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Being a good guest is about more than showing up on time bearing a gift and a smile. It's about saying the right things — or not saying the wrong ones. And just like no groom wants to be asked if he's ready for the ol' ball and chain when he's welcoming you in the receiving line, there are a few things that are better left unsaid at a same-sex wedding. So for those well-intended sentences best never spoken, we turned to Mark O'Connell, New York-based psychotherapist and author of Modern Brides & Modern Grooms. Here are five.
1. "This is a lovely party."
It's not a party, O'Connell quickly points out. It's also not a commitment ceremony or a celebration. It's a wedding. "Don't refer to the event as anything other than a wedding," says O'Connell. "The couple is sharing a special moment with you, and they want to be seen for what they are — lovers, spouses, and a family unit in their own right, just like any two people who get married. Please respect that."
2. "That was a beautiful bride."
If you gender-stereotype individuals in the couple, your comment may not be taken as a compliment, O'Connell warns. "At a same-sex wedding there are two brides or two grooms — that's it," he says. "If you project traditional gender norms onto the couple you are telling them that you are uncomfortable with them as they are, which is a lousy message for anyone to hear on their wedding day."
3. "What a different experience."
If you've never been to a same-sex wedding, you may simply be making an observation about what you saw. But "be careful with your saying 'different' and 'interesting,'" O'Connell cautions. "Some people do pay closer attention at same-sex weddings than straight weddings, because they are less common, and are therefore more deeply moved by what the ritual is all about. That is a great thing to share with the couple. But there is absolutely no other reason to tell them that their wedding is unlike any other."
4. "You're just like everyone else."
Reality check: "They already know that," says O'Connell. "That's why they chose to have a wedding and to invite you to it. While it's a wonderful thing to suddenly understand the plight of gay couples on a deeper level while attending a same sex wedding, the best thing to do in such a revelatory moment is to channel all of your emotion into simple compliments. Think, 'I'm so happy for you both,' or 'can I get a picture with you two?'"
5. "What normally happens at a same-sex wedding?"
In truth, nothing normally happens other than what you'd expect: A couple who loves one another ties the knot. "Don't put the couple in the position of being gay wedding experts," warns O'Connell. "They have not invited you to a weekend workshop on the art of gay weddings. They invited you to their wedding. Just be present, loving, and supportive."