ideas about attendants’ duties, as well as what they’re called. But the basic idea remains the same: These friends and loved ones are there to help and support the couple as they plan their celebration.

A traditional straight wedding party consists of some if not all of the following attendants: maid and/or matron of honor, best man, bridesmaids and groomsmen, a ring bearer and a flower girl, as well as ushers and, then of course, the parents of the bride and groom. But it’s not surprising these days for a straight groom’s best man to be his best female friend, for the “bridesmaids” (attendants to the bride) to be a mix of men and women, and so on.

At an LGBT ceremony, consider these roles, and the gender identity of those holding each position. Your designations can be as traditional — or not — as you wish.

Let’s review the members of the wedding party and their functions:

Maid of honor / Best man

In an LGBT wedding, the roles of maid (or matron) of honor and best man often overlap and are best described as the commanders-in-chief. For instance, you may see two grooms with two best men or with one best man and a maid of honor. Similarly, two brides may have any configuration of attendants that suits their needs and their friendships.

Even so, these members of the wedding party may or may not use the traditional monikers for their roles. So, in response to your question, I would suggest calling the partner’s best friend either the “maid of honor” (if she’s unmarried herself), “matron of honor” (if married), or if you like, “best woman.” But this is the kind of question for you to talk over with both brides before committing any verbiage to paper.

Bridesmaids and groomsmen

These are often simply called “honor attendants” at LGBT weddings (and listed that

way in the program), with a gender mix of the couple’s choosing. Ideally, couples select attendants who are responsible, have good judgment, and are known for their communication and people skills. These folks should be available to the couple in advance and on the wedding big day itself for moral support and to help with a laundry list of possible to-dos.

The ring bearer and flower girl

Traditionally, a young boy carried a faux set of rings down the aisle on a cushion. They weren’t the real rings, which the best man and maid of honor had in safekeeping, but a faux set that carried ritualistic symbolism. These days, however, the ring bearer is just as likely to be a girl, an honor attendant, or someone’s dog (perhaps Fido’s wearing a Burberry scarf or nifty black bow tie looped around a studded leather collar).

The flower girl is often a young relative who precedes the brides or grooms down the aisle and scatters petals, or simply carries flowers. Many gay couples like the inclusion of children to make their ceremonies multi-generational, especially if they have children of their own or are close to nieces and nephews. At gay weddings, ring bearers and flower girls are usually called just that.

So now that you have the players in place, it’s time to get to work on the rest of the program. Good luck!


Steven Petrow is the go-to source on contemporary etiquette, as cited by The New York Times, People, Time, and NPR. His sometimes gentle, sometimes snarky, always insightful advice has made him a nationally recognized expert on modern manners. In addition to his three prize-winning etiquette books, Steven writes the “Civil Behavior” column for The New York Times and is a sought-after speaker on all matters of civilized living in the 21st century.