Planning a wedding can be a potential minefield for any couple, juggling expectations, etiquette, and traditions, the potential for drama among your family or wedding party, and that’s before you get to the guest list or the budget.
But when you’re planning a wedding and happen to be an LGBTQ+ couple too, your big day has the potential to throw up different kinds of questions and planning issues.
Thankfully in the US, UK and much of Europe, same sex marriage is finally legal, transgender rights are improving in many places (and hopefully more will follow suit soon), and societally, LGBTQ+ couples are more accepted than ever before.
But that doesn’t exclude the fact that same sex weddings are a relatively new reality, for many couples, vendors and guests alike, it might be the first time they’ve worked on or attended a LGBTQ+ wedding.
The traditional running order and roles in a straight cisgender wedding are so ingrained in all of us, that there are undoubtably some questions LGBTQ+ couples have about how to put together a day that is not just a reflection of your relationship, but still has all the romance and sense of occasion your wedding deserves.
And as allies, it’s important for guests and vendors to know the potential issues too and make a couple’s wedding day and planning process as smooth, stress-free and fun as possible.
So to help, we’ve brought in a professional. Kirsten Ott Palladino is the co-founder and editor of wedding blog and invaluable planning and inspiration resource, Equally Wed and she’s just released a book, ‘Equally Wed: The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your LGBTQ+ Wedding‘. The clue is in the title, this book really does cover everything, from using inclusive vocabulary and finding the perfect outfits, to dealing with homophobic or transphobic relatives.
Kirsten kindly agreed to answer our LGBTQ+ FAQs, so whether you’re a guest at a wedding, or planning a big day of your own, read on for her invaluable advice…
(Oh and if you have a question that we didn’t put to Kirsten, please do send it our way, and we’ll try our best to get you an answer!)
In what ways, if any, does planning an LGBTQ+ wedding differ to planning a straight one?
Planning an LGBTQ+ wedding is a different experience because of several factors, including:
1. he marriers have to come out over and over when they speak with each vendor and venue. It’s not assumed that they are LGBTQ+. Heteronormativity rules the wedding industry, so the assumption is that the marriers are cisgender (your gender identity matches the sex assignment you were given at birth) and heterosexual.
2. LGBTQ+ couples have to face transphobia and homophobia in the wedding industry. We have to worry when we call up a vendor or a venue for our weddings who might not be supportive of marriage equality.
3. Not all of us follow all the traditions and expectations of straight weddings. There isn’t usually someone filling the “groom” role and someone filling the “bride” role. The exception might be a wedding with one marrier who is transgender, queer or bisexual.
What challenges typically arise with a same sex wedding that don’t with a straight wedding?
For same-sex weddings (which aren’t the same as LGBTQ+ because the term “same-sex” doesn’t include transgender people or nonbinary people), the challenges are mainly in the assumptions from other people.
The assumption that only one person can wear a dress, the assumption that cisgender women will want to wear a woman’s suit if they’re wearing a suit, the assumption that family won’t be supportive, the assumption that there will be rainbow flags everywhere, the assumption that we have lower budgets, the assumption that we are OK with overlooking heteronormative language on contracts and websites of wedding vendors.
I could go on and on.
What should a couple do if they have a negative encounter with a vendor based on the fact that they are LGBTQ+?
First, email me! I’m keeping a running unpublished black list of those people. I’m only somewhat joking, but I do want to know about it.
Seriously though, consider what you can do about the encounter and what you want to happen afterward.
If you’ve paid them money, do you want money back? You can tell them about the discrimination you’ve encountered and let them know you want to take your business elsewhere. If there are deposits to be retrieved, review your contract carefully so you know your rights.
Do you want others to be warned about possible discrimination with this vendor? Write reviews of the business wherever you can. But be specific about the actions and be ready to back them up. Was the venue manager just unprofessional? Or was a homophobic remark made by the bartender?
And finally, if you’re comfortable, offer that vendor a chance to redeem themselves. Email them a kind note about what happened and what you had hoped for and what they could do differently in the future.
Be generous, not judgmental. Change your anger into compassion, and assume that this person and their team needs education, not a tongue lashing.
If you come from a place of positive change, it’s more likely to resonate with them and create a positive ripple effect in their business.
Should couples not invite friends and family who haven’t been supportive, at the risk of damaging the relationship further?
Couples should invite the people they want at their wedding because people change. Phobias change. Hearts and minds change.
Be prepared that the invitation may go unanswered but also be prepared for the invitee to show up to your wedding and be the merriest guest of all. I’ve seen it happen all the time.
But if someone has been cruel to you because of your sexual orientation or gender identity and you do not want them at your wedding, don’t invite them. You are under no obligation to do so, no matter what your friends and family say—even the ones who might be financially contributing to your wedding.
This is a day of celebration, of love, of joy. You deserve a safe and accepting space in which to get married.
How can couples include their respective faiths or cultural traditions in their ceremony, (if they want to) if their church or culture doesn’t allow for same sex marriage?
You can weave religious elements into your ceremony even if you’re not marrying in a church or synagogue.
Granted, it might not have the same effect or hold the same weight in terms of recognition from your religious institution. But it’s your wedding, and you get to do what you want.
Find an officiant who supports your beliefs and will help you incorporate them into your ceremony.
How should LGBTQ+ couples decide on the traditionally gender-based customs, like who walks up the aisle, who takes the other’s name, and who proposes to whom etc?
Do what honors you as individuals and as a couple. There are numerous ways in which someone can approach the altar or chuppah—and it doesn’t have to be associated with gender identity or sexual orientation. You can walk up together, one after the other, on two separate aisles, one up the aisle and the other coming in from the side with the officiant, lowered down by ropes…
LGBTQ+ couples’ name changes and proposals are also completely individual choices and there’s no right or wrong way to do it.
For every 100 couples I meet, half proposed to each other on different days and the other half had only one propose to the other. Same with name changes: either taking your partner’s name, creating a new last name altogether or hyphenating.
It’s what makes the most sense in your relationship.
Have you tips for same sex couples on dressing in a way that ties in together, while still rocking their personal style, and not looking too matchy?
Go for complementing colors and fabrics.
If you don’t want your partner to see what you’re wearing ahead of time, have the same friend or stylist be present for both your shopping excursions.
Are destination weddings more difficult for LGBTQ+ couples – where are the easiest places to get married?
Destination weddings are most difficult for LGBTQ+ couples in places where homosexuality is expressly forbidden, such as St. Lucia, Jamaica and Barbados. You can be arrested just for holding your partner’s hand or kissing them at a restaurant.
However, in places like Mexico, Aruba and St. Martin/Saint Maarten, where there are laws supporting marriage equality on the books, you’ll have an easier time. You can find equality-minded wedding vendors and venues on Equally Wed.
But for all destination weddings, keep in mind that the tourists milling about are not always friendly.
Have you tips for transgender brides on having the most enjoyable shopping experience possible?
Yes! Be yourself, first and foremost. The more confident you are, the more contagious that is. But it can be scary as hell, and I get that.
When you’re excited about something, you’re also at your most vulnerable. Find trans-positive vendors through Equally Wed and your own network of friends.
Call up bridal salons and ask them if they are open to working with trans women and if they carry larger sample sizes. Keep in mind that your gown will likely need to be custom as many trans women have larger chest circumference.
Should same sex couples have a joint bachelor or bachelorette party, or should they still have their own?
Whatever floats your boat! There are no rules on this. I’m a big fan of having separate bach parties on the same night and then both groups meeting up late in the night for some shared fun, like karaoke.
If the couple share friends, should they share a bridal party?
I like to use the term wedding party, as it’s gender-neutral.
Traditionally, where an attendant stands during a wedding is supposed to signify that they’re supporting that person on their wedding day and in their relationship. So if you can separate your attendants to a side by weight of friendship, you can.
But you can also divide attendants based on how many you want on each side, who will be wearing what, or any other criteria that makes sense for your wedding.
What are you tips for finding inclusive inspiration, resources and vendors?
This is an easy one! Visit Equally Wed for our real weddings of LGBTQ+ couples, recommendations of equality-minded wedding vendors and venues, and so much inspiration all dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community.
We’ve been publishing content for seven years, all dedicated to informing and inspiring LGBTQ+ nearlyweds worldwide.