Same-sex couples have a huge amount of creative freedom with their wedding day.
One of the best things about a same-sex wedding is that you can do away with stuffy traditional wedding roles and customs, and make the day truly your own.
Image: Curradine Barns
But if you do choose to use some elements of a straight wedding to structure your day, it can be confusing in a gay or lesbian wedding to know who should walk down the aisle first, what you should do about being “given away”, what job your parents have and whether you’ll have a best man and ushers or maid of honour and bridesmaids.
Whether you’re having a same-sex wedding, civil ceremony, or humanist ceremony in Scotland, here are the key moments in an LGBT wedding and its run-up when you can change up the roles and some suggestions for how.
Traditionally the groom asks the bride’s father for permission to propose, but there’s no obligation in a same-sex proposal.
It may not even be that important for a gay couple to have engagement rings, for example, and they may choose to buy an engagement gift with similar sentimental value, such as a watch.
Image: Sarah Wenban Photography
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Best Man and Maid of Honour Roles in a Same-Sex Wedding
A gay wedding doesn’t need two best men and two sets of ushers, just as a lesbian wedding doesn’t need two maids of honour and bridesmaids. Gender shouldn’t define anyone’s role: the most important thing is having the people closest to you by your side. It’s not unusual for a bride to have a mixture of men and women attendants or a groom to have a female best friend or sister taking on the best man role.
The terms best man and maid of honour are totally optional too, of course. “Honour attendants” is commonly used in LGBT weddings, although feel free to go as fun as you like. “I Do Crew”, anyone?
One thing to remember while creating your wedding party is that a wedding is a big undertaking and you will need to define your attendant’s duties clearly if you’re not having the traditional roles.
Image: Rich Howman Photography
Traditional Maid of Honour or Best Man duties: Before the wedding, they will arrange the stag/hen do (see more below), be a sounding board for ideas, go to dress/suit fittings, help with hands-on tasks like addressing wedding invites, and help with set-up the day before.
On the day, they’ll both help with getting ready and be your witnesses to sign the register, but a best man will do more greeting and guiding guests, ensure all the suppliers are in place and hold the rings (if you have them).
Bridesmaid or Usher duties: Helping plan the stag/hen do, assisting with any planning tasks the couple need done, and setting up the venue all come down to this lot before the wedding.
On the day, they will get ready with the couple, then the bridesmaids will accompany the “bride” to the venue and walk after them down the aisle, while the ushers greet and guide guests. Both bridemaids and ushers host tables at the wedding breakfast.
If you are having a mishmash wedding party without the traditional roles, decide who’ll be greeting and guiding guests to their seats, who’ll be assisting the couple arriving at the venue, and who’ll hold the rings etc.
Younger relatives can still take on ring bearer, page and flower girl roles.
Image: Victoria Warehouse
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Same-Sex Hen or Stag Parties
The gay community seem to be ditching the idea of a hen or stag night and opting for a joint night out with friends or doing a larger group activity like a week’s holiday in a big rented villa. If you still want separate nights out for your final night of freedom, then go for it and rename it as you wish – sten/hag dos are popular gender-inclusive names that reflect the fact you’ll probably have a mixed gender group.
Same-Sex Wedding Ceremony Roles and Traditions
Most couples will want to avoid anything that reinforces the gender stereotypes in a wedding, so customs that are traditionally “masculine” or “feminine” can be thrown out the window.
The long-established order of service is: entrance down the aisle; songs or a reading; the exchange of vows and rings; reading or prayers; signing of the register; exit.
Image: Christie's Bistro; Photographer: Joe Smith Photography
There’s no need for a “big reveal” as often couples will have picked their outfits out together. No one wants wedding photos with clashing suit prints or shades of white!
The idea that the bride and groom should spend the night separately before the wedding is therefore obsolete and many couples opt to get ready for their wedding together. This makes for some great getting ready photos. However, if you still want to have that big reveal then absolutely do – it’s all about making the day exactly what you want!
In terms of outfit, wear what you like. Some lesbian couples may choose the big white dress and veils, some may choose a bridal suit. Gay couples may opt for formalwear or a sharp suit. Everyone has an individual style so go with what you love.
Image: Islington Town Hall
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Walking Down The Aisle
In a traditional ceremony, the bride is walked down the aisle and “given away” by her father. In a same-sex ceremony, there are lots of twists on this to suit each couple and their circumstances.
Being walked down the aisle to your partner means one half of the couple is already waiting at the top with the officiant and you firstly need to decide if this is what you want. Would you both like the chance to walk down the aisle (especially if you’re dying to get that photo of you in your specially chosen outfit)? Do neither of you want to walk down the aisle, which can be daunting with all the attention? Does one half and not the other? Speak to each other about what you’d prefer.
Couples may take it in turn to walk down the aisle or have one half wait at the top. Alternatively, a couple can walk down the aisle together arm in arm which is an incredibly romantic and meaningful gesture and is a glorious moment to capture on camera.
If all eyes on you makes you feel nauseous then you can ditch the aisle altogether. Lovely ways to do this include: a ceremony circle, where the guests stand in a circle and leave a space for the couple to join; start at the front of the ceremony space and then have the guests enter after you; mingle with the crowd if they’re not in seats and slip your way to the front; or – a great idea for an outside space – lead the guests in a processional behind you so they find their seats as you find the front.
Image: Dominika Miechowska Photography
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Being Given Away
This tradition used to be a transferral of ownership from father to husband and has a patriarchal history that you may reject. The symbolism behind being given away does not need to be traditional though - many people see it as a way of parents giving their blessing to the marriage and a happy, loving gesture.
Fathers are still a popular choice for lesbian couples to walk them down the aisle and mothers for gay couples. Having a parent there is a wonderful way to include them in your big day.
Another choice is a close friend or family member who you can think of simply as support instead of “giving you away”. This can be a lovely gesture of gratitude to someone who has meant something important to you.
But if being given away is against your principles, doesn’t fit your circumstances or just makes you feel uneasy, it is absolutely optional.
Image: Dewsall Court
Where To Stand During The Ceremony
It is customary for the bride to stand on the left side of the altar and the groom on the right (from the days when a groom would need his right fighting hand free to defend his bride from other suitors).
Since you’ve ditched these male and female roles, stand on whichever side you feel most comfortable (but do discuss it in advance!). Your honour attendants will then stand to the side of you.
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Image: Jeff Oliver Photography
Personalised vows are a wonderful way of saying what your love and marriage mean to you. There are standard legal declarations and contracting words that you have to say, but after that you can be as creative as you like.
Discuss it with your officiant first to find out what your venue allows (some registry offices may be stricter), but exchanging vows that come from the heart are a beautiful moment in a ceremony.
Same-sex weddings or blessings cannot take place in Anglican churches in England and Wales currently, but they began in Scotland in 2017. If you are marrying in the Scottish Episcopal Church, speak to your clergy about rules around what is allowed in your vows.
Image: Paul Read Photography
Speeches At a Same-Sex Wedding
At a traditional wedding reception, speeches are given in the following order: father of the bride, groom, best man.
Mix this up! Speeches are one area of a wedding where you don’t need to be bogged down by rules, the only piece of advice to follow is to keep the toasts short (and funny!) for the benefit of your guests.
Some ideas include: both fathers of the bride giving a speech at a lesbian wedding or both fathers of the groom at a gay wedding; the couple themselves giving a joint speech instead of the “groom’s speech”; and the “best man’s speech” can be done by either of the chief attendants. It really is completely up to the couple.
If wedding speeches aren’t your thing at all, then we love the idea of a video made by all the bridesmaids and groomsmen, a song (like Tom from McFly), or play a Mr and Mrs Quiz style game with the couple instead that gets your guests involved.
Image: Gyan Gurung Photography
Top Table Seating Plan At A Same-Sex Wedding
The top table alternates female and male guests traditionally, starting with the maid of honour, then groom’s father, bride’s mother, groom, bride, bride’s father, groom’s mother, and finally the best man.
Leading British etiquette coach William Hanson says same-sex couples naturally do not need to adhere to this. "For same-sex weddings the rule book can be slightly adjusted or in some cases forgotten - so long as the wedding day itself is respectful, harmonious and civilised. This is one traditional rule that obviously has to get abandoned as the newly married same-sex couple will be seated next to each other on the ‘top’ table.
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"Although a couple may wish to try to balance the sexes where possible, it is probably best to think more about personality and dynamics of each table. Don’t seat all your shy, retiring friends on the same table or else you will get a conversational vacuum. Similarly, your four over the top, bombastic friends should be peppered throughout the room and not seated close together."
As an alternative to the long top table, you could always have a “sweetheart” table just for the two of you, or no top table at all. Round tables remove any hierarchy and make it easier to speak to guests you’re sitting near.
As a couple you can head up one table, each set of parents another, and the same with your honour attendants. More people get to mingle and chat over dinner and there’s no risk of offending anyone with your seating plan.
Image: Leslie Choucard Photography
Other Reception Traditions
Cutting the cake and the first dance are wedding stalwarts and are still lovely, intimate moments to include in your wedding. A father-daughter dance might be held after the first dance in a straight wedding ceremony, which a lesbian couple may still choose to do or a gay couple might choose to dance with their mothers. You can abandon this tradition altogether or mix it up as you so choose.
Most gay couples won’t have a bouquet, whereas a lesbian couple might have two. You can either have or not have a bouquet toss accordingly.
Remember, weddings are about celebrating your love for each other and should be personal and reflective of your union. Don’t follow any tradition that doesn’t make sense to you just because you think you should. Be bold and have the perfect day for you.