With marriage equality as the law of the land, more and more same-sex weddings are taking place. While much of the etiquette is the same as with straight weddings (never ever wear white unless you are specifically told to!), there are some etiquette rules that are unique to LGBTQ weddings.
Every couple is different, so what may be verboten at one wedding may be totally OK at another wedding. However, I would err on the side of caution and follow these guidelines, especially if you are straight and don’t have lived experience of the context surrounding these suggestions.
NEVER Ask “Who is the Bride and Who is the Groom?”
Many well-intentioned straight people try to understand same-sex marriage by comparing it to opposite-sex marriage and assuming that there will be a “bride” and a “groom.” The whole point of same-sex marriage is that there is not a bride and groom, but rather two brides or two grooms (or two partners or spouses or other designations). Different couples will approach the gendered parts of the wedding in different ways. Some couples will both walk down the aisle, others will have one person walk down the aisle, and still others will do something else. Both straight and LGBTQ couples may choose to reinterpret traditional parts of a wedding or even ignore them altogether. As a guest, it is your job to be there to love, support, and celebrate the couple. Besides, it can be fun to see how different couples choose to celebrate their day.
It’s Not a “Gay Wedding”; It’s Just a Wedding
I sometimes overhear people talk about going to a “gay wedding.” Unless it is somehow relevant to the conversation, there is no need to call it anything but simply a “wedding.” (An example of it being relevant to conversation is “My friend and his fiancé are having a hard time finding an officiant who has experience with gay weddings.) The “gay” part is irrelevant and just serves to further distinguish same-sex weddings from opposite-sex ones. Though it is not intentional, the implication is that the wedding is somehow less legitimate than an opposite-sex wedding would be. Remember that many LGBTQ people have experienced discrimination and that marriage equality has only recently become available in all 50 states.
Wives? Husbands? Spouses? Partners?
While it is usually pretty safe to stick with “husband” and “wife” for opposite-sex couples, some same-sex couples may want to move away from gendered terms, while others will prefer them. Like anything else, the best way to know for sure before the wedding is to ask. There is nothing wrong with politely asking how to refer to the couple. During the wedding you can get cues from the couple and the ceremony itself. The officiant or DJ may give clues, such as introducing the couple as “partners.” Though it is still always best to go to the source. You may get a clue if one member of the couple introduces the other as her “wife” or his “husband.” Otherwise, simply ask. As a default, I use “spouse” for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.
What About Last Names?
If you are writing a check to the couple as a wedding present or are addressing any other correspondence to the newly married couple, you may be curious about what last name to use. Same-sex couples may choose to use one of the partners’ names, hyphenate the name, choose a new name, or keep each partner’s original name. Basically, it is impossible to know what name to use without asking. It is completely appropriate to ask if anyone will be changing his or her name after the wedding or other questions about what to use. When in doubt, stick with their original names. (Honestly, you should also check in with opposite-sex couples about this too. Many women are keeping their names or hyphenating these days.)
Like other gendered terms, one or both members of the couple may not feel comfortable being addressed as Mr. or Ms., let alone Mrs. The use of the non-gendered term “Mx.” Has become much more popular recently and is even recognized and used by the New York Times. Like other aspects of LGBTQ weddings, you can always ask. For example, “Do you use Mr., or is there a different word I should use?”
These etiquette tips all revolve around respecting the way that people identify themselves and their relationships and putting effort into understanding and using the appropriate terms. You don’t need to get so anxious about all of this that you don’t enjoy yourself, but also be aware that identity is important. If you make a mistake, simply apologize and do better in the future. Putting in the time to educate yourself about how to be a good guest shows the couple that you love and respect them.