12/24/2011 05:34 am ET Updated Feb 23, 2012

What Straight Brides Can Learn From Gay And Lesbian Weddings

Gay and lesbian couples have the luxury of designing their wedding ceremonies as a reflection of their own relationships. It's not just about following religious, legal, social and/or family traditions. Same-sex couples, after all, are not bound by hundreds of years of marriage ritual as defined by the countless gays who have married before -- although that may become a problem a few generations down the line!

One fundamental difference in how same-sex couples plan weddings in this new marriage frontier is the role that both partners assume in the planning process. One partner may be more of the organizer, but it is often the case that both partners are equally invested in envisioning and creating together their wedding, commitment ceremony or civil union.

Not so for your average straight couple.

Ask just about any wedding vendor in the mainstream wedding market and you'll hear that they spend the majority of their time working with brides or brides and their mothers. There's hardly a mention of the groom.

So what can straight brides (and their grooms) learn from the path we are clearing? That, yes, you can buck traditions that don't work for you and still build a special day that everyone will recognize as a wedding and as a beautiful reflection of your commitment.

Here are a few suggestions to help every couple -- straight or gay -- get started:

It Takes Two To Make A Thing Go Right.It is traditionally assumed that the bride has long dreamt of her ideal wedding day and, once she is in engaged, she swings into action, bringing her groom along in her wake. Though a bride-only approach is the obvious solution for a lesbian couple, we encourage both partners - especially in the case of heterosexual couples -- to be equally invested and involved in the wedding planning process. One's Big Day - whether you are a gay or straight couple -- should be a living embodiment of the two persons who are promising a life of love, commitment and support. Mutual is, after all, as mutual does.

Think Outside The Box. Just because your parents did it, your friends did it or Brides Magazine recommended it, doesn't mean that it's how you have to do it. Tradition can be a wonderful guiding force, until it isn't. Gay and lesbian couples are already thinking outside the box by choosing to meet someone of the same gender (gasp!) at the end of the aisle; so most same sex couples aren't afraid to introduce elements which offer a twist - or in some cases - departure from tradition.

If you want to wear purple shoes under your wedding dress, do it. If you prefer a small civil ceremony to a large wedding and reception, do it. If the bride wants a Best Man or the groom wants a Maid of Honor, do it.

Which leads us to...

It's Your Party. Seriously. This is your day. Not your parents' day. Not your friends' day. This is your celebration and you should build a ceremony and reception which reflects your relationship, interests and values as a couple and which you will look back on without regret.

When we work with engaged couples, one of the most challenging topics we discuss is the guest list. For our straight couples, this topic seems particularly stressful because of assumptions that family members make. Most parents of straight couples assume that they can invite all of their friends, whereas many parents of gay couples aren't sure that they are ready for all of their friends to even know about the wedding. Gay and lesbian couples, then, have an advantage of being more directly 'in charge' of their guest list and feel less pressure to invite those outside of their community of supporters.

Because your wedding is your party, we encourage you to be as thoughtful and as stingy as you need to be about your guest list. If you and your fiancé(e) want only to invite close friends and a few family members to the wedding, don't be afraid to take that stand. It's your party. You can always add a creative touch, like a second, larger reception for extended family and/or friends (e.g. Think Outside The Box) and, to spare feelings, we always recommend having a clear and compassionate reason for your small list ("We so wish we could have more people to the wedding, but we're doing a really small celebration instead of a larger event.").

Bottom line: A wedding should be a time when you can count on celebrating your relationship with those you love most in the world and those who love and support you. Make it special and make it count and don't be afraid to buck with tradition to build an unforgettable celebration with meaningful memories to last you and your partner a lifetime.