How to Write Inclusive Ceremony Scripts for LGBTQ+ Weddings

Consider this your ultimate guide on making each element of your wedding ceremony more inclusive.
Hannah Nowack The Knot Senior Weddings Editor
Hannah Nowack
Hannah Nowack The Knot Senior Weddings Editor
Hannah Nowack
Senior Editor
  • Hannah writes and edits articles for The Knot Worldwide, with a focus on real wedding coverage.
  • Hannah has a passion for DE&I and plays an integral role in ensuring The Knot content highlights all voices and all love stories.
  • Prior to The Knot Worldwide, Hannah was the Social Media Editor at Martha Stewart Weddings.
Updated Jun 21, 2022

The wedding ceremony, and the coming together of two couples in marriage, is what a wedding day is all about. Though the reception is sure to be a fun time, the ceremony earlier in the day marks an important milestone in the lives of the couple of honor. And that moment should be planned out inclusively to reflect the couple, their love and the vibe they want.

To better understand how to craft an inclusive wedding ceremony script we tapped expert professional wedding officiants to share their must-know advice. Maria Northcott, a Maine-based professional wedding officiant with A Sweet Start, and Minister LaToya Papillion-Herr of New Orleans-based Waning Moon Weddings by LaToya offer their expert advice on how to write an inclusive wedding ceremony and what elements to include in your ceremony program.

In this story:

Top Tips for Inclusive Wedding Ceremonies

Whether you're writing an LGBTQ+ or same-sex wedding ceremony script, or simply want to make your own wedding ceremony script more inclusive so that it reflects your relationship more fully, there are a few tips to keep in mind throughout the process. Papillion-Herr shares that "making wedding ceremonies more inclusive is easier than most people think, and the changes are hardly noticeable to guests." One simple way to make a wedding ceremony more inclusive is by "switching the order when the couple's names are being used (eg. John and Sara then Sara and John in other parts of the ceremony)," she says.

Hire an Experienced and Supportive Officiant

As tempted as you may be to have a friend officiate you wedding, the ceremony is the most crucial part of the wedding and having an experienced pro preside over the service is a gret way to ensure that everything runs smoothly and you and your partner's love story is properly celebrated.

Northcott emphasizes that the process "starts with finding the right professional wedding officiant for you as a couple. Find someone who is sensitive to dynamic family situations, open to new ways of doing things, attentive to your needs and ideas, and who understands and has experience with diverse clientele." Northcott goes on to share that "once you've found your professional officiant, I have the same advice for my LGBTQ+ couples as I do for all my couples, which is find ways to make the ceremony reflect who you are as a couple. The more personal it is, the more authentic and meaningful it will feel. Work with your professional officiant to add interjections (readings, unity elements, songs, musical interludes, etc.) that truly speak to who you are as a couple. If they allow it, have them write your love story into the ceremony."

Do What Feels Right to You

Ultimately the wedding ceremony is about you and your partner coming together to wed—it isn't a gay wedding or a lesbian wedding, it is your wedding and the ceremony script should reflect that. if certain traditions or ceremony formats feel like they don't reflect your relationships, skip them and craft a service that is reflective of the nuptials you want.

"Allow your professional officiant to offer ideas based on their experience, but then choose what feels right for you as a couple," advises Northcott. "Tradition is no longer the driving force in weddings, so give yourselves and your officiant permission to create a ceremony that resonates with you."

Use Inclusive, Gender-Neutral Language

The language and pronouns you use, especially during your vows, is a major way that you can make the entire ceremony more inclusive. "The best way to begin making any wedding ceremony more inclusive is to focus on the love story of the couple," says Papillion-Herr. "Use their names, reference how they support each other, tell their story, and connect them with guests; this can all be done without gendered terms." She goes on to suggest that couples "replace terms like 'husband and wife' or 'bride and groom' with partner, life partner, soul mate, companion in marriage, etc."

Take Your Time With Planning

This goes for everyone—whether you're planning an LGBTQ+ wedding or not. Don't wait until the last minute to start crafting your wedding ceremony. Crafting your wedding ceremony is an important part of the wedding planning process that shouldn't be overlooked or completed at the eleventh hour. You should plan to finalize your wedding ceremony four months ahead of your wedding day, which means that you need to begin writing it even earlier than that.

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Inclusive Wedding Welcome Ideas

"For the opening part of the ceremony, I like to remind couples that this is what sets the tone of the ceremony," says Papillion-Herr. "Is this going to be a religious ceremony opened with prayer, a bit traditional and formal, or light-hearted and playful - the welcome should direct that energy. When writing weddings I use the opening as the introduction but also as a chance to remind the guests why we are all here and allow the couple to connect with the moment."

Making sure the processional feels like it celebrates and honors both to-be-weds equally is a great way to creative an inclusive enviroment on the big day. Papillion-Herr suggests couples "allow the full wedding party to enter first and have the guests stand for the entrance of both people in the couple." She adds that officiants can "ask the couple if either of them has a 'better side' preference rather than defaulting to the traditional man on the left and 'bride on the right,'" layout from the officiant's point-of-view for traditional Christian ceremonies, or even the reverse for traditional Jewish ceremonies. Make the layout whatever works best for you.

Northcott adds that "your professional wedding officiant should welcome all your guests warmly on your behalf. They can acknowledge the positive influence the guests have had in your lives; talk about the importance of family–whether blood or chosen; remark on the fact that just by traveling to be at the ceremony is a testament to their love for the couple; and find ways to make everyone there feel included. Wedding guests are not there by chance, they've been invited there to be active witnesses to this marriage."

Inclusive Ceremony Readings

In addition to vows, readings are a fun way to add meaning, structure and personalization to a wedding ceremony. They can also be a fun spot to include friends and family members in the proceedings. However, some reading traditionally included in wedding ceremonies may feel outdated or disconnected from the feeling you want to be reflected in your nuptials. "Readings can be so exciting but also come with a level of frustration," admits Papillion-Herr. "When looking for readings you should focus on poems and excerpts about love. I have found that when you specifically look up 'poems about marriage' they are heavily gender-centered. Focusing on 'love' tends to take that aspect away. A very powerful LGBTQ+ specific reading can be an excerpt from the 2015 Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. I have written it into quite a few ceremonies for my couples. An LGBTQ+ couple could also consider reading the Equality Act."

For couples who want to include an excerpt from the Supreme Court's summary opinion in the landmark 2015 case Obergefell vs. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644 that affirmed same-sex marriages and the rights of same-sex couples and LGBTQ+ couples to marry, the below is a great quote to include:

"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."

Additionally, Northcott shares that couples could even consider including a quote from the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling in 2003 which passed marriage equality in the state of Massachusetts before it was nationally recognized:

"Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life's momentous acts of self-definition."

Inclusive Unity Ceremony Ideas

Some couples choose to include unity ceremony wedding ideas in their program, like a handfasting or communion ritual. However, especially if you're hosting a non-religious wedding, Papillion-Herr notes that "in general, unity ceremonies are not necessary. But they can be an amazing addition that brings engagement and intimacy into the ceremony. When weighing whether to have one or not to have one, I tell couples to look at a few rituals and decide if they genuinely connect to any of them. They should think about how they will feel at the altar while navigating the experience with guests present. Often the decision can lean on the couple's cultural backgrounds. If they want to bring in their heritage or family traditions, a meaningful unity ritual is a great way to share that culture with one another and with your guests."

Northcott shares that one reason she loves to include unity ceremonies in the weddings she plans is that she finds "the symbolism in them to be deeply meaningful. So much more is going on during this time in the ceremony than simply the act of the unity element. Think about these reasons when deciding on whether or not to include one:

  • It's a nice moment of reflection during the ceremony.

  • It allows the couple to move around a bit and in some cases hug and/or stand side-by-side.

  • It helps keep the guests engaged in the ceremony.

  • It allows the couple to involve friends or family members in the proceedings.

  • It can feel like an out-breath or exhale, especially if everyone is singing in unison.

  • It's another way to personalize the ceremony and make it reflect the couple.

  • It can feel festive and is a joyful way to bring a ceremony to a close.

"My advice would be to find one (or have your professional officiant write a custom one) that truly resonates with you as a couple," says Northcott. "For example, I had a couple who loved whiskey and did a whiskey pouring and cheers right after their ring exchange!"

Inclusive Wedding Vows

One of the simplest ways to ensure your wedding vows are inclusive is to write your wedding vows yourself so that they say exactly what you want them to. Instead of using a template for your own vows, put pen to paper to express why you're so excited to marry your best friend. Papillion-Herr shares that personalizing your exchange of vows is "always a special element in the ceremony because they are written from the heart. Vows are usually the space that is most affirming and connected with the couple because they wrote the vows themselves. For couples that are not writing custom vows, they can keep if inclusive by leaving off gender-identifying terms like husband, wife, bride, or groom. Instead, they can use terms like partner, life partner, soul mate, companion in marriage, etc. "

Inclusive Ideas for the Exchange of Rings

In the same way that you can choose to change who stands on which side of the altar, the ring exchange order can also be mixed up however you see fit. You and your partner could even choose to put each other's rings on at the same time as a symbol of your equal partnership.

Inclusive Ideas for the Declaration of Marriage

After the exchange of vows and the exchange of wedding rings, the kiss and pronouncement of your marriage will conclude the marriage ceremony. When the officiant prompts you and your partner to kiss for the first time as a married couple, "instead of 'you may now kiss your bride' use 'seal your vows with a kiss' or any other directive language," says Papillion-Herr. Additionally, she advises "pronouncing the couple married using their names, their last name/s with Family afterward, or even saying 'newly married couple; and using no names at all." Being inclusive with the pronouncement of marriage and the recessional is a great way to start off your union on an equality-focused and celebratory note.

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