Wedding etiquette: Dos & don'ts for modern brides & grooms

Modern Wedding Etiquette
Modern Wedding EtiquetteGetty Images / Today

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By Alesandra Dubin

Those antiquated ‘50s books on wedding etiquette never saw the 2013 wedding landscape coming. Whose family, for example, pays for a same-sex couple’s wedding? What role does the couple’s children (human or furry) play in the wedding? And which stepparents participate? These are all among the questions facing many modern couples. Read on for experts’ takes on how to navigate these topics and more.


First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage, right? Not anymore. These days the marrying couple may already share children, or one or the other partner may bring children the marriage. Is it appropriate to involve them in the big day? Of course! “It's totally appropriate to incorporate your kids,” says Xochitl Gonzalez of the planning company AAB Creates. “A lot of people will have family rings made up, and include the kids in the vows. I've even had one couple all get up together for a family dance that was a scheduled part of the event.”

The Bridal Bar’s Harmony Walton adds, “If there are children in the family now, be sure to honor and include them. Becoming a stepparent is part of what you’re signing up for, so show them you care by empowering them on the wedding day. Depending on age, they could participate in the ceremony through a family blessing, they could play the role of flower girl or ring bearer, or even play a song if they are learning an instrument in school, or do a reading. It’s important they don’t feel left out regardless of what role you give them.”


Tradition dictates that the bride’s family picks up the tab for the wedding — but what if there are two brides, or none? Bernadette Coveney Smith of 14 Stories, which specializes in same-sex weddings, says that 67 percent of such couples pay for their own weddings—but that the issue still comes up regularly. “Generally, it all boils down to the relationship that each partner has with his or her family,” she says. “If both partners have good relationships with their parents, and both sets of parents have means to support the wedding, then both partners will generally ask for help. If only one family is emotionally supportive, then chances are, they'll be the only ones financially supportive as well.”

Speaking of emotional support for same-sex couples, should you have to invite family members who haven’t provided any? The short answer, according to Coveney Smith, is no. “Same-sex couples should only invite guests to their wedding who love them and support their equal right to marry. The wedding is not the time to engage in a political debate, nor should a couple have to stress about what non-supportive folks will think, do or say at the wedding.”

She also suggests same-sex couples who have been together for quite a while—and already have, say, a kitchen full of gadgets—consider registering for a charity like Marriage Equality or Human Rights Campaign. “Many, like these, let you create a custom Web page where guests can donate specifically on behalf of your wedding, and then the charity will send you the list of donors so you can thank them. If you're not into that, consider registering for a honeymoon. Honeyfund is one of the most popular LGBT-friendly honeymoon registries. If that's not your thing, consider registering for experiential and unique gifts like those found through Newlywish, a thoughtfully curated online registry that allows you to register for things like cooking lessons and dance classes, in addition to supporting local merchants who provide one-of-a kind products.”


With the divorce rate being what it is, chances are not great that each partner will come into a wedding with a set of parents in intact marriages. Instead, stepparents are very much a part of the consideration. How to deal? “Stepparents should play as large of a role in the wedding as the couple wants them to. It’s important to include them, but how much depends on each family dynamic,” Walton says. “Typically, if the families get along, they would sit in the front row of the ceremony next to their spouse. You can always put other family members in between the two parents. If that’s not comfortable, then ask the father and his spouse to sit second or third row while mom and her spouse sit in the front row.”

Walton suggests that, if her father is escorting the bride and there is a stepmother in the picture, she should have been escorted to her seat previously by an usher. If the bride is equally close to both a father and a stepfather, she could walk down the aisle with both, though typically the father of the bride would be the sole escort.

Couples could also include stepparents in the ceremony by asking them to do a reading or participate in the program, if it’s important to include them in some small way, Walton suggests. And at the reception, invite stepparents to do toasts if you’re inclined.

AAB Creates’ Gonzalez adds, “We've had brides dance with both their dad and their stepdads or have their step dad take them down the aisle should they not be close with their own father. We've had up to eight parents and stepparents under a chuppah once. It was great!”


The key is that any wedding after the first should be very different. “It would be in poor taste to wear the same dress or wed at the same location,” Walton says. “But some traditions still apply. You should still register for gifts—friends will want to purchase something so make it easy for them and get the items you want. If you already have everything you could ask for or this feels awkward to you, register with a nonprofit organization like the Rescue Train’s Gift of Love program and ask your guests to give back instead.”

She adds, “Don’t feel like you can’t celebrate! If your closest friends want to throw you a bridal shower, let them. Typically, smaller and more casual bridal showers are held for second weddings but it’s still okay to have one — only invite those invited to the wedding.”


Pets are family too! Consider including your dog—cats may not be so eager to cooperate, but you can try—into the ceremony as flower girl or ring bearer. “You can dress them up in formal attire or flowers, have them carry an item around their neck or simply go au natural down the aisle,” Walton advises. “Then send them on their way before the reception starts.”

Try including pets in your engagement photos if your wedding is in a venue that doesn’t allow for pets, or if your type of animal can’t be there to support you. Or try creating silhouettes of your four-legged pals for use as great table numbers or even stamps on your wedding invitations.

Alesandra Dubin is a Los Angeles-based writer and the founder of home and travel blog Homebody in Motion. Follow her on Twitter: @alicedubin.

A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.