Same-Sex Weddings Basics
Who Should Marry Us?
There are lots of options for officiants -- the trick will be finding the right one for you. You can ask a judge or justice of the peace to sanction your union, or you can contact an Ethical Humanist officiant (to find a local society, check the American Ethical Union). You can also ask a dear friend or relative can do you the honor. If you'd like to have a religious ceremony, speak with a minister or rabbi from the congregation to which you or your partner belong. If no officiant comes to mind, contact a Unitarian Universalist, Universal Life, or Metropolitan Community church, all of which support same-sex unions. You can also look for an officiant from a religion that leaves the decision to individual clergy (Buddhist, some Protestant, Reform Jewish). Don't overlook the Internet as a research tool for finding local officiants. Many local officiants (start with our listings here) invite same-sex and opposite-sex couples to contact them about creating a personalized ceremony.
How Does the Ceremony Work?
Your ceremony itself is a binding ritual so make it truly personal. Start with the basic outline of a traditional wedding as a starting point, and personalize it from there. The basic components include:
- The Greeting/Call to Attention: Your officiant tells guests they're here to support the commitment and love between the two of you, and may say a few words about you and your relationship.
- Declaration of Intent/Vows: Writing your own vows is a great way to celebrate your commitment to each other -- and its uniqueness. You can draw what you like from traditional religious or secular vows; adapt wordings from poems, songs, and prose; or start from scratch and express your feelings in your own words. Need help? Check out The Knot Complete Guide to Vows.
- Ring Exchange: Perhaps you've already given each other rings, and maybe now you'll add bands to go with them or re-enact the ring exchange with a few special words. You may choose not to wear your rings on your left hands, which might suggest that you're married the "traditional" way. Many gay and lesbian couples wear commitment rings on their right hands. You may also choose a nontraditional design and wear it on the traditional finger.
- Readings/Joining Rituals: You don't necessarily have to address gay issues in your readings; you could read about love, friendship, companionship, trust, growth, or whatever tickles your fancy. Joining rituals like a Unity candle (the two of you light a mutual candle with flames from two individual candles) or Native American sand blending are perfect ways to symbolize your union.
- Pronouncement of Marriage and the Kiss: This part speaks for itself!
If you choose a religious officiant or another person affiliated with a group (such as an Ethical Humanist), he or she may give you "sample" ceremony wording from which to work. The more secular the officiant, the more creative license you will likely have over what is said, read, sung, or played during the ceremony.
What Do We Wear?
Just like any bride or groom, whatever you like! Some lesbian couples walk down the aisle in traditional wedding gowns and veils, complete with bridal bouquets, and some choose "tuxedas" (tuxedos designed for women). Men might choose traditional formalwear or nice suits purchased especially for the occasion. You can wear identical ensembles or choose separate outfits that complement your individual styles. The bottom line: Whatever style you choose, make it your own.
Can We Have a Wedding Party?
If you want your closest friends at your side during the ceremony, by all means, ask them! Traditionally, the maid of honor and best man are "witnesses" -- they sign the legal marriage document, along with you two and your officiant. And remember that the terms "bridesmaids" and "groomsmen" are totally optional.
What About the Reception?
Some couples plan a relatively traditional reception with dinner, dancing, and the works. Others choose a beach barbecue or a fabulous meal at their favorite restaurant. You could have a cocktail party in your apartment, a picnic in your backyard, or champagne and cake on your roof. Or consider an art gallery or club. You can work with caterers, florists, and DJs, or you can ask friends to help with details. The only limits are your imagination and personal taste.
Gift Registry? Where?
Like every newlywed couple, you deserve gifts. Like we tell everyone, The Knot Registry is the best and easiest place to register.
If you're thinking about a store registry (a department store or a national chain like Crate & Barrel or Williams-Sonoma), go for it, but prepare to deal with a registry consultant who's potentially unclear on the concept of same-sex registering. Even once you get past the comprehension stage, say couples we've talked to, there may be another dilemma: Some computer systems only have one place for the bride's name and one place for the groom's. Until these programs become more flexible, one of you may have to do a little role-playing. Tell guests to check under both bride and groom for each of your names.
You could also choose a nontraditional registry (at a sporting-goods or CD store, for example) or work with a manager to create a registry from scratch at your favorite housewares store, wine store, or book store.
Every newly married couple should run away for a little R&R. If you decide to celebrate your commitment privately or with a few close relatives or friends, you might even consider a destination wedding. Hawaii is a wonderful place to exchange vows -- the islands are very open to commitment ceremonies. You'll find tons of packages to choose among, and you could do worse for a backdrop than a beautiful, palm tree-lined beach! Check out The Big Island of Hawaii for details.
- The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Weddings, by Tess Ayers and Paul Brown (Alyson Publications, $17.95; check out our excerpts)
- "Recognizing Ourselves: Ceremonies of Lesbian and Gay Commitment," by Ellen Lewin (Columbia University Press, 1998)
- "Together Forever: Gay and Lesbian Marriage," by Eric Marcus (Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1998)
- The Wedding by Douglas Wythe, Andrew Merling, Roslyn Merling, and Sheldon Merling (William Morrow, 2000)
- "A Legal Guide for Lesbian and Gay Couples," Hayden Curry, editor (Nolo Press, 1999)
- Partners Task Force for Gay & Lesbian Couples
- Pridenet (officiant and vow resources and legalization info)
- Rainbow Unions (an online magazine)
- Marriage Equality
- The ACLU's Statewide Anti-Gay Marriage Laws page (see where your state stands)
- Same Sex Marriage in Hawaii