The rush to city hall is on, as thousands of gay and lesbian couples finalize plans to legally marry in the state of New York starting on Sunday. Whether you’re marrying, or a guest, at one of Central Park’s pop-up chapels, the Niagara Falls wed-in on Monday, or at any city hall in the sixth state to legalize same-sex nuptials, you’re looking at a lot of questions and very few established traditions.
And for some, not a lot of time. In a sign of pent-up demand, 823 couples in New York City alone applied for a lottery instituted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg as the “fairest way” to distribute licenses so everyone gets their turn without overwhelming city employees. Luckily, the city announced it could accommodate all of the couples. But that leaves only 48 hours to get to “I do!”
To help settle wedding nerves, here’s our etiquette guide to what you should expect at a gay wedding.
Uh oh, who pays for the rings?
If there’s one prevailing custom today, it’s that most lesbian and gay couples shop for their rings together and pay for them jointly. This scenario usually results from a conversation where one of you, after waiting years for New York to legalize same-sex weddings, says, “Hey, want to get married?” However, if you’re planning to surprise your sweetheart with an engagement ring, then you’ll be footing the bill.
As for where to wear them (if, in fact, you choose to have rings), nothing says “married” quite like a gold band on your left ring finger. But this is a straight wedding tradition that gay couples have been known to play around with, in this case by wearing our commitment rings on our right hands to symbolize (and protest) the fact that we couldn’t legally get married.
Not surprisingly, some long-term couples plan to move their rings from right to left when they officially tie the knot. Actor Neil Patrick Harris, who has been engaged to his partner for five years, once joked that his right hand had become calloused during the long wait. "It'd be nice to move the ring over here someday," he said, indicating his left hand. Evan Wolfson, author of Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People's Right to Marry and the founder and executive director of the organization Freedom to Marry, has also said he plans to move his band from right to left when he gets legally wed.
How do we announce our engagement?
First of all, yes, gay couples do get engaged, and how we make the news known depends on the date of your ceremony. If you’re among this first wave, you’ll have little choice but to take to social media -- post, share, or update your relationship status in seconds. You can even do what MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts did: he announced his engagement to his long-term partner via Twitter. For those with a little more time on your hands, first tell those who have been most supportive of your relationship (not always your family as is usually the case among straight folks). By the way, if you’re one of the many gay couples with kids, start at home.
When is it acceptable to use email for our wedding invitations?
Certainly this weekend, although Emily Post might roll over in her grave. In general, email is frowned upon for most wedding-related communications because it’s considered too casual a medium, even though younger, digital gays are embracing it for such celebrations and everything else. For now, consider these guidelines:
• Save-the-date notices: Email and even video announcements are fine.
• RSVPs: If you want to give your guests the option of replying by email, do so. Personal wedding sites can do this, too.
• Last-minute invitations: If you win the New York license lottery, there’s no better way to get folks to your event.
• Detailed logistics: Information about an entire weekend’s worth of events is often too bulky to fit in an envelope. These communications can be much more effective if emailed or posted online.
What do I call the members of my wedding party?
There’s a lot of gender-bending these days. At a gay or lesbian wedding, the roles of maid (or matron) of honor and best man often overlap and are best described as “generals-in-charge.” And with weddings taking place in unconventional settings, be ready for anything: two grooms with best “men” who are women or two brides with their teenagers standing up for them. If the ceremony is at all formal, couples are opting for the catch-all phrase “honor attendants” to refer to all of these helpers who should be available to you in advance and on the day itself to help with a laundry list of possible to-do’s, such as acting as ushers, carrying a fix-it kit with sewing accessories or makeup, standing up with you during the ceremony, and letting the butterflies fly free when you’re pronounced “wife and wife.”