Who Belongs In My Wedding Party?

Steven PetrowQuestion for Steven: My girlfriend and I are not sure how to decide who should be in our upcoming wedding party. Our “gay family” is so big —lots of exes! — and we’re close to our relatives, too. We’re hoping there’s a special new LGBT way to decide who does what, so that we don’t end up insulting anyone.

Steven answers: We’re all beginning to see for ourselves that getting married (or partnered) can be as complicated as we choose to make it. What do two brides wear? How do you refer to each other? Where do you register? How do you put together a wedding party without hurting anyone’s feelings? (And for domestic partners in California, you’re probably now aware that they’re some complicated – and serious — tax consequences of this important rite.)

LGBT ceremonies often do stray from tradition when it comes to attendants’ duties, as well as what they’re called—but not with any specific LGBT “way.” If anything, it’s the preferences, even idiosyncrasies, of any couple these days that matter most. For instance, it’s not surprising for a 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. I was recently at a straight friends’ wedding and unexpectedly found myself in the role usually referred to as “matron of honor,” which entailed a little handholding, corset tying, and dog whispering on the night of the ceremony.

Similarly, at a gay or lesbian ceremony, the roles, genders, and titles of those holding each position are as traditional or creative as you wish.

I suggest that you and your betrothed start out by making a list of those closest to you — whether dear friends or family members. It’s often our families of choice, that’s to say our friends, who we assign to take on many of the key roles and which may be upsetting to our relatives. I also think it’s wise to ask: Do I think I’ll be a friend with this person for years to come?

Remember that there are specific duties to be carried out (choose responsible people) and there may be significant costs involved as well (choose those who can afford the expense of travel, buying a wedding outfit, or hosting a shower). Also, give some consideration to those who might be slighted if left out. It’s often a good idea to talk through your preferences with your partner or a close family member before extending invitations.

Your list need not be that long. You’ll probably want to choose the number of attendants according to the size of the wedding you’re planning, with roughly two attendants for every forty to fifty guests. But if you want more, who’s to stop you? Certainly, not me.

Now, to the nitty-gritty: In a gay wedding, the usual 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 just one and a matron or maid of honor. Similarly, two brides such as yourselves may have any configuration that suits your needs and friendships. Regardless of what these friends are called, here are the kinds of tasks they are usually responsible for:

* Organizing a couples’ shower and/or bachelor/bachelorette party.

* Assisting with the invitations (addressing, mailing, handling RSVPs).

* Consulting with the couple on attire for other members of the wedding party.

* Helping to coordinate the schedules of the entire wedding party (picking up out-of-town attendants at the airport, keeping all members of the party informed on when they need to be where, etc.).

* Helping the grooms or brides dress on the day of the wedding.

* Pinning the boutonnieres on the grooms.

* Helping with the train on the bridal gown(s)

* Holding the ring(s) during the ceremony.

* Witnessing the signing of the marriage certificate or any other legal papers.

* Making sure wedding-related checks are written and delivered on time.

* Doing any necessary tipping on the day of the wedding.

* Offering the first toasts to the couple at the reception.

* Handling any problems that come up during the ceremony or reception.

* Throughout the entire process, providing an ear for any needed emotional support.

Do make sure all this happens well in advance of the wedding—even if it’s an informal wedding. (If at all possible, invite the members of your wedding party even before you send out your wedding invitations.) Some may need to take time off from work, especially if it’s a destination wedding or if they have to travel to your hometown. And if there are special clothes involved (for instance, bridesmaid dresses or tuxedos), make sure everyone has enough time for measurements and fittings.

Let me know how it goes!


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.