“Cousin Delroy is getting married . . . ” says the family patriarch to his clan, “to a man . . . which is crazy!” Despite the gasps, he announces he’s bringing in Gary, a gay weddings expert, who tries to calm the anxiety-ridden relatives by explaining, “A gay wedding is just like a straight wedding,” before being barraged by questions like, “When do we sing ‘YMCA?’ ” (“You don’t,” says Gary, “this is a religious ceremony”) and, “Is RuPaul going be there?” (“I don’t think Delroy knows RuPaul”).
This spoof of gay wedding advice comes from Comedy Central’s Key & Peele, and like any good satire, its power lies in the nuggets of truth reflected in the queries.
In the past several months as civil marriage rights have come to a total of 35 states plus the District of Columbia, my inbox has overflowed with questions on same-sex wedding etiquette.
Seventy percent of gay couples live in states where same-sex marriage is now legal, according to Gary Gates, a scholar at UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute. Close to a half a million same-sex couples can now marry — and as many as 80,000 gay couples may do so in the next year. This means an invitation may soon appear in your mailbox.
And the first thing to know is, It won’t be so different from what you’re used to.
“Whether it’s two brides, two grooms, or a bride and groom, at the heart of it are two people who are committing their lives to one another and who are expressing that love and commitment before their community of family and friends,” says Marc Solomon, author of “Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits — and Won!”
But dig deeper and the differences start to appear. “While certain steps in the planning process are neutral, such as selecting a menu, there are many questions for gay grooms and lesbian brides,” explained Jason Mitchell, author of “Getting Groomed: The Ultimate Wedding Planner for Gay Grooms.” Certain traditions, especially those based on gender roles, are often eschewed (such as the garter or bouquet toss and the “daddy dance”), and some couples skip the walk down the aisle, the receiving line, even the cake cutting, in their desire to avoid heterosexual conventions entirely.
So, for those invited to their first same-sex wedding, here are some answers to common questions about what to expect:
Do we throw a shower for one bride, or both? What about the bachelor/bachelorette party?
Traditional shower etiquette doesn’t cover two brides, or none, which may explain why a 2013 gay wedding survey by the Knot and the Advocate noted that only 8 percent of same-sex couples reported having a shower (compared to 22 percent for opposite-sex couples). Sarah Kelly, who married Amita Parashar last year, said that her mother and sister hosted a joint shower, adding, “My family didn’t want to do one and not have Amita be there.”
Christopher Hamilton, who tied the knot with Wayne Fong a year ago, admitted his best man found planning his bachelor party hard because he wasn’t sure whether to invite Fong and then didn’t. Fong acknowledged he was “disappointed” when he wasn’t invited and then found himself with no party of his own.
This being uncharted territory, Kathryn Hamm, president of GayWeddings.com, said the best advice is simply to ask the couple what they want.
What side of the aisle?
“Bride’s side or groom’s?” is becoming an outdated question even for heterosexual couples, and guests at same-sex weddings are likely to be friends of both brides or grooms. “Couples want to define their wedding party around support of themselves as a couple, not individuals,” explained Hamm. Sarah Kelly reported that her parents and Parashar’s parents sat across the aisle from each other, but “everyone else just filled in in between.”
How much of a kiss will that kiss really be?
For many straight guests this is the moment of truth: seeing two men or two women lock lips. Steve Drysdale, whose daughter Rebecca married her girlfriend earlier in the fall, told me, “This was the first time a lot of the straight guests had seen that in the flesh. It’s different than cheering for equal rights. It’s more visceral — it makes people uncomfortable.”
Roseann Foley Henry, who married her wife in 2008, advised guests to keep their cool. “That first kiss seals the deal on the new marriage — concentrate on the love and the commitment it represents, nothing else, and you’ll be fine.” She also suggested that all couples use a little discretion: “This is not the best time for any couple to have a make out session.”
Will there be a drag show?
Probably not, but it’s wise to expect a bit more Broadway baby than at most straight weddings. Bernadette Smith, one of the first same-sex wedding planners, pointed out that she’s seeing more gay weddings include elements such as “drag, burlesque and go-go boys.” In fact, when Matthew Breen married his boyfriend a year ago, their DJ appeared in what he called “half drag, sporting a hairy chest, a bustier, and massive heels.” Breen’s father David told me: “I wondered what the guests might think because at one time some people assumed all gays were want-to-be drag queens and I didn’t want [our] guests to think that.”
Which partner is the husband, which is the wife?
This frequent, yet startlingly personal, question is likely a stand-in for all the ways same-sex nuptials can wreak havoc with tradition. Straight guests look for clues about gender roles in the couple’s attire, in who dances with whom, and other details.
“The lack of gender roles allows us to be more non-traditional if we choose to be,” Smith said. “Couples often walk down the aisle together or don’t dance with their parents; two brides don’t necessarily mean two wedding gowns. Sometimes one or both partners is in a suit or tux.” (In fact, according to the same-sex wedding survey conducted by the Knot and the Advocate, more than 4 in 10 brides wear a suit or a tuxedo.) That doesn’t necessarily say anything about “who’s the man and who’s the woman,” but it was a big reason why Roseann Henry wore a dress, which she rarely does, at her wedding. “I didn’t want anyone to make assumptions about my role in the relationship based on what I wore.”
Thankfully, most people don’t have the kinds of questions included in that Key & Peele spoof, like “Do you throw something other than rice?” (“Like what?” asks the expert. “Couscous!”) As Drysdale told me, “While there’s nothing conventional about a gay wedding, everybody had a fantastic time at Becky’s and the gay thing faded into the background as the evening went on.”
E-mail questions to Civilities at firstname.lastname@example.org (unfortunately not all questions can be answered). You can reach him on Facebook at facebook.com/stevenpetrow and on Twitter @stevenpetrow.