Chapter 4

Choosing Ceremony Specifics

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What is it that you need your wedding ceremony to do?

At its most basic, it is affirming a commitment that has already been made, providing a public venue for that affirmation, and creating a legal entity that respects that affirmation.

Wedding traditions and customs vary greatly between cultures, ethnic groups, religions, countries, and social classes. Most wedding ceremonies involve an exchange of wedding vows by the couple, presentation of a gift (offering, ring(s), symbolic item, flowers, money), and a public proclamation of marriage by an authority figure or leader. Special wedding garments are often worn, and the ceremony is sometimes followed by a wedding reception. Music, poetry, prayers or readings from religious texts or literature are also commonly incorporated into the ceremony.


So before Googling “wedding ceremonies” in your haste to get everything done, take a moment and think about the meaning behind the various acts within the ceremony. Only by understanding why they’re there and what they’re meant to do can you decide whether or not to include them in your wedding.


Setting the Date

Since many GLBT weddings take place between individuals who have known each other and often lived together for decades, anniversary dates are a popular choice for the wedding date. Otherwise, you may choose to follow traditional methods for booking a date, including venue availability, time of the year and auspicious dates.


White Wedding

A number of cultures have adopted the traditional Western custom of the white wedding, in which a bride wears a white wedding dress and veil. This tradition was popularized through the wedding of Queen Victoria. Some say Victoria's choice of a white gown may have simply been a sign of extravagance, but may have also been influenced by the values she held (which emphasized sexual purity).


The Gift Registry

The length of time you’ve been together is important: if you’ve lived in the same house for twenty years, chances are that you won’t need another crock-pot! So think non-traditional if you want to create a registry. Many people simply ask for cash donations to a house or honeymoon fund, or you can gather good karma by requesting donations in your name to your favorite nonprofit or charity cause.


Wedding Rings

The use of a wedding ring has long been part of religious weddings in Europe and America, but the origin of the tradition is unclear. One possibility is the Roman belief in the vena amoris, believed to be a blood vessel that ran from the fourth finger (ring finger) directly to the heart. Thus, when a couple wore rings on this finger, their hearts were connected (Historian Vicki Howard points out that the belief in the "ancient" quality of the practice is most likely a modern invention). 


Walking Down the Aisle

There are a plethora of options. If there is an aisle (and it doesn’t have to be a church: you can walk onto the beach from a dune, or go down a garden walkway), people can use it in lots of different configurations:

• Couple may walk in together.

• A parent, sibling, or friend may escort each member of the couple in separately

• The couple may walk in together, but from different directions (interestingly, I've found this option used most frequently by women, and it does provide a lovely symbolism)



Nearly two-thirds of GLBT couples ask their loved ones to stand beside them as they exchange vows, and you can invite anyone to be your attendant—there’s that great GLBT flexibility again! Nearly a third of couples, on the other hand, choose to stand alone with the celebrant.



Music played at Western weddings includes a processional song for walking down the aisle either before or after the wedding service. Relevant music choices may include:

• Various works for trumpet and organ, arguably the most famous of which include the “Prince of Denmark's March” by Jeremiah Clarke as a processional, the "Trumpet Tune" by Henry Purcell, and the "Trumpet Voluntary" by John Stanley as recessionals.

• Selections by George Frederic Handel, perhaps most notably the "Air" from his Water Music as processional and the "Alla Hornpipe" as recessional.

• The "Bridal Chorus" from Lohengrin by Richard Wagner, often used as the processional and commonly known as "Here Comes the Bride". Richard Wagner is said to have been anti-Semitic,[12] and as a result, the Bridal Chorus is often not used at Jewish weddings.

• Johann Pachelbel's Canon in D is an alternative processional.

• The "Wedding March" from Felix Mendelssohn's incidental music for the Shakespeare play, A Midsummer Night's Dream, used as a recessional.

• The "Toccata" from Charles-Marie Widor's Symphony for Organ No. 5, used as a recessional.

• Segments of the Ode to Joy, the fourth movement of Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

• Other alternative considerations include various contemporary melodies like Bob Marley's One Love, which is often performed by a steel drum band.


Changing Last Names

• You may like the last name you have already, and wish to keep it. Or you may wish to take on your partner’s last name. But you’re not confined to those narrow choices.

• Hyphenation works as well for GLBT couples as it does for heterosexual ones—that is to say, slightly cumbersome but very symbolic. 

• But why not just throw tradition to the wind and make up a new last name to share? More than anything else, it will cement your decision to be a family, whether or not you plan to include children. 

• According to the New York Times, etiquette dictates that the new name appear in your wedding announcement, such as “The couple will be using the surname Epstein.”