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Who Pays For A Gay Wedding?

Steven PetrowQuestion for Steven: When my older sister got married last year, our parents paid for most of her wedding, and her fiancé’s folks took care of most of the rehearsal dinner and some other incidentals. (I think my sister and her fiancé also covered some of the wedding-related costs themselves.) Now that my partner and I are planning a ceremony, we’re wondering whether it’s okay for me to approach my parents about paying for my wedding, too. And if it is, what do I say?

Steven Answers: Well, the bad news is that there’s no established etiquette regarding who pays for a same-sex wedding. But that’s also the good news: there are no rules here, so what do you have to lose by asking them?

Start by taking a good look at your joint finances and thinking about how much you can spend on this ceremony yourselves. Many, if not most, gay couples do pay for their weddings and receptions on their own, either because they’re marrying later in life, their family members aren’t entirely comfortable with the notion of gay unions, or they prefer the level of control that comes with paying their own way.

Then, before you schedule that conversation with the ‘rents, you and your partner need to be clear about what you’re asking for:

  • Do you expect a blank check, with your parents agreeing to pay for everything you want, no matter how lavish your event becomes? (Good luck with that.)

  • Are you hoping for a specific contribution, so you can use that number as part of your budget when you plan your wedding?

  • Are you proposing that both sets of parents contribute equally?

  • Or are you asking that your parents be the hosts of this party in your honor, ceding most of the control of the event (and all of its cost) to them?

Those are all very different requests, so think carefully about what you’d like to have as the outcome here.

When you’re ready to talk to your parents, I’d suggest you raise the subject gently—and don’t mention their paying for your sister’s wedding (at least not right away). After all, they may have saved for years for her wedding, never thinking they’d be paying for their son’s wedding too. Their own financial position is likely to be different today from when your sister was planning her big day. As a result, they may not be able to help, even if they want to. Bottom line: Don’t assume that it’s your right for them to pony up. Only mention the fairness issue if it seems that they do have the means to help but are resistant to the idea of their son marrying a man.

Keep in mind that even among heterosexuals, the tradition of a bride’s parents footing the entire bill for her wedding is fading into a distant memory. These days, many weddings are paid for by a combination of the couple, both sets of parents, and even indulgent grandparents. Sometimes close friends may contribute, too.

If your parents end up not contributing for whatever reason, your partner can have the same conversation with his parents, or you can decide to foot the bill yourselves. At that point, your parents would become guests at the wedding instead of its hosts—and there are certainly advantages to that. Just ask some of your straight married friends!

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.