Gay Weddings: Is There A New Etiquette?

Phil and me with the bride... and the bride! That's Tracy on the left, and Tracey on the right

Marlo Thomas attends her niece’s same-sex marriage — and celebrates a historic New York ritual

You know that moment we all look forward to at a wedding — when the bride comes down the aisle and, for the first time, we get to see that beautiful white dress? How magical that moment always is.

Well, it’s even more magical when there are two white dresses.

I experienced this for the first time when my niece, Tracy, married the love of her life, a woman also named Tracey (only hers has an “e”). At that moment, as I looked at their radiant faces, I remembered seeing Tracy, age 8, singing along to the record of Free to Be…You and Me. And I couldn’t help but think, at last, Tracy is truly free.

For all of us who have long supported same-sex marriage, the depth of the justice of it all has never hit home for me as it did when I saw the these two dear, young women exchange their vows.

And everything was the same: the little kids giggling and running underfoot; the proud moms and dads wiping away a tear; the distant uncle sitting by himself, happily having one drink too many; and, as always, someone sneaking an early piece of the cake.

Now in New York, this historic ritual is being celebrated with a new and liberating joy. And while the ceremony at the heart of these weddings is no different from any other we’ve ever witnessed, many people have asked if there’s any special etiquette that guests attending a gay wedding need to know — such as “Will I insult the couple if I ask what they’re going to call themselves — like husband and husband or wife and wife?”

According to Steven Petrow of and author of Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay and Lesbian Manners, “Not at all! Intention is a big part of manners, so you don’t have to worry so much about making a faux pas. If you don’t know how to refer to a couple, just ask.

“But there are some differences you may notice as a guest at a gay wedding,” Steven told me. “For example, the seating may not be divided into the traditional bride and groom side, but instead will be mixed, to reflect one community supporting the couple. And you may find that members of the wedding party are different from what you usually see — the best man may be a woman, and the matron of honor may be a man. Also, you’ll likely find that the couple is paying for the wedding themselves.

After getting these great tips from Steven, I called my friend, wedding planner extraordinaire David Tutera, and asked if there was anything he could add for gay couples planning their nuptials.

2011-07-28-marlo1.jpgDAVID: A same-sex marriage is no different from a marriage between a man and woman, because they’re both based on the same thing: the love and the commitment between two people who want to spend their lives together.

And so, the formula is the same for any and every wedding.

• Write your vows ahead of time — but remember, this is not the time to make a political statement. Instead, create your vows to express the reason you are there: to celebrate your union and commitment to one another.

• Do your legal research. Make sure you plan ahead, and know all the necessary legalities and specifics about your rental of the location at which you plan to wed.

• Don’t forget to register at your favorite stores. Include both of your full names, as well as the name of your favorite charity, in case you decide to offer a donation to that charity a gift option.

• When printing your invitations, list your names in alphabetical order — by last name. This will also be the order you in which you stand at the altar.

• And, remember, it’s all about love. Be sure to embrace the love not only for yourselves as a couple, but the love you have for all those there who support and cherish and celebrate your marriage.

I love these tips, and I love David, because he reminds us of what this is really all about: that there may be two dresses or two tuxedos — and the top of the cake may look different from what we’re used to seeing — but it really is all about love.

14 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Dan Patterson says:

    It might be helpful if the minister or other official who is marrying them, when he or she pronounces them married, then presents the couple in the fashion they wish to be known, such as. “I now present to you our newly married couple, Bob and Philip Hanley-Smythe” or “Please welcome our newly married couple, Bob Hanley and Philip Smythe.” or “Please join me in congratulating Bob and Philip Hanley” or however they wish to be designated. Of course, I suppose if you’re really correct, you could have this printed on the “at home” cards to be sent when you return from your honeymoon. Etiquette is such fun.

  2. avatar Lila says:

    Wow, Tracy and Tracey. If they have the same last name, this could get confusing! I once knew a couple named Robin and Robin and she kept her last name to avoid that…

    • avatar Lila says:

      PS, whichever way they go on their last name(s), congrats are in order. Love and commitment are always a good thing, may this bring them much joy and fulfillment.

  3. avatar Linda Myers says:

    One of my very dearest friends and somebody I truly admire, happens to be gay. I first met him when he was with his former partner who was a generation older than he was. The first partner developed Alzheimer’s, and Jeff took care of him until he left this world.

    Then Jeff met Jeffrey! Over a year ago, they had a wrapping ceremony which was more of a shamanic commitment ceremony since in the state they live in, gay unions still are not legal. When addressing both of them, I just call them the J’s. I think this world will reach a true new level of understanding when labels are not felt as being necessary. Just human beings regardless of who they choose to be with as being accepted as anyone else. Just celebrating life is the best etiquette.

  4. avatar Rho says:

    Good luck to them.

  5. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    People should be free to marry the person that can fulfill hem regardless of gender and I am happy that gay marriage is finally accepted. I hope this couple has a long happy relationship.

  6. avatar velma716 says:

    Congratulations to the happy couple.

    I loved this story.
    I fondly remember dancing and singing to “Free to Be… You and Me” back in the day. Loved it then, love it now. What a great message that album has always been.

    May the debate of legalizing of same-sex marriage go the way of the buggy whip. May we live our lives, love who we want and share our individual blessings with the world.

    Marlo, how lucky your niece is to have you in her life. I wish the Trac(e)ys abundance, happiness and joy.

  7. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    With this ring I thee wed.  Does it matter who is wedding who?  Love between any two people makes the world a better place.  Gay marriage is not on my “top ten list” of social issues to be addressed. But it is being addressed and I do think it’s time to move beyond the “religious dogma” in all areas of our lives and that includes marriage and family and all that goes with both. We are all part of a marvelous rainbow in the end.  I attended a “commitment ceremony” between two very special men 25 years ago and 25 years later they are still together. Not sure they ever felt the need for anything “legal.”  But they will marry as soon as they can in California. For no other reason, I was told,  than they want to share in everyone else’s ability to do so after everyone was suddenly told they couldn’t by a “majority” of people who haven’t anything better to do than tell everyone else how to live.  That I have had enough of. That is not what this county is about.  It really is time for all of us to be free to be. You and me.

    As for the etiguette the traditional etiquette ended a long time ago when many women decided to go by their own name rather than by an “appendage” of their husband’s.  So Jim Smith and Joe Hunter works just as well as Jim Smith and Josephine Hunter, doesn’t it?

    Man and wife.  That was the traditional etiquette as well.  It was never woman and husband, was it?  I suspect the opponents are still a little sexist. Longing for the days of chattel law. With their chattel chiming in like good chattel does.

  8. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    And I met Marlo a million years ago and thought there was something very special about her. There is indeed. Just as there was something very special about her father.

  9. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Why do we define marraige as being between a man and a woman? Why is the thought of two women or two men being identified as “married” so objectionable to us? Does the fact that Our Lord Jesus by way of the Bible define marriage as between a man and woman – is this the reason so many are not turning to Atheism? They don’t want a God that doesn’t want them? That sort of mindset. Why is it most Christians against same sex marraige that point to the Bible as the reason, why don’t they have the same feelings about the many other issues of the Bible that are in direct contrast to how we live today? The most striking being how women are to be thought of and treated?

    I have many gay and (some) lesbian friends that I accept as who they are. I make no judgements about their lives other than a disagreement about how they could be attracted to the same sex….to this day it baffles me. 🙂 Whenever the subject of same sex marraige comes up I am left with a very uneasy feeling.  Torn between the love I have for my gay and lesbian friends and a desire to see them lead full and inclusive lives like anyone else. Yet on the other hand this annoying and nagging voice that says, “I don’t want to see the definition of marraige change”  The question is why? How does a man marrying another man he loves impact my life in any way? It doesn’t.

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      Your Lord Jesus Christ. Not necessarily mine. Or anyone else’s. Your god. Not necessarily mine. Or anyone else’s.  That is the proper frame for the 1st Amendment.  The founding fathers’ version of “Free to be. You and me.”  It was not and never will “Free to be. As the Bible says you should be.” Or how any other religious teaching says you should be.
      The traditional definition of marriage is not between man and woman but between man and wife. Not wife and husband. So to adhere to the teaching, well, woman is subservient to man. And is his chatte.  And most women today reject that. And in doing so question the teaching. Man created god in his image. Maybe women should take a crack at it.  

    • avatar Lila says:

      Belinda, I don’t think Jesus speaks of homosexuality or what constitutes proper marriage (if so – please direct me to the passages, because I can’t call any to mind). I know there ARE passages about these things in the New Testament, but I believe they are all contained in the Letters, which were not authored by Jesus (Corinthians, for example).

      I always hold these things under suspicion because they were written long after the historical Jesus’ death and – well, call me a pessimist, but – I think his teachings were already getting warped and modified. The words attributed to him in the Gospels were all about love and forgiveness and being non-judgmental… except where the Pharisees and moneylenders were concerned.

      • avatar wyrdotter says:

        Excellent point. Most people who claim to be “Christian” should more correctly be called “Paulists,” as they concern themselves far more with obeying Paul, writing hundreds of years later and from his own mortal, imperfect perspective. There is some speculation that Paul himself was a closet case, speaking of the “thorn of the flesh” he couldn’t seem to get rid of no matter how much he prayed, and given his rampant distaste for homosexuality, which is often (not always) the mark of a latent homosexual. Jesus Himself never said a word about homosexuality or how marriage should be defined, and the Christian Church (i.e. Catholic church) itself refused to even bless marriages until the 13th century. Hence, the “bridal chapel,” a place outside the sanctuary itself where a priest could bless a couple already wed through other, civil, means.

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