When Jove Meyer, a wedding and event planner in Brooklyn, New York, is working with a same-sex couple, he sometimes finds himself cringing when he hears a guest use the term “gay wedding.”
“It’s not with bad intention, but people like to label things because it’s easier to discuss,” said Meyer. “But the couple is not getting ‘gay’ married. They are getting married. They’re not having a ‘gay wedding.’ They’re having a wedding. You don’t go to a straight wedding and say, ‘I’m so happy to be at this straight wedding.'”
Labelling same-sex couples as different from any other wedding is the root of the cause. The qualifier to describe the wedding signals that it’s unlike a wedding of a heterosexual couple. It feels exclusive. While the party may have untraditional details, it’s a legal marriage like any between a man and a woman. A same-sex couple and a straight couple both say the required vows and sign the same marriage license to be recognized as legally wed.
Traditions Up for Grabs
“The biggest mistake is when guests try to insert a same-sex couple into a heteronormative wedding story, so someone’s got to be the man and someone’s got to be the woman," Meyer said. For example, at a wedding for two brides, guests may wonder, even if jokingly, which woman will wear a pantsuit.
Tanya wore a kilt to honour her Scottish heritage when she wed Emma. Oddly enough, she said, the kilt helped normalize the experience for her guests, many of whom were devoutly religious. She feels it would have been more shocking had she worn a pantsuit. “We also had several people ask us which one proposed to the other,” Tanya said, noting that they both proposed to each other. “It creates an awkward moment with that question because it draws attention to the lack of a male getting down on one knee to propose to the women — what is considered a ‘normal’ proposal.”
Derek Chad Marsh, a wedding and portrait photographer, recalled a story of a wedding he was shooting with two grooms. He heard a guest point-blank ask one groom if he was the bride, because he was “the girl in the relationship.”
“There’s no bride at this wedding and there doesn’t need to be one,” Marsh said. “Don’t expect them to do things the way an opposite-sex couple might.”
That extends to the walk down the aisle. Meyer noted that often same-sex couples invent ways to change what is thought of as a traditional ceremony. It’s not necessarily one person at the altar and the other walking in with a bouquet. His couples have walked in together. Some have their parents join them on the walk. One couple even had the guests process down an aisle to them so they could look everyone in the eye as a song from “Wicked” played.
Uncomfortable? Don’t Go
Many same-sex couples also worry about how their public displays of affection are perceived during the celebration. Marsh, who notes that 90 percent of the weddings he shoots are with same-sex couples, explained that he has never seen a heterosexual couple worry about how they look while holding hands, kissing, or dancing. With same-sex couples, though, he’s seen the visual discomfort on the faces of guests, eye rolls and glances away when they express affections. He has had numerous conversations about engaged couples who are so worried about it that they are willing to downplay their love at the wedding to make the guests feel better.
“It really shouldn’t matter, but if you are uncomfortable watching a same-sex couple show this kind of affection, you should probably reconsider attending,” Marsh said. “Support them in another way. Send a nice gift or a really big check to the couple instead.”
Think Before Speaking
The best thing a guest can do is arrive at the wedding sans preconceived notions of how the day will go. All couples find ways to personalize their weddings and buck traditions. With same-sex couples, that’s often amplified.
Some opt for the traditional angle with white flowers and a church. Others search for details that feel authentic to them, whether or not they would fit into a rom-com story line. To put in the effort of planning and foot the bill only to have a cherished guest not make the effort to respect your relationship or celebrate your differences can be hurtful.
“Prepare by getting your dancing shoes ready, a cute outfit and retraining your brain to change your terminology,” Meyer suggested. “Speak from a place that is non-gendered and non-heteronormative. That doesn’t come from a place where straight is the default. You may love someone of the opposite sex. They happen to love someone of the same sex. On the wedding day, you’re there to support them.”
New York Times