The decision of whom to invite to your wedding day is one with which all couples grapple, but lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people have many added complications. While some of the components of the guest list remain constant regardless of your sexual orientation or gender identity and expression, several may not.
You will want to start by determining the constellation of people who make up the world that you and your mate inhabit. Constellations can be thought of as concentric rings that are different distances from the central person or persons. For example, in your own personal constellation, the closest seven people to you may all be blood relatives. But family ties are more common in heterosexual situations. For gay and lesbian couples, that inner circle may look very different due to the presence of families who do not accept the homosexuality or gender identity of their sibling or child.
This first circle of people may be a chosen family you have accumulated over the years, and it may or may not include blood relatives. This first circle consists of the people you consider to live in the core of your life activities, central to your heart and top of mind. While many heterosexual weddings include people with prominent positions in their lives for this first circle (such as a mother or father), as a lesbian, gay or transgender person you may choose those with prominent positions in your heart.
Once each of you has determined who is in this first inner circle, next you create the first-degree-of-separation circle. Who in your life are the people with whom you spend the most time, who you consider invested in you, your life, and your future? Sometimes these are colleagues from work, or they can be part of a spiritual community. You socialize with this group and intend to stay in touch with them as far into the future as you can see.
The second-degree-of-separation ring is comprised of those who were important in your past and still find a deep place in your heart today. This could include a close-knit college sister or brotherhood, friends from your favorite pastime, or—in some cultures—extended family such as cousins. The third-degree-of-separation includes an amalgamation of all people you know, whether you are in contact with them or not. You don’t feel close, but you care for them and are in touch occasionally.
As you think of these circles, imagine yourself standing in the center of your life. Who is within reach of you? Who is farther away but feels close in your heart? Who is near but you feel tension when you think of them? Each of you can complete your own chart of people, your own personal constellations, and then come together to share.
As you each share your constellations, you will have a good discussion about the people in your life and how you feel about them. (Doing this exercise before building the guest list will help you create a new circle surrounding your relationship that has meaning and a sense of safety for you both.)
So now this has given you the opportunity to have a wonderful talk about the people in your lives. The next discussion is around what kind of feeling you want to have at your wedding. When you look out on your guests, how do you want to feel? If the answer is that you want to feel supported and loved, you will choose people who bring out that feeling in you. If you want to feel generous and inclusive, you may choose people who bring out that feeling in you.
Once you’ve generated a list of people based on how you want to feel on your wedding day, it’s a good time to discuss where there are differences. Up to this point you will have included everyone that each of you feels good about for your individual reasons.
Now as you see the assembly, where does your partner not feel safe or supported by your selections? Is there a conversation that you can have that will help him or her feel better about this person? Are you willing to not extend the invitation if she or he can’t manage to feel better about this person?
I am purposely avoiding the specific characters that can play in this potential drama. I know that sticking points happen relating to parents, siblings, ex-lovers and even children. What matters is that you have the discussion based on your vision for the day, that special day you are creating to mark your commitment to each other as life partners.
I suggest you come up with your new, joint constellation first, and then decide what the day will offer. Sometimes couples come up with a budget, a per-person cost, and try to fit the guest list to the budget. I suggest you do it the other way around. After creating the circle made up of all those you both feel good about, you then create an experience for all of them, one that you can afford. The important thing is that they witness your nuptials, not that they have a gourmet dinner, lots to drink or a band to dance to.
Can you imagine how wonderful your day will be when it is planned with a level of awareness and thoughtfulness so that you can say to everyone present: “Every person here is someone we invite to be on this journey of life with us. We carefully selected you and created this experience so that we can mark this momentous occasion together. We look forward to celebrating life’s joys and sharing in life’s sorrows with each of you in the years to come.”
So now you and your partner have an invitation list that you both feel good about. Some of the people each of you may have originally had on your list may have been removed as you finalized your vision for the day. What do you do with those in your life that won’t be attending the ceremony?
There are many ways to handle this situation. Here are a few suggestions:
• Have a wedding ceremony invitation list and a larger reception list if this feels good to you. “While we have opted for a smaller intimate ceremony, we invite you to celebrate with us at our reception.”
• Send out announcements after the wedding to share your joy, including a picture and asking for a blessing of your union.
• If you are willing to share your decision making about your wedding invitations, consider a bold move and send out a beautiful letter to those about whom you care but who won’t be invited to the wedding:
“Dear one, I wanted to let you know that <name> and I have decided to marry. As you can imagine, this is a very big step and we have thought very carefully about the marriage and the wedding that will signify it. After many discussions of all the people in our lives that we appreciate and care about, we decided to have a very intimate ceremony. We hope that you will continue to be a wonderful part of our lives and that you will bless us on this journey of our committed relationship. We will be happy to share photos and stories once we return from our honeymoon. Thank you for your friendship and support.”
There is a tendency in wedding planning to have guest lists in different tiers or back up people in the event the original list has declines. Since you have already done your work to create your own inner circle that reflects your joint feelings of goodness and safety, I don’t recommend you change this list. There is one exception: if you built your constellation and your desired wedding experience and found that you couldn’t afford the location or some other aspect that was very important to you without paring down the list, you may want to add the other people back in as you can.
Again, I recommend that you build a wedding and reception experience that you can afford for all the people you want to be there. If you choose to also make some elements of the wedding and reception equally important, I hope that the two of you agree.
Now, let’s say you’ve invited sixty people and six decline who are important to both of you. I suggest that you have their presence at the wedding in a way that fits your ceremony and reception. Here are a few ideas for your consideration:
• Have a short one-line blessing from each person read before the toasts at the reception.
• If they are very dear to you and can’t travel for health reasons for example, you may have their blessing read during the ceremony.
• Have them send a written blessing and perhaps a picture that can be placed on the guest registry table or other ceremonial table.
• You can also put their picture at a table of guests if you have this type of setup. (My son was away with the army when I married Jane, but he was at the table with his siblings in a prominently displayed photograph.)
Who’s coming to your wedding celebration? I hope all those whose love and presence you wish to be surrounded by can celebrate with you your new adventure together.