Planning Your Same-Sex Wedding Ceremony
Same-sex unions have evolved from commitment ceremonies to weddings and marriages; as a result, the ceremonies same-sex couples plan bring with them myriad questions and considerations for each individual couple. Are there houses of worship for spiritual gay and lesbian couples wishing to honor their beliefs along with their union? Who walks whom down the aisle? Will there even be an aisle? Can you adjust the roles of your attendants to suit your own needs? What if you are marrying the same partner for the second or third time, with each legal advancement?
Whew! It’s a lot to take in, but the good news is that the “rules” for same-sex ceremonies are fluid, and your options are many.
Selecting a Venue for Your Same-Sex Wedding
As with many of the major wedding decisions, your ceremony specifications will impact the shape of your day, so you must address early in the process things like the size of your guest list, your preferred dates, and suitable venues if you’ll be planning something other than a legal elopement. Also, the time of day traditionally dictates the formality of a wedding. Do you envision a casual morning exchange of vows with a fun and familiar backyard barbeque afterwards, or a black-tie evening affair with full formal reception to follow? Plan to align your ceremony start time with the appropriate time of day for your desired event.
Next, you will need to choose a venue for your ceremony. While the legacy of failure to embrace openly LGBT members has soured many gay and lesbian couples on formal religious affiliations, there are, in fact, religious institutions that are welcoming. These include Unitarian Universalism, Reform Judaism, some Presbyterian sects, as well as many Episcopal congregations. If a spiritual wedding is something you value, try contacting clergy in one of these places of worship in your town or wedding destination.
Alternatives to places of worship include City Hall in regions where marriage equality is legally recognized, historical sites, unique special event venues, and many scenic outdoor locations. There are extensive online resources, including GayWeddings.com, to help you with researching available wedding venues. Local vendors are often excellent sources of referrals to venues as well.
If you live in a state that does not recognize marriage equality, you may need to explore destination options for your same-sex wedding. You may plan an intimate legal elopement in a state or country that permits gay marriages, or an extravagant destination wedding. Be vigilant in your research, and talk to local providers to ensure that you choose a venue that is truly welcoming of LGBT couples. Pay special attention to any documentation that may be required for a destination wedding or elopement, and triple check that you have it with you before you travel.
Minister, Rabbi, Justice of the Peace, or Close Friend – Who Officiates at Gay and Lesbian Weddings?
Once you have selected your wedding venue, you need to choose someone to officiate. This should be a person with whom you are both comfortable, and someone who is willing to make your wedding as spiritual or secular as you want it to be. You might consider a clergy member in a place of worship with which you are affiliated, or a civil commissioner or justice of the peace. Some couples ask a friend to preside over their ceremony, which is legal in many states. Check with the regional court in the location where you plan to wed to determine the requirements for this type of arrangement.
Traditions, Rituals, and Your Gay Wedding
The “traditional” rituals associated with wedding ceremonies may or may not fit your vision of your own day. Will either (or perhaps both) of you change your last name? Will someone give each of you away? Will you honor a cultural tradition and break a glass, bind your hands, or jump a broom? While you may include any of these in your wedding, you have the freedom to pick and choose your best matches as you customize your own same-sex ceremony.
If you are marrying in a place of worship, consult with your clergy person or officiant for your options. If you are writing your own ceremony, or working with a flexible officiant, add the customs that best fit your relationship. Discuss your values before you plan and be as inclusive as possible of the traditions you consider priorities, honoring your backgrounds, cultures, life experiences, family dynamics, and individual beliefs.
If you will have an altar, how will you walk to the altar? If your church or venue has three aisles, each of you could walk to the altar down a different aisle, then exit the ceremony together down the center. If your ceremony will be held outside or in a space that allows for various seating configurations, explore alternatives to the single, center aisle. Arrange your guests in arcs or concentric circles. If you are tied to the standard lone aisle, considering walking to the altar together or having a special person (or couple) escort each of you.
Photo credit: Mikki Vargas Photography
Music selection is also flexible. Choose from the old standard hymns, processionals, and recessionals, or include contemporary music that is meaningful to you. Many live musicians are willing to learn new music given enough notice, and there are DJs and sound technicians who specialize in providing tasteful, professional service for ceremonies.
Finally, when choosing attendants, surround yourselves with the people who truly support you. Don’t feel restricted by titles like “Best Man” or “Maid of Honor.” You can include honor attendants, bridesmen, or groomsmaids, or simply have a “wedding party” full of those you love.
Your wedding ceremony represents your relationship and your commitment to a new life, united with the person you love. Create an exchange that is true to your unique love story, and there is no way you can go wrong.