Each state has its own anti-discrimination policy and about half of the U.S. states include include sexual orientation and/or gender identity in this policy. If your state is NOT on the list below, it is legal to discriminate against same-sex couples.
The states that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity are:
District of Columbia
Attendants: Preferred term to describe bridal party or wedding party members in order to remain gender neutral. Many same-sex couples have attendants of the opposite gender of themselves and thus terms such as "Maid of Honor" and "Best Man" aren't always applicable. Additionally, many same-sex couples use terms such as: bestie, best person, best people, man of honor and so forth to describe those who will stand with them.
Biphobia: Hateful, negative and fearful attitudes towards bisexual people, often based on inaccurate stereotypes, including associations with infidelity, promiscuity and transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.
Bisexual: An individual who is physically, romantically, emotionally and/or spiritually attracted to men and women. Bisexuals need not have had equal sexual experience with both men and women; in fact, they need not have had any sexual experience at all to identify as bisexual. Bisexuals can marry either a man or a woman and are the "B" in the LGBT community.
Bridegroom: A term used by lesbian brides who do not feel like the traditional bride and are not comfortable with that term or perceived role. Lesbians who identify as bridegrooms typically do not wear wedding dresses and may have difficulty finding wedding attire.
Champagne Toast: Champagne or sparkling wine is frequently passed to guests (along with sparkling water) at same-sex weddings prior to the ceremony to take the edge off, convey a sense of celebration and introduce the Validation and Affirmation portion of the marriage ceremony. Since gay marriage ceremonies are new to most guests, an immediate glass of champagne lets them know that this is going to be a very special event and helps calm nerves. This has become one of the gay wedding traditions.
Chosen Family: A term used by LGBTQ individuals to refer to those friends in their lives that they see as their family. This term is used especially when the individual does not have the support of one's given family.
Church Ceremonies: Less than 10% of same-sex wedding ceremonies take place in churches, synagogues or other formal places of worship. This is primarily because most organized religions do not approve of same-sex marriage, or do so in a limited capacity. Information about the churches which will allow same-sex marriage can be found at at that link.
If you are a wedding planner, you can use that list as a guide when working with a couple seeking a church service. It's critically important for you to come out on behalf of your clients and ask directly about the church's experience and comfort with same-sex weddings.
Civil Partnerships: Civil partnerships are the federally recognized equivalent of same-sex marriage. Civil partnerships are the law in several countries, including the U.K., Ireland and Germany.Civil partnerships bring identical rights, recognition and protections of marriage, to same-sex couples, without using the actual term "marriage". A civil partnership is different from a civil union in the United States because civil unions are state laws and civil partnership are federal laws. Why not use the term marriage? Marriage, while, at its heart, is a civil institution, has many religious associations. Many politicians feel that "civil partnership" or "civil union" is a safer term and that it's easier to pass legislation using that term, instead of marriage.
Civil Union: A legal union of a same-sex couple, sanctioned by a civil authority. New Jersey, Illinois, Rhode Island, Delaware and Hawaii are the U.S. state with civil unions, though this changes all the time. For the most up to date information, check this page (PDF). Civil unions were legal in Vermont and Connecticut at a time, before both states approved legal gay marriage. Civil unions are not equal to marriage, though they provide some (but not all) rights of marriage. Civil unions are not sanctioned by the federal government and couples with civil unions receive no federal benefits. Many same-sex couples, while they see civil unions as progress, still "hold out" for legal marriage before planning a wedding because they don't see much meaning in a separate and unequal institution.
Closeted: Also known as "in the closet". Describes a person who is not open about his or her sexual orientation. Sometimes the person may be out in her private life but closeted in her professional life. Before his coming out, Neil Patrick Harris was in the closet professionally. As a wedding professional, this may impact you if a client is not inviting certain family members because he or she is closeted. This stirs up many difficult emotions.
Coming Out: Also known as "coming out of the closet." The ongoing process of telling people that you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, which is a lifelong process of acceptance. Publicly identifying one’s sexual orientation may or may not be part of coming out. When planning a wedding, most wedding vendors will assume that a couple is straight unless told otherwise. Same-sex couples must come out over and over again while wedding planning. A good wedding planner will come out on behalf of his or her clients so couples can avoid awkward situations.
Commitment Ceremony: an event that celebrates a relationship, generally without any legal implications. Before same-sex marriage became legal in certain states and countries, many couples were having commitment ceremonies, very often casual backyard affairs, with no legal rights or benefits. Couples in states where gay marriage is not legal still have commitment ceremonies but are more often referring to those events as weddings.
Cross-Dressing: To occasionally wear clothes traditionally associated with people of the other sex. Cross-dressers are usually comfortable with the sex they were assigned at birth and do not wish to change it. Cross-dresser should NOT be used to describe someone who has transitioned to live full-time as the other sex or who intends to do so in the future. Cross-dressing is a form of gender expression and is not necessarily tied to erotic activity, nor is it indicative of sexual orientation.
Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA): A federal law signed by President Clinton in 1996. This law is designed to keep gay marriage an issue of the individual states. DOMA states that the federal government will not recognize a gay marriage performed in a state where it's legal - and that a state where gay marriage is not legal does not have to recognize a gay marriage performed in a state where it is.
Just a few negative implications of DOMA include: inability for a bi-national same-sex partner to get a green card by marrying his or her partner; and filing as "single" on federal tax returns.
On Wednesday, February 23, 2011, the Obama administration indicated that they would stop defending the use of DOMA in court (there are several cases pending). This is progress, however DOMA will continue to be enforced until a Congressional repeal or a court renders a “definitive verdict” on whether DOMA is constitutional. Until that happens, DOMA will continue to block access to 1,138 Federal rights and responsibilities for gay couples.
Domestic Partnership: a legal term meaning two cohabitating individuals (same-sex or opposite sex), which may (depending on the jurisdiction) bring with it certain legal protections and benefits. Many employers and some cities, towns and states offer certain health care and other benefits to registered domestic partners. Domestic partnerships are not the equivalent to gay marriage nor do they bring the same benefits. Domestic partnerships are not recognized by the federal government.
Drag: Drag is a type of performance art in which individuals of one gender dress up as the opposite gender. Men who dress in drag are commonly known as drag queens. Women who dress in drag are commonly known as drag kings. This is not to be confused with transgender. Drag is an act and is a form of gender expression usually done for fun.
Contrary to popular myth, most gay men have no interest in dressing in drag on their wedding day and strutting down the aisle in high heels.
Family: An inside term frequently used by LGBTQ individuals to discreetly refer to other LGBTQ individuals, ie, "I think that photographer is family."
Family Law: Same-sex couples must complete additional legal paperwork in order to protect their family in case of emergency. Because of DOMA, married same-sex couples are not entitled to the same rights as married opposite-sex couples when they leave the state in which they were legally married. This means, for example, that the non-birth parent in a same-sex family has no rights when the couple travels to a state where same-sex marriage is not recognized, unless the non-birth parent has gone to court to legally adopt the child through second parent adoption. Second parent adoption, health care proxies, wills and durable power of attorney are all essentially mandatory (and expensive) for same-sex couples, especially those with children.
This is relevant to wedding planning because as part of a comprehensive action plan, it is important that wedding planners and venues, in particular, identify resources in their own community that can provide these legal services to protect your same-sex client's family.
Family Planning: Family planning is more difficult for same-sex couples than heterosexual couples due to the obvious biological differences. It is increasingly common to see children with two moms or two dads and studies show that those children turn out just fine, with no averse side effects. Children of same-sex parents are no likelier to be gay than children of heterosexual parents.
Family planning for lesbians usually comes in the form of artificial insemination, with known or unknown sperm donors, or adoption. Family planning for gay men usually comes in the form of a surrogate mother (sometimes with a separate egg donor) or adoption. Most countries outside of the U.S. do not let gay people adopt children.
When working with a same-sex couple, if you are curious about their plans for building a family, ask the question in a very open-ended way, such as, "Are you planning to have a kids someday?" rather than making assumptions about what they can or cannot do.
FTM: A transgender person who was born female but lives as a male. You should use male pronouns with this person and never ask about his former name or former life as a woman. This client will want to wear male clothing at his wedding. This client may be marrying a man or a woman.
Foundation Covenant: This is a sacred text modeled off of the Jewish ketubah and the Quaker wedding certificate. This document is typically signed by the couple during their wedding ceremony and is then signed by guests during the reception. It can be a substitute for a guest book and is one way the guests validate and affirm the marriage. The Foundation Covenant is typically framed as artwork after the wedding.
Gay: Describes people whose enduring physical, romantic, emotional and/or spiritual attractions are to people of the same sex. Often used to refer to gay men, but can be used to generally encompass all genders who are attracted to the same sex. Gay is a perfectly acceptable, politically correct term.
Gay Agenda: Notions of a so-called “homosexual agenda” are rhetorical inventions of anti-gay extremists seeking to create a climate of fear by portraying the pursuit of civil rights for LGBT people as sinister. “Lesbian and gay civil rights movement” accurately describes the historical efforts, by gay and straight people alike, to achieve understanding and equal treatment for LGBT people.
Gay Wedding Directories: Online gay wedding directories are one way that same-sex couples identify businesses in their community who claim to be gay-friendly. Most of the vendors in those directories are gay-friendly but still heterosexist.
You can use gay wedding directories in a few different ways: you can create a free or buy a paid listing for your own business; and you can use them to build your own list of gay-friendly vendors. If you use the directories to build your own list of gay-friendly vendors, you should still call each one to personally screen those vendors for your clients.
Gender Expression: External manifestation of one’s gender identity, expressed through “masculine,” “feminine” or gender-variant behavior, clothing, haircut, voice or body characteristics. Usually, transgender people want their gender expression match their gender identity, rather than their birth-assigned sex.
You may work with some clients whose gender expression defies what you are used to. You may encounter some women who dress like men (maybe some of your bridegrooms) and some men who dress like women. This is their gender expression.
Gender Identity: An individual’s internal sense and experience of gender. Includes male, female, transgender, genderqueer, queer etc. For transgender people, their birth-assigned sex and their own internal sense of gender identity do not match.
Goodridge Decision: The case which first legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, the first state where gay marriage became legal. Excerpts from the ruling, written by Judge Margaret Marshall are frequently read as readings during gay marriage ceremonies.
Heterosexism/Heteronormative: Actions, attitudes and institutions that reflect the assumption that all people are heterosexual. Often functions through omission and language. For instance, forms that use “husband” and “wife” instead of “spouse”or "partner" - or the common exclamation about a charming young child, “Oh, she is going to break some boy’s heart!”
Heterosexism is rampant in the wedding industry, particularly with the wide reference to "the bride" and all things "bridal." Heterosexism is different from homophobia in that heterosexism is often accidental and even the most well-meaning people are guilty of expecting one bride and one groom.
Heterosexual: Also known as "straight" or opposite-sex attraction. A person whose enduring physical, romantic, emotional and/or spiritual attraction is to people of the opposite sex. Most weddings are heterosexual weddings.
Homophobia: Encompasses a range of hateful, negative and fearful attitudes and actions towards LGBT people. Homophobia is different than heterosexism in that homophobia involves intentional action and is not accidental.
Homosexual: Outdated clinical term considered derogatory and offensive by many gay people. Because of the clinical history of the word “homosexual,” it has been adopted by anti-gay extremists to suggest that lesbians and gay men are somehow diseased or psychologically/emotionally disordered – notions discredited by both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association in the 1970s.
If you use this term, i.e., "I'm working on a homosexual wedding", you may not necessarily offend someone but it's also a very dated term.
Invitations: Addressing wedding invitations to same-sex couples is not that different from addressing them to opposite-sex couples. Here's the scoop:
• Outer envelope: If they are an unmarried couple, the names should be on two separate lines, alphabetized, ie:
Ms. Jennifer Coveney
Ms. Bernadette Smith
14 Willow Street
Boston, MA 02110
• Inner envelope: Ms. Coveney and Ms. Smith
• Outer envelope: If they are married with different last names, the names should be on the same line, alphabetized, ie:
Ms. Jennifer Coveney and Ms. Bernadette Smith
14 Willow Street Boston, MA 02110
• Inner envelope: Ms. Coveney and Ms. Smith
• Outer envelope: If they are married with the same last name, the names should be on the same line, alphabetized, ie:
Mrs. and Mrs. Bernadette and Jennifer Coveney-Smith
14 Willow Street
Boston, MA 02110
• Inner envelope: Mrs. and Mrs. Coveney-Smith
Note: feel free to substitute Mrs. for Ms. if you feel more comfortable.
Lesbian: A woman whose physical, romantic, emotional and/or spiritual attraction is to other women.
66% of same-sex weddings have two women. Sometimes a lesbian bride prefers to be called a bridegroom. It's wise not to assume that both members of your lesbian couple client will wear wedding dresses. 58% of lesbian brides wear at least one pants suit or tux.
LGBT(Q): An acronym meaning lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer. Sometimes seen as LGBT, LGB, GLBT or other variations.
Lifestyle: Also known as “alternative lifestyle”. Inaccurate term often used by anti-gay extremists to denigrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lives. As there is no one heterosexual or straight lifestyle, there is no one lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender lifestyle and you should avoid this term when talking to or marketing to same-sex clients or couples - even if you are not an anti-gay extremist.
Judge Margaret Marshall: Former Chief Justice from the Massachusetts State Supreme Judicial Court who wrote the Goodridge ruling now famous for legalizing gay marriage in Massachusetts. Excerpts from that ruling are frequently used as readings during gay marriage ceremonies.
Marriage (copied directly from Merriam-Webster):
1. a) the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law; b) the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage; c) the mutual relation of married persons : wedlock; d) the institution whereby individuals are joined in a marriage
2. an act of marrying or the rite by which the married status is effected; especially : the wedding ceremony and attendant festivities or formalities
3. an intimate or close union
MTF: A transgender person who was born male but lives as a female and may or may not have had sex-reassignment surgery. You should use female pronouns with this person and never ask about her former name or former life as a man. This client will want to wear female clothing at his wedding. This client may be marrying a man or a woman.
Name Changes: Many same-sex couples do not change their name after marriage, especially if they have been a couple for a long time.
It is harder for same-sex couples to change their name after marriage than it is for their heterosexual counterparts. Certified marriage certificates from states in which same-sex marriage is legal do not generally work as a document for name change if the couple lives in a state where same-sex is not legal.
Those same-sex couples that do change their name often hyphenate but sometimes choose a new name entirely.
Open and Affirming: A phrase which can be used to indicate gay-friendliness or inclusiveness. Same-sex couples will know what this means. This phrase is most often used by places of worship to indicate they welcome LGBT members, but can also be used in the marketing materials by other vendors who choose to overtly market to the LGBT community. Example, "Magnificent Occasions is an open and affirming wedding planning company."
Proposition 8: The ballot initiative in California in which voters voted to ban same-sex marriage, 5.5 months after it first began in the state in 2008. 18,000 same-sex couples were married in those 5.5 months in mid 2008.
There's been a highly publicized challenge to this voter referendum and that challenge was ruled on in August 2010, overturning the vote. A "stay" was issued on the ruling, meaning that gay marriage is still banned in California. That ruling was subsequently appealed and the Court of Appeals may issue a ruling by the end of 2011.
Currently, those 18,000 married couples are still married but other couples who want to get married may not legally do so.
Queer: Traditionally a degrading term, it has been appropriated by some LGBT people to describe themselves. This term can be used by males or females. Some use the term to defy its original degrading usage. Queer can be used to be inclusive of the entire LGBT community and as a synonym for LGBT, without specifically referring to a lesbian, gay man, etc, i.e. "the queer community."
Nevertheless, queer is not universally accepted even within the LGBT community and should be avoided unless quoting someone who self-identifies that way. The usage of queer is much more common among younger generations and those who identify with its emphasis on fluidity of sexualities and genders but 59% of gay men and 41% of lesbians find the term offensive.
You may encounter a couple who identify as queer and find the labels of "gay" or "lesbian" to be too confining, or who use the term "queer community." If that's the case, respect the couple's choice and use that term only internally. It could be seen as offensive if you meet with a different same-sex couple and refer to the first couple as queer.
Rainbows and Pink Triangles: Rainbows and pink triangles have important meaning in LGBT history. The rainbow is a symbol of liberation and freedom and is widely recognized as a gay symbol. Pink triangles are also a widely recognized gay symbol that has it origins during the Holocaust.
Both symbols, while widely recognized by LGBT individuals around the world, are frequently as dated and cheesy. When putting together your marketing materials for same-sex couples, it is recommended that you do not use those symbols to show your support unless you do so in a clever way. Although those symbols are not offensive, they are also not appealing to the modern LGBT couple.
Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS): Refers to surgical alteration of genitals by transgender individuals, and is only one small part of transition from male to female or vice versa. Preferred term to “sex change operation.” Not all transgender people choose to or can afford to have SRS - it is a very expensive process that is not covered by insurance.
If you have a transgender client, do not ask him or her about surgery! He or she will volunteer it if inclined.
Sexual Orientation: Describes an individual’s physical, romantic, emotional and/or spiritual attraction to members of the same and/or opposite sex. Terms include heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer. This term is advised over "sexual preference" in your marketing materials and conversations with same-sex couples.
Sexual Preference: Outdated term to describe someone's sexual orientation. This term is outdated and offensive to some because it suggests that being lesbian, gay or bisexual is a choice and therefore can and should be “cured.”
Transgender: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender people may or may not decide to transition their bodies to the opposite gender through hormonally and/or Sex Reassignment Surgery. Some transgender individuals were born male and are now female. Some were born female and are now male. Some will marry women and some will marry men. Transgender is the T in LGBT.
It is always important to treat transgender clients as the gender they identify with, even if they are not necessarily passable in that new gender. The process of transition is a long and difficult one but a journey that you must respect.
If you have any transgender clients, or if your clients have friends who are transgender, you may be asked to create gender neutral restroom signs.
Transition: For transgender people, altering one’s birth sex from male to female or vice versa is not a one-step procedure; it is a complex process that occurs over a long period of time. Transition includes some or all of the following cultural, legal and medical adjustments: telling one’s family, friends and/or co-workers; changing one’s name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly (though not always) sex reassignment surgery.
If you are working with transgender clients, they may be at any stage of this transition and it's important for you as a professional to respect however that individual currently identifies, even if he or she is not necessarily believable or passable in his or her gender identity.
Transsexual: An older term which originated in the medical and psychological communities, which has been replaced by the term transgender. You should not use this term.
Transvestite: Old, and now derogatory term for people who cross-dress. You should not use this term.
Two Aisles: The way many same-sex couples enter their ceremony space to avoid one of them being the last one down, and therefore seen as "the bride". Setup for two aisles brings additional complications for the florist (two aisle runners?) and the photographer in particular, especially if each partner enters simultaneously. Nonetheless, entering the ceremony space simultaneously from two separate directions is very common for same-sex couples.
These two aisles can be parallel with guests in between. They could also enter the ceremony space from the left and the right, facing the guests. Or depending on the number of guests, there can be a large section of guests with no central aisle, and the two aisles on either side.
A simpler alternative, when there is only one aisle, is that the couple proceeds down the aisle together, holding hands. This also avoids someone feeling like the only "bride".
Validation & Affirmation: The part of the same-sex wedding ceremony where the officiant asks the guests to join in a community vow or toast of the couple using the champagne provided to the guests before the ceremony. This is typically at the beginning of the ceremony, after the welcoming remarks, and makes use of the pre-ceremony champagne.
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