So, you're going to a gay wedding …and possibly wondering who walks down the aisle? Does one of the couple have to play the groom (or bride)? How many hen/stag dos are there? Lotte Jeffs, who married her girlfriend, Jenny, in October 2016, reveals her take on it all.
Between 2014, when gay marriage became legal here, and October 2015, there were 150,000 gay marriages in the UK. Chances are you've been to one or will soon score an invite, or you're in the middle of planning one yourself. In so many ways, same-sex weddings are no different from straight ones but, with a lack of any historic precedent of their own, they are often an opportunity to have fun with tradition and do things a bit differently. Of course, every wedding, gay and straight, is unique to each couple, but there are some conundrums specific to a same-sex wedding that, in my experience, you - not to mention your friends and family - might have questions about. So here are my answers to those questions you're maybe too shy to ask…
Who wears the engagement ring?
When I proposed to Jenny I didn't have a ring, as it was quite spontaneous. We thought about buying matching ones, but in the end decided not to, as we only had four months before the day. My friend Laura had splashed out majorly on the ring she used to propose to her wife, Alice, but once Alice said 'yes', they went shopping for a (albeit less expensive) ring for Laura. 'We had both dreamed of that diamond on our finger, so it made sense,' she said. None of my married gay male friends had rings. 'The tradition felt a bit feminine for us,' said my friend John. 'I bought Clive a watch, and I never did get the present he promised in return!'
Is it exactly the same as straight marriage? Are civil partnerships still a thing?
Civil partnerships are still an option for gay couples who don't want a traditional marriage. The fact that they aren't available for straight couples is a bone of contention for some. In July 2016, the United Reformed Church voted to allow its churches to perform same-sex marriages, but not all churches do. Legally, a married same-sex couple has the same rights as a married opposite-sex couple.
In lesbian weddings, does one partner tend to play the groom?
This is a big misconception. Even if one woman wears a dress and the other a trouser suit, it doesn't mean their dynamic is mirroring a man and a woman's - it's just an expression of their style. Jenny and I made a speech together, and we both felt like the bride, even though we coordinated our outfits just enough to not look like bridesmaids. She wore a white lace dress and I chose a white jumpsuit. Having two brides just added to the magic.
Is the script for the ceremony different?
Nope. You're offered exactly the same choice of orders of service at a register office. There is certain legal phrasing that can't be changed but, beyond that, you can customise it. We thought, 'I now pronounce you wife and wife' was clunky, so went for, 'I now pronounce you married'. Actually, this has been the norm at all the gay weddings I've been to, though I'm sure some people do like to be declared husband and husband.
Who walks whom down the aisle?
At my friends Fred and Alan's wedding, their mothers did it. Fred told me, 'Four blokes in suits would have been boring in pictures. It was nice to give our mums their time to shine.' Jenny and I walked down the aisle together - we made sure our parents felt involved in other ways, but the idea of being 'given away' wasn't for us.
What do you do about stag and hen nights?
Most gay couples I know have a combined one. My best friend organised a hilarious, blokey stag for Jen and I, with dog racing, golf and even a Millwall game! It was a joke, given how un-laddish we are, but we loved it. I got the best of both worlds, though: my colleagues gave me a hen lunch where they swapped all the penis paraphernalia for female equivalents!
Whose parents do I send a thank-you to?
If you know that one family financed the wedding, write to them. Otherwise, send a note to the couple themselves, but make sure to congratulate both sets of parents on the day. It's likely they abandoned the fantasy of their child's wedding the moment they came out, so it's an extra-special day for them. It's nice to acknowledge this.
How 'gay' will it be?
You know your friends better than I do. But the gay weddings I've been to have followed tradition to some extent - it's not a 'pretend' wedding. There might not be rainbow flags (it's not a Pride parade, after all), but be prepared for some kind of acknowledgement that there has been a political struggle for this moment to be possible. In my speech, I asked people to raise a glass to the gay couples around the world, particularly in places such as Chechnya, who face horrific treatment because of their sexuality. I referenced the gay rights slogan, 'love is love'. It's a simple concept that all our guests could agree about.
AND WHAT NOT TO SAY...
Congratulations on your gay wedding. An old colleague of mine posted this on my Facebook page. He meant well, but I'd rather it was seen as a 'wedding' like any other. Drawing attention to the sexuality of the people tying the knot feels unnecessary.
Here's to unconventional relationships. My mother-in-law said this as a toast and, again, though she meant well, I feel like my relationship is very conventional: we're getting married, starting a family - it's just that we're two women doing it. That might seem unusual to some people, but not to us.
Such a shame he never met the right woman. A friend overheard an older relative say this at the wedding of two male friends. If you must think such things, do so in your head - not out loud.