What Hand Do We Wear Our Rings On?
Question for Steven: My boyfriend and I are planning our wedding, and I heard that gay couples often wear their rings on their right hands instead of their left. Is that true? Does that go for engagement rings and wedding bands?
Steven Answers: Well, it’s true that nothing says “married” quite like a gold band on your left ring finger. But this is another straight wedding tradition that gay couples have been known to play around with, in this case by wearing our commitment rings on our right hands to symbolize (and protest) the fact that we couldn’t get legally married. For some, it’s a bit of an inside joke, a queer variation on an overwhelmingly straight convention. For others it’s an explicit political statement.
But the times, they are a-changin’. Now that six states and the District of Columbia have adopted marriage equality, the era of using our rings to make in-jokes and political statements is coming to an end (at least in those locales). Not surprisingly, some couples plan to move their rings from right to left when they officially tie the knot. Actor Neil Patrick Harris, who has been engaged to his partner for five years while waiting for his home state of New York to allow them to marry, once joked that his right hand had become calloused during the long wait. “It’d be nice to move the ring over here someday,” he said, indicating his left hand. Evan Wolfson, author of Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People’s Right to Marry and the founder and executive director of the organization Freedom to Marry, has also said he plans to move his band from right to left when he gets legally wed.
I know a lesbian couple who wore commitment rings on their left ring fingers for fifteen years and had never imagined replacing them with wedding bands. But when they married in California during the pre–Proposition 8 wedding window, they slipped off those rings and replaced them with matching gold bands. “I cried the whole time as I took off my partner’s—I mean my wife’s!—ring and replaced it,” said one of them. “I really had never thought we’d see the day when we could actually say ‘I do.’ I would never wear my ring on any other finger than my left. That says ‘official’ to me in a way that wearing it on my right hand simply doesn’t.”
The bottom line is that you can wear engagement rings and wedding bands on either hand, and both members of the couple can match, or not, as you prefer. Some couples give each other individual engagement rings and then buy matching wedding bands; some choose different engagement rings and wedding bands; and some opt for sets that combine nicely and can be worn on a single finger after the wedding. When you marry, you can replace the engagement ring with the wedding band, combine the two on one hand, or wear one on each hand.
The most important thing about those new rings is not which hand they go on but the lifelong commitment they symbolize, so don’t worry too much about which hand is the “right” one. Whichever hand is right for you is the right one.
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.