Etiquette for Attending a Same Sex Wedding
You do not want to become “that” guest at your first same sex wedding.
You have been invited to your first same sex wedding! Now what? What is expected? How do you prepare? Where do you even start?
Realistically, it's nothing to worry yourself about. Wedding ceremonies, of course, have evolved from the very traditional affairs that many expect to more personal events that reflect the personalities of the couple. Sexual orientation does influence or can influence some aspects of a wedding, but for the most part, all weddings tend to have similar elements. While gender normative expectations include a bride and groom, gay couples may or may not choose to express themselves along these traditional lines. It is best to know what language the couple plans to use, or if nothing else, at least just refer to them by their given names if you are not sure. It would be a major faux pas to try to force “bride” and “groom” roles onto them. While one couple may choose to follow the traditional and designate one partner as the "Bride" and the other as the "Groom," they may both choose to represent one or the other, or not.
Marriage licenses now reflect same sex marriages; legal same sex marriages are more common than most know. During the ceremony, there may not be a walk down the aisle, or a white dress and veil. The wedding party may contain the traditional bridesmaids and groomsmen, but just as heterosexual couples are choosing to "change up" their bridal party construction, both sides of the wedding couple will reflect their circle of friends and family. Traditions are being updated today to reflect "modern" conceptions of what it means to get married, and DIY wedding ideas of 2018 are only going to get more popular. There may not be a garter or bouquet toss, or the bridal party may not be paired up at a head table. Be respectful of the couple’s decisions regarding their big day; as a guest, it is your job to support them as they take this next step in their relationship. Gossip or chatter in the restroom about why they did not do X or why they did Y could lead to hard feelings or angry responses if overheard.
Keeping the Drama Away
Drama. It happens. As a gay couple, it is important to try to avoid drama as much as possible. The good news is, you can. Limiting your day to a small guest list keeps the drama level low, as it is an intimate group of supportive individuals who love you and are happy to see you wed. If your wishes are to invite every friend and relative that you can, so that everyone can see how happy you are, remember, not everyone thinks the same way that you do. Be mindful of who may cause problems, especially once a few margaritas or martinis have been imbibed. Assign a close friend to be a room “monitor” that will spot danger before it happens. I suggest hiring a day-of-the wedding coordinator to ensure a smooth- running celebration without incident, especially one that specializes in same sex weddings. Carefully complete your seating chart for your reception, making sure that you are conscious of individuals who should not or could not sit together at a table. You want supporters of same sex marriages at your celebration and certainly sitting throughout your reception. If you are not sure who may sit near another, call upon the help of other family members to assist in the task of arranging seating.
As a guest, the rule of thumb is that if you do not know the others sitting at your table, introduce yourself and describe your connection to the wedding couple. Since you will be spending the next few hours in their company, getting to know your table-mates will diminish the uncomfortable experience that comes with meeting new people. Try to be polite while seated. Remember, when all else fails, eat dinner and then dance! There's a very real possibility that any number of amazing wedding songs for same sex couples will be played by the DJ.
Watching Your Alcohol Intake
Guests have a responsibility to keep drama to a minimum. That means keeping an eye on your alcohol intake (if you tend to say anything after a few drinks) and also that of your plus one (if invited). You have been invited to celebrate a momentous occasion; think before you act. Better to take that Uber ride home early than risk ending a friendship over a snide comment. I used to plan weddings and have seen “well-meaning” relatives or friends bring a wedding couple to tears by providing "constructive" criticism on their wedding day after several cocktails. Couples have spent months, if not longer, planning their wedding celebration, and are usually stressed and tired the day of. Even small, seemingly innocuous comments can be misconstrued. Keep their happy day happy, smile, and wish them the best, no matter how much you hated the flowers or thought chartreuse bow ties were horrid.
What Thumper Said
Another thing you want to avoid as a guest is expressing your own opinions about gay marriage when responding to the invitation or attending the ceremony and/or reception. You have been invited to attend based upon your relationship with one (or both) of the individuals getting married; if you are in conflict about the subject, it is best to simply send regrets. No need for a lengthy explanation, a simple check box when you RSVP will do. If you do attend, again, your card is not the place to write a diatribe or express your dissatisfaction with same sex marriage. My advice, if you cannot say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
Choosing the right card can also be a challenge for a guest attending a gay wedding. In many cases, there are few options regarding the types of cards available. My suggestion is to find one that has two rings, or something less charged, even staying away from one that denotes Brides (plural) or Grooms (plural). When all else fails, you can print one yourself and add your own sentiments. It is more personal, and provides you with the opportunity to express your happiness and joy for their wedding celebration in your own way. Besides, what really counts is your commitment to stand with them as they join in this union together... and a solid wedding gift for same sex couples.
Blending into the Scene, Not Making One
Remember, too, you are not the center of attention. They are. Respect the dress code (if there is one); it may be mentioned on the invitation as Casual, Cocktail, or Semi-Formal, Black Tie, White Tie, or Formal. Same sex weddings are like any other wedding... showing up in a flashy, attention-getting outfit may make you noticed, but it detracts from the wedding couple. When in doubt (if not noted on the invitation), pick up the phone and ask, "What is the dress code?" It is better to be dressed just right than be under- or over-dressed.
Photobombing the professional photos is also not a good idea, nor is making the job of the professional photographer harder. These professionals were hired to document the ceremony and reception for the wedding couple, not to take headshots for your next interview or provide you with awesome Facebook or Instagram shots. In addition, just because you own a Canon camera, it does not make you a professional! You are certainly welcome to take photos at the wedding ceremony and reception; I am sure that the wedding couple would love to see your snaps post-nuptials, but there is a reason they hired a wedding photographer. Many individuals think that they are artists with a cell phone camera, but leave the job, that day, to the hired hands.
Overall, good guests are those that know their boundaries. Divas belong on stage, not in the audience. In this case, default to the fact that the stage belongs to the couple getting married.
Invited Guests Only
I also need to state here that if your name alone appears on the invitation, then you are the only one invited. That means NO plus one. The couple may only be inviting a small group of friends and family, in which case you should be honored to be included. They may only have the budget for a set number of guests. Or, they may want to limit the number of outsiders that attend to decrease the drama factor (see my earlier paragraph), by only asking those they know personally to share in their special day. No matter what their motivation, same sex weddings are not curiosity events; so if you are not allowed to bring someone along (such as Josie who just wants to see what a gay wedding is like), then do not.
The Difference Between a Good Guest Versus a Bad Guest
With the acceptance of legal same sex marriage, wedding celebrations are now more inclusive and more representative of the population at large. Like any wedding guest, being a GOOD guest at a same sex wedding means sending your RSVP back in a timely fashion, making it to the wedding if you responded that you will attend, not arriving late to the ceremony, turning off your cell phone, and if requested, do not post photos on social media. This last fact may be an important one, as in some cases, family members may not know that the person is gay, or that they are getting married (especially if they are estranged from one or both of the partners). One thing the couple does not need is to have photos out in cyberspace that they do not have control over regarding their wedding. While you may not know Auntie Fran, if you tag the couple and your account is public, anyone can see the snaps, leading to hurt feelings, or even more serious issues if stumbled upon by an unintended family member, colleague, or friend. Privacy is something that many individuals respect for themselves and for others. Be respectful of the couple’s privacy if they ask you to keep images or posts off social media.
Weddings are spaces and places to celebrate the love, joy, and happiness that a couple has for each other, and wishes to share with the world. As a guest at a same sex wedding, it is your commitment to sharing in their happiness that brings you to their celebration. Be respectful, be kind, and be happy for them as they start their lives together in this formal union. The best way to do that though, most importantly, is to not be "THAT" guest!