Even if you’ve officiated five hundred wedding ceremonies, the very first time a same-sex couple asks you to officiate their wedding ceremony, it can feel like your first time all over again.
I hear it from experienced officiants all the time: “What’s different about a same-sex couple’s wedding ceremony? What do I need to know? I’m so worried I’ll mess this up or inadvertently offend my couple. Help!”
The good news is, no one will be more understanding than your same-sex couple. Chances are, they’ve been dealing with a cultural opposite-sex bias their whole lives. That makes them very patient and willing to guide you. They will be forgiving if you’re not entirely sure how to say certain things or you’re worried about your opposite-sex wedding habits surfacing accidentally.
After all, it’s possible that every single wedding you’ve attended, officiated, and seen on TV has been a traditional opposite-sex wedding ceremony. Same-sex marriage became legal in Canada only in 2005 and in the USA only in 2015. It’s still relatively new. No one gets that more than your couple.
That said, with a little prep, we officiants can be the wedding ceremony guide our same-sex couple needs.
There are a few ways a wedding ceremony for a same-sex couple will look different than a traditional wedding ceremony for an opposite-sex couple. These are the 5 questions you need to ask your same-sex couple about their wedding ceremony.
1. Will One Of You Be Taking a Traditional Role of Bride and the Other Of Groom?
Culturally speaking, wedding ceremonies evolve very slowly. In every culture through history, weddings have been conducted in a very similar way for decades or even centuries.
There are two great things about this.
First, it means that weddings do evolve, and breaking with convention makes a statement.
But second, and more importantly for our planning purposes, wedding ceremony tradition gives us a place to start.
When I sit down with any of my couples – same-sex or opposite – and start planning their wedding ceremony with them, I start with the traditional wedding 10-part ceremony outline. They might ultimately want to break that tradition in a whole bunch of ways! But the 10-part traditional wedding ceremony outline is our jumping off point. It’s our conversation piece.
Then we talk about whether we keep tradition, bend it, or break it altogether.
It’s no different with our same-sex couple. BUT: in addition to all the traditional decisions a couple has to make about their wedding ceremony, a same-sex couple has one extra decision to make first – a decision that opposite-sex couples don’t typically even consider.
Before you get into the ceremony elements, this is the first question you need to ask your same-sex couple: “Will one of your be taking the traditional role of the bride and the other of the groom?”
If they need more context for your question, here’s what you mean. In a same-sex wedding, it’s possible that only one marryer (bride or groom) is walking down the aisle in the processional. This is the traditional role of “bride.”
The other marryer would be waiting for them at the front. This is the traditional role of “groom”.
If your same-sex couple’s answer is yes – each one of the them will be taking the traditional role – it means one of them will be walking down the aisle and the other will be waiting at the front.
I’ve officiated for two women where one decided to start the ceremony at the front and the other walked in the processional to music. I’ve officiated for two men where one decided to start at the front and the other walked in the processional to music. Their gender or sex don’t matter here. Will they take traditional wedding roles with a twist?
If your same-sex couple’s answer is no – that each one of the them will not be taking the traditional role – this typically means both marryers will enter as part of the processional.
If both wish to enter as part of the processional, now we have a 3 new options.
One option is for one marryer to enter at the start of the processional before the wedding parties, and the other marryer at the end of the processional after the wedding parties.
If there’s a wedding party (kids, animals, wedding attendants, etc.) coming down the aisle, then we can separate our couples entries.
Here’s what that looks like:
After you make your wedding officiant opening remarks, you cue the processional music to begin. One marryer walks down the aisle and joins you at the front. Then everyone in the wedding party enters and takes their seats or places at the front. Then the second marryer makes their entry, walks down the aisle, and joins their partner at the front.
Another option is for both marryers to enter after their wedding parties one after the other.
In this option, you make those opening remarks and cue the music. Then everyone in the wedding party enters and takes their seats or places at the front.
Then the first marryer makes their entrance and walks down the aisle. When they arrive, the second marryer makes their entrance and walks down the aisle and joins the other.
The third option is for both marryers to enter after their wedding parties at the same time.
This final option looks similar to the one above, but instead of each marryer having their moment in the spotlight, they share it. The might walk down the aisle either together, or they might each take a side aisle and meet in the middle at the front.
Now that we’ve figured out how they’d like to get to the front, now we need to talk about what they do when they get there.
2. Do You Have a Preference Of Which Side To Stand On?
In a traditional wedding ceremony, the bride stands stage-facing left, and the groom stage-facing right. (Or for the officiant, it’s the opposite: groom on your left, bride on your right.)
This is another one of those instances where tradition is the default. When I officiate for an opposite-sex couple, I don’t usually bother them with choosing this detail.
That said, sometimes a bride or groom will mention that when then stand facing their fiancé, their “bad side” is facing the guests and they’d rather switch. And so we do. Because we’re not a slave to any wedding ceremony tradition.
But for a same-sex couple, it’s best to ask which side each prefers to stand on. Their decision as to who stands on which side might be arbitrary and based on nothing in particular. But it would be for the officiant, too. Who are you to say that Jessica should stand on one side and Grace stand on the other? Without the traditional bride/groom standard, there’s no criteria to worry about.
If who-stands-where is not based on sex and the traditional default, then often your same-sex couple won’t care or they’ll decide by whether their “good side” is facing the guests. Let your same-sex couple make the call. It’ll take 10 seconds extra, but they’ll know it’s something you put in their control.
3. Would One Of You Prefer To Go First For The Elements?
In a traditional wedding ceremony, the groom “goes first” in the ceremony elements. ’Time for the couple to say their vows? The groom goes first. ’Time for the couple to exchange rings? The groom goes first.
As with who-stands-where, we don’t have this default when it comes to our same-sex couple. So it’s best to ask: “Who wants to go first?” It’s usually a moment of them pointing at each other and laughing, but they also might have a strong preference that one of the them take the lead.
And as you’re getting by now: we can really change things up and one marryer can go first for some elements and the other marryer go first for other elements.
4. Are You Comfortable With The Terms “Husband” or “Wife”?
This is a question I ask even my opposite-sex couples. Some couples don’t even give it a second thought and say, “Of course we’re comfortable with ‘husband’ and ‘wife!’” Others really dislike those traditional titles and never want to be referred to as a “husband” or a “wife,” even post-married.
This is yet another example of why it’s so important to meet with every couple to plan with them – and send them their script so they sign off on all the language. You never know any couple’s preferences or major objections until you talk it all through.
There are really just 2 key moments in the ceremony when the wedding officiant might use the titles “husband” and “wife.”
The first is the Pronouncement. After the vows, ring exchange, and any other elements in the ceremony, the officiant says, “I pronounce you husband and wife!”
The second is at the Presentation: the very end of the ceremony where the couple face the aisle and the officiant says, “I present to you for the very first time….”
Traditionally, it would be “Mr. And Mrs. [His Last Name],” but that’s been changing. Many opposite-sex couples prefer first names only: “Adam and Tracy as husband and wife!” for example.
Just as with opposite-sex couples, our same-sex couple may really cringe at one or both being called “husband” or “wife.” Or they may love being pronounced or presented with those titles, “wife and wife!” or “husband and husband!”
If they don’t like the titles, then the same-sex couple’s officiant will typically just say something like, “Jordan and James, I pronounce you married!” for the pronouncement or “I present to you Jordan and James as officially married!” for the presentation.
5. How Can I Phrase Your Prompt To Kiss?
Traditionally, after the officiant pronounces the couple married, they will say, “You may kiss your bride!”
This is one of those elements where I do present the traditional option to all of my opposite-sex couples. I tell them, “Traditionally, the officiant says, ‘You may kiss your bride!’”
Then I give them four options.
First, I ask them, “Do you want me to say the traditional line?” Most couple say it’s cute and want me to go with that option.
But I also ask them, “Do you want me instead to say, ‘You may kiss your groom’ for a fun twist?” Some couples love that idea. Others say, “Nah, let’s do the traditional and stick with ‘bride.’”
A third option is where the officiant just says, “You may kiss!” or “You may share your first married kiss!” without the titles.
The fourth option is to just pronounce them, get out of the way, and say nothing about kissing. They just have at it.
If your couple are same-sex, then obviously those last two options apply to all couples and would be the same for them, too.
But those first two options need a tweak.
So, if your same-sex couple are two brides, of course it might be fun to say, “You may kiss your bride!” because it will apply to both marryers. Or with two grooms, “You may kiss your groom!” is a really fun twist on the tradition and it applies to both men. Or they may opt for simply, “You may kiss!” Or, no mention… and they just kiss when you step away.
So there you have it: most elements of a wedding for a same-sex couple are the same as the traditional wedding for an opposite-sex couple. You’ll give your openings remarks, guide them through vow and ring exchanges, and end with a grand finale just the same.
But the five places above are a bit different, and they are five wedding ceremony moments worth asking your same-sex couple about. No need to be intimidated.
As my friend, wedding officiant colleague, and member of the Unboring!Wedding Academy community Liz Leon recently told me during our live members-only office hours, “I’m married to a woman. Just ask us!” Liz said it best. Don’t be shy. Don’t be scared. Ask your same-sex couple what they want and they’ll be a huge help as you help them. With these 5 questions, it’s that simple.