Ah, summertime. Sun, warm weather, holidays, and, of course, weddings.
Men and women declaring their love for one another in front of their friends and relatives. How romantic.
And now, with the Defense of Marriage Act having been struck down as unconstitutional in the US, and with the UK heading towards full civil marriage instead of just civil partnerships, same-sex couples are getting in on the marriage act too.
Which leaves some people puzzled. How, they wonder, are you supposed to behave at a gay wedding? What is the protocol? Are these weddings and the marriages that follow them equal to traditional opposite-sex events?
The obvious answer is: yes. They are equal. You treat a same-sex couple the same way you'd treat an opposite-sex one and while the weddings may differ in some details, the overall concept is the same. However, as recent news stories about brides gone bad, grooms gone greedy, and invitees gone impolite suggest, people seem unsure about what to do at a wedding, regardless of who's getting married.
Here are a few tips. Perhaps not surprisingly, they all revolve around the tricky, and not unconnected, issues of money and manners.
So, money first.
If you're getting married, don't have a bigger event than you can actually afford (or than your parents can afford, if you're lucky enough to have someone paying for you). And don't expect your guests to make contributions towards the cost of their meals/drinks. You've invited people, so you need to pay for the party. Don't expect that they'll give you cash that will make up whatever deficit you have.
If you've been invited to a wedding and it's a "destination event" and you don't have the money to go, don't attend. You're not required to go to someone's wedding, and you shouldn't have to go into debt to do so. If you do choose to go, don't whine about the cost later and don't expect someone else to foot the bill.
If you're getting married, don't assume everyone should give you presents. You're not getting married for the gifts, after all. Gifts are voluntary. And if you don't like the gifts you receive or if you think they're cheap, thank people politely anyway. Don't criticise the gifts you receive; be grateful that people actually took the time to think of you as you got married.
If you know someone's getting married, try to give a gift if you can afford it. If you can't afford it, give at least a card. Show that you are thinking of them, even if you're not able to splash out on a new KitchenAid for them. If you want to give a gift and money is really tight for you, consider whether you can contribute to the wedding or the couple in another way: can you bake something for the party, or make an item of clothing or some jewellery for someone to wear? Can you babysit/house-sit/pet-sit for the couple when they go away? Can you offer a massage? Can you make a pot or a painting for their house or can you invite them over for a meal? There are many ways of giving gifts, and they should all be appreciated by the couple. But do something; attending a wedding and not giving a card at the very least is a bit tacky.
In terms of manners, if you're getting married, thank people for coming. If people have taken time off work to attend or have come some distance to be there, make sure you thank them for those things as well. And, obviously, thank them for their cards/gifts both verbally and by sending a card as soon after the wedding as you can. You can and should be polite on your day, rather than suddenly deciding you're exempt from all basic etiquette.
As an attendee at the wedding, congratulate the happy couple; you'd be surprised how many people don't bother, either forgetting or assuming that their presence is enough. And circulate among the guests during the party; don't just hang out with your relatives or a few friends, because then everyone will be in little cliques, which can be dull or can make for a tense evening. It doesn't hurt to talk to new people - the obvious starting-point for a conversation is how you know the couple - and you may make interesting or useful connections.
If you're giving a speech at the event, consider your audience. Generally, lewd, sexual comments and sexist/racist/homophobic/etc. "jokes" are inappropriate. You may think you're being funny, but will the children, grandparents, minorities, and all other people of good taste at the wedding laugh? Celebrate the couple and their love, tell a gentle anecdote or two, but don't say things that would embarrass them or make the atmosphere awkward. If you're not sure, run your speech by a friend to get advice. Saying how someone was there for you when you needed him/her after you got fired is fine; talking about how drunk that person gets every weekend isn't. Commenting on a person's amazing DIY skills is great; joking about how many sexual partners that person has had isn't. Referring to someone's heritage or religion is fine if done respectfully and if you express how much that background/belief matters to him/her; mentioning stereotypes about that background/belief is not okay. You get the idea.
Whether you're speechifying or not, don't tell engaged or newly married couples how common divorce is. Don't offer statistics about how likely their own marriage is to end up in divorce. Don't go on about your own failed marriage/s. A wedding is a time to rejoice, rather than to bitterly reminisce.
Also, don't criticise the bride/groom/brides/grooms on their day. And brides/grooms, that goes for you too: don't criticise your guests. Remember the rule you learned as children: if you can't say something nice about someone, just be quiet. Don't critique people's outfits, hairstyles, make-up, behaviour, parenting skills, jobs, choice of wedding location or honeymoon destination, and so forth. It's not nice and you also don't know who might overhear you.
For same-sex weddings, remember that all of the above still applies. If you're not comfortable with gays getting married, turn down such invitations rather than go and behave badly by sulking in a corner or making off-colour remarks. A wedding isn't just a free meal; it's actually a time when you're supposed to have fun and be positive, so if you can't manage that, excuse yourself from the event.
In particular, and especially if you're not queer yourself, try not to ask lots of questions that the two grooms or two brides may get tired of answering or may find offensive. For example, "Which one of you will wear a dress?" "Is it legal to get married?" "Who is the 'man' and who is the 'woman'?" "Do gays go on honeymoons?" "Why do you have to ape heterosexuals?" "Why would you want to get married?" "Are you planning on having kids? Would you adopt or inseminate?" "How do you have sex?"
When the couple has returned from their honeymoon - yes, gays can and do go on honeymoons too! - don't make jokes about them getting pregnant on the wedding night. And don't ask if they received any negative comments from people at the hotel or elsewhere (as in, "Did anyone stare at you?" or "Did you feel comfortable kissing in public there?"). Again, keep your focus on the positive, and don't be too prurient with your questions or comments.
In short, this all seems really obvious. And yet, every single one of these situations are things that I or friends have experienced. It makes you wonder if people think before they speak/act. In many cases, it seems they don't.
Don't expect, assume, overspend, criticise, or say/ask inappropriate things.
Do be polite, grateful, gracious, and positive.
And do enjoy the festivities.
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