Why We Should Drop the “Gay” in “Gay Wedding”

Because a wedding’s a wedding—for everyone

Updated 10/04/17

Phil Chester

Before you start boasting about attending your first gay wedding, pause and ask yourself why you chose to qualify it as a gay wedding. If you’re someone who still says “that’s so gay” or refers to Tom as “you know, my gay friend,” then please pump the brakes. There are various takes on whether the term “gay wedding” is good, bad, or ugly, but the long and the short of it boils down to two questions: How does the couple getting married identify? What is your intention in specifying it’s a gay wedding?

Choosing our own labels and identities can be a process that takes time, so once you settle on something, you want others to respect that too. For instance, let’s say you were in your high school marching band, you developed an enthusiasm for anime in college, and now you spend a lot of time learning and engaging on Reddit. You know that these interests are just some of the nuances that make you you, but your family members dismiss you as a “nerd.” The labels applied to us feel a lot better when they are ones we choose and feel proud of.

Jamie, the photographer behind Studio XIII Photography, reminds other wedding vendors ”to be intentional about their language and to always defer to the couple to make sure they are comfortable with the labels they use to refer to their wedding.” For instance, “Not all couples are ‘gay,’ so sometimes ‘gay wedding‘ isn’t accurate.” Jamie finds the terms “LGBTQ” and “queer” to be more inclusive of various gender identities and sexual orientations. “The term ‘queer’ can be used when the romantic relationship or individual doesn’t fit into a categorical box of gay/lesbian.” For instance, if a transgender man is marrying a cisgender (gender presentation deemed normative by society) woman, they may look like a straight couple, “but they are very much queer,” Jamie says.

However, it’s not safe to assume that everyone embraces the term “queer.” Cindy of Aisle Less Traveled gently reminds us that “a (generally older) segment of the LGBTQ+ community still experiences this word as an insult or slur and may be offended by its use.” Casey of EQ Events agrees that the term “queer” isn’t always embraced, but “younger Xers and millennials use it quite a lot.” Anthony of New York says that age is just one factor that influences someone’s feelings around the term “queer,” and other factors include “class, location, race, gender, etc.” So before making assumptions about how people identify, double-check the couple’s preferences. Easy, right?

The second question about intentions may be a little trickier. Shawnee of A Lovely Photo says, “I can’t stand the term ‘gay wedding‘ because I feel like it usually has a connotation of different but not equal.” Cindy agrees: “I can’t stand it, personally. It’s a wedding, period.” While the term “gay wedding” “isn’t inherently pejorative,” in Casey’s words, the need to constantly label a wedding as a “gay wedding” “isn’t for any purpose except to qualify it as different from a ‘regular’ or ‘real’ wedding,” says Cindy. In other words, if you are mentioning in passing that you went to a “lesbian wedding” last weekend, ask yourself what your underlying reason is for qualifying the wedding as such.

Despite disliking the term, Cindy admits that “as a woman who married a woman, I probably used search terms like ‘lesbian’ or ‘same-sex wedding’ or ‘two brides’ or whatever while trying to find vendors and wedding inspiration online.” Photographer Amanda Summerlin points out that Internet searches are based on keywords, and those keywords are often labels that aren’t necessarily aligned with our nuanced identities. If we drop the qualifiers altogether, queer couples wouldn’t be able to find any couples that look like them in a sea of blush and gold Google search results. When most wedding blogs feature opposite-sex couples exclusively, and same-sex couples are still discriminated against by wedding vendors, it’s important for queer couples to search and find their people on the Internet. And in the Internet world, “search terms like ‘gay’ and ‘same sex’ do win out,” photographer Amy Ann says. “I cringe when I use these terms on my blog, but I know that’s how those couples end up finding me most of the time.”

A more positive outlook on human nature recognizes that some people are just so dang excited about getting invited to a “gay wedding.” Jacob of New York says that a few of his guests proclaimed prior to his wedding, “I’ve never been to a gay wedding before” or “This is my first gay wedding!” He says, “To be quite honest, my own wedding was my first gay wedding as well. I understand that for many people, it is a new experience, and they were learning, as were we.” But he is confident that what the guests in attendance ultimately experienced was “a wedding between two people who love each other.” And isn’t that the very essence of any good wedding?

In the ceremony script, Jacob and Sloan aimed to balance the fact that they were committing their lives to each other, just as any couple aims to do at their wedding, with “the magnitude of the occasion, given how recently same-sex marriage was legalized.” While they did not wish to have the political nature of their identities be the focus of their wedding, they “couldn’t let the moment pass without sharing our pride in reaching this moment, not just in our relationship but in history.”

In this sense, there is a lot of pride and joy in a “gay,” “lesbian,” “LGBTQ,” or “queer” wedding. Jamie Thrower says, “Having our own category of weddings is real, because there’s a lot about weddings that the queer community is shifting and changing,” such as the many taken-for-granted traditions based on a patriarchal history of marriage. And furthermore, there’s “that profound weight and heaviness of knowing that only a few years ago, this wasn't even legally possible.”

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