What Every Straight Person Needs To Know About Gay Weddings

Steven PetrowQuestion for Steven: I’ve seen that you’ve been giving a lot of smart advice to gay couples planning to marry in New York. My girlfriend and I got engaged a couple of weeks ago and we wanted to know if you have any guidance for the straight people who will be coming to our ceremony – both family members and others?

Steven Answers: I was astounded this week when I finally did some simple math: New York State is projecting that at least 66,000 same-sex couples will marry in the Empire State in the next three years. If you take the average number of guests at a wedding – 75 – and do the multiplication, you’ll see soon enough that nearly five million of us will be guests at one of these weddings – and I’ll bet at least half will be straight. I’ve also noticed on my just completed book tour, that moms and dads who have gay offspring are especially worried about doing the right thing when it comes to their participation in a gay wedding.

All that being said, here’s my cheat sheet for straights going to their first (or second) same-sex affair:

If I’m the mother of a gay bride or groom, what should I expect?

You will probably be playing a supporting role at a gay wedding. On the one hand, this is good news, because you are probably off the hook for picking up the tab. Gay and lesbian couples who marry have usually been together for many, many years, and they have the means to foot the bill themselves. But this also means you probably won’t be included in the inner planning circle. You get to be an honored guest, in essence. Show up, show your love, and make a toast.

Should the 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, go ahead and offer that to the grooms or brides. Or you can make a cash gift. Treat them as you would your straight kids; but if you haven’t saved for this wedding, don’t sweat it.

At a lesbian wedding, there will usually be 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. Remember, it’s the brides’ day. Don’t do anything to overshadow them.

Do we walk down the aisle with them?

No, most of the gay couples who are about to marry are older, and there’s no pretense of them being “given away.” But they may ask you to join them at the altar.

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, go ahead and offer that to the grooms or brides. They’ll appreciate the gesture.

What side of the aisle do I sit on at the ceremony?

Traditionally, the bride’s family sits on one side of the room, and the groom’s family sits on the other; but most gay couples are feeling the love from friends, their community, and their families, and they’re mixing it up accordingly. It makes for a really nice metaphor. Also, consider the fact that many weddings are taking place outside – at Niagara Falls, in New York’s Central Park, even downtown in a wed-a-thon at Washington Square Park. Expect the unexpected – and bring an umbrella.

Will the vows have a political undertone?

We’ll see that in New York, where equality and the freedom to marry will likely be mentioned in the vows or the readings in the first wave of weddings – or by the officiants. But don’t expect a political rally!

What if I don’t believe in gay marriage?

You can be a well-intentioned person and still have politics that differ. 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 the couple being married. But if you can’t do that, please stay home.

Will I insult the couple if I ask questions about their wedding?

Not at all. It’s all so new. Good intentions are a big part of manners. Both straight and gay people are typically well-meaning, so don’t worry so much about making a faux pas. If you don’t know how to refer to a married gay couple, just ask them how they’d like to be referred to.

What will be the same as at a straight wedding?

As for any wedding, arrive on time or twenty minutes early. Send a gift (don’t bring it with you). Use the registry if there is one, or make a donation if the couple asks for that instead. In many ways, a same-sex wedding will seem like every other wedding you’ve ever been to, except for the fact that it will involve two brides or two grooms—and the cake toppers will be the same sex. Sure, the food may be better or the flowers fresher – just kidding – but remember: A wedding is all about the love and commitment between two people, regardless of sexual orientation.


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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.