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Equal Opportunity Wedding Etiquette

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The Vermont state legislature voted today to overturn Governor Jim Douglas' veto allowing gays and lesbians to marry, making Vermont the fourth state to allow same-sex marriage (and the first by legislative vote). Nine years ago, Vermont became the first state to allow civil unions for same-sex couples. Living in Vermont then, as I do now, I remember the public debates. I also remember the conversation here at The Emily Post Institute, as we examined our books to be sure we covered the emerging question of same-sex unions. I was pleased to find there weren't too many differences then, and there aren't now, either.

When I'm asked questions about how heterosexual marriage traditions translate to same-sex unions and marriages, I find I almost always give the same answer: You have pretty much all the same options as anyone else. It's a very equal-opportunity process no matter the gender pairing in question; you can look to tradition as a model, but just as many heterosexual couples have reason to adapt or abandon certain traditions, so do same-sex couples.

Would you like to cut the cake and feed each other pieces? Have a first dance? Toss a bouquet? It's all about what makes sense and is meaningful to you and your guests. I attended a same-sex wedding ceremony in December, and the grooms chose to walk down the aisle together, hand-in-hand. This was a beautiful adaptation of the classic bride's tradition, and the guests all clapped when they saw the couple together. The crowd usually cheers when the couple embraces for the first time as a married couple at the end of the ceremony--but this time we saw them together from the very beginning, creating a very different energy for the ceremony. No etiquette was broken; in fact, it was perfect for this couple, and therefore the best choice.

Choice is a key word. Brides marrying brides and grooms marrying grooms are not heterosexual couples, and it should never be assumed that one person will play the "part" of bride or groom. Incorporate gender traditions only when they are meaningful to you. When Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi married, Ellen wore a simple white pant suit (as is her normal style) and Portia a full-on wedding dress. The ladies looked lovely, but they could just as easily have both worn pants or both worn bridal gowns. It all comes down to being true to yourselves and respectful of your guests, whether you're gay or straight. Satisfy that, and the rest is just details.