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Have some ‘Manners’

By |2012-04-26T09:00:00-04:00April 26th, 2012|Uncategorized|

Changing times means more union celebrations for LGBT couples, who are recognizing their love in the form of commitment ceremonies, domestic partnerships and weddings. With that comes special wedding etiquette that straight people don’t have to worry about.
“These celebrations are about commitment and love whether gay or straight, but the details are different,” says Steven Petrow, author of “The Essential Book of Gay Manners and Etiquette.” He adds that LGBT couples oftentimes struggle to figure out their roles: which person should propose or pay for a ring and whether or not there should be a new last name. Plus, there are homophobic family members to deal with, the wording of vows, and deciding how to celebrate bachelor and bachelorette parties.
LGBT couples may also have the dreaded and unromantic discussion about prenuptial agreements, for which there is etiquette. First, don’t pull out a prewritten agreement the first time the subject is brought up. Fully disclose all your assets. Explain that this kind of agreement is not about a lack of trust, but a business agreement about being able to put financial issues behind you. Don’t coerce your partner. Be reasonable and be prepared to make concessions.
“Couples can do whatever works for them, but many don’t want to misstep. They choose to stay within the boundaries, but adapt to who they are and to the community,” he says.
There’s no established etiquette of who contributes to a same-sex wedding, but there is nothing to lose by asking your parents for help. “Be prepared for a variety of responses and, ultimately, plan to make a greater contribution to yourselves or downscale your plans to fit your budget. At this point, your parents become guests at the wedding instead of hosts and there are certainly advantages to that,” he says.
To avoid any uncertainty when purchasing engagement rings, ask friends to recommend an LGBT-friendly jeweler, consult one of the many LGBT-friendly wedding sites, or call a shop in advance and ask if they can provide advice for a same-sex couple seeking wedding bands. “You’ll be able to tell a lot by the way they answer your questions,” says Petrow.
For those who say that same-sex weddings obliterate tradition, Petrow said that many of us are pulling in different traditions from our background. “LGBT couples are shaking and stirring a variety of traditions – ethnic, racial or family traditions – to create something new. Many LGBT weddings have a political tone to them these days and couples are asking for donations toward organizations like Freedom to Marry,” he says.
This is typically true of an older couple that has been together for a while. The younger couples, according to Petrow, are much more traditional and seem to have ceremonies and receptions that mirror heterosexual ones. “They register for gifts and for honeymoons. Younger couples are more conventional in their choices. Couples who have been together longer are doing something more offbeat, edgy and more political. I definitely see younger couples doing more name changes,” he says. There are four basic options: keep your surname, use both your names, take your partner’s name or choose a brand new name.
The digital generation is pulling together a lot of information via the “wedsite,” a wedding site which communicates information about the ceremony, reception and gift registry. It’s also an excellent means to share photos, provide maps and directions, and make it easy for guests to RSVP. “It’s really convenient and completely appropriate for that generation. There is certainly no faux pas in having a wedsite, but be considerate of your guests who may not have access to a computer or are not web savvy. Rely on tradition in this case as there is something sentimental about an invitation, which can be kept forever,” says Petrow.
What about straight friends and family members who are invited but have a lot of apprehension or don’t know what to expect? “Parents and other family members of the brides and grooms may find that their role in an LGBT wedding is much less than what they’ve experienced at a straight union,” Petrow says. “This is in large part because, on average, gay couples marry or partner later, usually after having lived together for many years, often paying for the ceremony themselves and involving close friends in many of the roles usually assigned to family members. In some instances, parents or siblings who harbor some residual discomfort with the idea of gay unions may choose to take a less public role in both the ceremony and reception, or may not be invited to participate.”
In dealing with the in-laws, Petrow suggests chatting with your “sons” or “daughters” to get their thinking on the matter, especially if the other family has any issues about the impending marriage. “If given the OK, then go ahead and call, write or email your in-laws-to-be. If they live nearby, invite them over. Otherwise, just use the opportunity to open the door and say how happy you are about the news. If there’s any resistance on their end, let’s hope your enthusiasm rubs off,” he says.
“Overall, whether or not the state sanctions your wedding ceremony or your friends and family support the decision, it’s yours. It’s a public affirmation of the love between two people in front of their community. That’s what weddings are about,” he adds. “Despite what some conservative and religious folks say, marriage is not about producing children only. Weddings have the meaning we give them and that our friends and family give them.”

About the Author:

Kate Opalewski
Kate Opalewski is BTL's features editor and has been since 2015. She has covered a variety of topics ranging from art, politics and community outreach. Recently, she was honored by the Detroit Police Department LGBT Advisory Board for her work for the local LGBTQIA community.