The wedding industry is full of outdated customs with heteronormative and patriarchal roots. Many things we know to be ‘tradition’ originate from perspectives that view women as possessions and men in a place of power. Unfortunately, this power dynamic is not uncommon — we see it everywhere, including in workplaces, households, and general society. Thankfully, the more we expose these imbalances, the more people try to carve their own paths to move away from harmful patterns, thoughts, and expectations.
As a result, many queer and straight couples are exploring alternative wedding traditions that better reflect their values, identities, and relationships. Especially if you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community, these unique wedding traditions are often necessary because we don’t fit society’s expectations neatly. Why should we put ourselves in boxes, anyway? In this article, we’ll dive deep into some of the shocking origins of traditional wedding practices and explore some creative alternatives that can help reflect your unique love story.
The United States didn’t legalize gay marriage until 2015. But LGBTQ+ love has always been here. While some have attempted to work around the laws, like a queer couple in Minnesota in 1971, many had to wait to have their love recognized.
Our country’s laws and perspectives didn’t give us a chance to have a voice in making wedding traditions and norms.
Because of the lack of queer representation in the wedding industry, one of the top questions I get from my couples as a photographer is: “How do I do things differently?” And it’s an excellent question! While our love stories are now valid in the eyes of the court, there are still perspectives that threaten to erase us — but we won’t let that happen. Moving away from harmful wedding traditions, whether you’re queer or straight, can change the narrative for ourselves and future generations. We deserve a seat at the table to celebrate our love in unique and meaningful ways instead of following a script we didn’t create.
We can modify some wedding traditions to be more inclusive and fitting for each couple. However, the following practices and ideas need to be a thing of the past with no substitution:
If you’ve never heard of or seen a garter toss, it’s a practice where the groom removes the bride’s garter and throws it to the male guests at the wedding. This act is considered the “male equivalent” of a bouquet toss and symbolizes a man’s dominance over a woman. It also has old ties to a bride’s virginity — a concept rooted in the view that men have possession and can “take” what they want. The idea behind the garter toss is that the man who catches it would be the next to marry and inherit the power or dominance over a woman.
This tradition is flat-out disgusting — there’s no light way to put it. It reinforces the idea that women are possessions and objects, which is highly gendered, disrespectful, and disempowering. It goes without saying: the garter toss shouldn’t have a place in our wedding practices.
The phrase “wives submit to your husband” originates from the Bible. It’s a passage often cited by those who support a patriarchal view of marriage, where the man is seen as the leader of the household while the woman is expected to be subservient. The concept of submission in marriage is outdated and harmful, perpetuating power imbalances and gender inequalities. Whether you’re religious or not, this passage and its beliefs need to go.
While this is not necessarily a wedding tradition, it’s still an unspoken pressure that’s common today. Of course, if this is what you want to do, and everything happens consensually, go for it! We don’t need to eliminate the practice of sleeping with others at weddings altogether, but the expectation to do so certainly needs to be a thing of the past. This is because:
Engaging in traditions isn’t a bad thing. In fact, they can have a lot of sentimental value for many couples. However, to help your big day feel more authentic to your love story, here are some conventional practices and alternative wedding traditions to consider:
Women were once viewed as their father’s property, so the father walked his daughter down the aisle and “gave her away.” These days, however, notions of “possession” are losing traction. Fathers still walk with their daughters, but this tradition now has more sentimental value than transactional meaning. If you value this practice and have a special relationship with your father, keep it at your wedding! But, I want to shine a light on some alternatives that are more inclusive of all identities and life situations. Here are some suggestions:
You’ll never guess: This also ties to religious and patriarchal beliefs. Since weddings were a property transfer from the bride’s family to the groom’s family, and the bride was expected to be a virgin on her wedding night, couples were often kept separate to prevent sexual activity and temptation.
This is on the “modify” list because some folks may still want to prepare separately, especially if they plan to have a “first look.” However, the couples I work with often say: “My partner is my best friend. Why would I want to be apart from them?” This makes sense, so you should be free to change this tradition as much or as little as you want, even if there’s pushback from others.
The practice of asking for a daughter’s hand in marriage has existed for centuries and has roots in many cultures. For example, in ancient Greece and Rome, the bride’s father’s permission was required before a couple could marry. Often, the man would present a coin as a token of his intentions. The father could either accept or reject the proposal. This formality and its variations represent the transfer of ownership and control of a woman.
At the end of the day, the decision to marry should be a discussion between you and your partner and should happen when you’re both ready. Asking for a parent’s blessing is still common, with many valid reasons. Today, this practice is less formalized and less focused on the transfer of ownership. Instead, many partners ask for a parent’s blessing or involvement in the wedding ceremony to honor their relationship with their families. You can get creative and have fun to make for a genuinely sentimental moment with your partner’s family. Or you can do away with the tradition altogether. It’s up to you!
In “Western” societies, white is traditionally associated with purity, innocence, and virginity. Therefore, the tradition of the bride wearing white was a symbol of her worthiness. I’m here to say that you don’t have to stick to this custom. I get it — the color is elegant and timeless, so if it’s your style, go for it! But if you want a pop of color to reflect your personality and style or even want to go for dark tones, like black, you are free to do so. What matters is that you feel good about your appearance, no matter who you are and how you identify.
Assigning separate sides for your guests is a tradition that reflects the idea that weddings are about the union of two families. In European history, the bride’s side was on the left, and the groom’s side was on the right, and the reason has a shocking origin. In those earlier times, grooms sometimes kidnapped a woman from her home. During the wedding, the groom needed to be prepared for backlash or unwanted visitors, so he stood on the right side to quickly draw his sword at any moment.
Thankfully, marriage kidnappings and sword fights are less common today, but the tradition of assigned sides remains. And this, to me, is a little divisive — why can’t we be there for both sides? Regardless, many couples break this tradition with unassigned or mixed seating to create a more inclusive environment at their weddings. If you feel your family may be more comfortable sitting together, you can make a sign saying, “[name] will be standing on this side.” This gives your guests the freedom to view your wedding wherever they wish.
This tradition dates back to ancient Greece and Rome, where brides would wear brightly colored veils to ward off evil spirits and protect themselves from envy and ill-wishing. In medieval times, wedding veils symbolized the bride’s virginity and purity. Many believed the veil would prevent the groom from seeing the bride’s face until after marriage, ensuring he was not tempted by physical attraction alone. Historically, the bride’s father would lift the veil to symbolize her “transfer.”
The good news is that this ancient symbolism has lost its meaning. Today, while some may wear a veil to honor tradition, it’s just a fashion choice. These garments are known to be annoying and uncomfortable to wear, but if they speak to your aesthetic, go for it! I must say, they also make great bug nets for outdoor weddings, so you can’t go wrong there. But if this isn’t your style, feel free to replace it with a different accessory or just scrap it altogether.
Weddings were once a business transaction between families. Originally, the groom’s family paid the bride’s family a dowry as compensation for her domestic labor and future reproduction. However, society eventually switched this practice, and the bride’s family paid a dowry to:
Across cultures, who pays the dowry can differ, and some still use this practice to pay homage to tradition. However, as you can probably tell, this custom is gendered and problematic. Today, many couples choose to share the financial responsibility of the wedding or pay for it entirely themselves without the help of their families.
The involvement of religion in weddings has a long and complex history that varies depending on cultures and regions. Religion can be such a beautiful part of your identity, and if that’s something you value, it’s essential to incorporate it in ways that are meaningful to you. Unfortunately, as LGBTQ+ folks, we can have complicated ties with religion and its institutions — religious spaces and wedding scripts are not always the most inclusive.
I want you to know that if you don’t include religious elements in your wedding, that’s okay. It doesn’t make you disrespectful or make your ceremony less valid. If you have specific values you want to honor, instead of a religious-themed ceremony, you can try incorporating a short prayer or other symbolic elements.
I want to acknowledge that the history of wedding traditions is complex and varies over time and space. Most of the practices discussed in this article reflect white straight weddings from a “Western” perspective and not necessarily the customs in other cultures, although there may be some overlap.
As queer people, we have the opportunity to pave the way for our own traditions and celebrate our beautiful love in ways that are special to us, regardless of our identities. We can build a more inclusive, loving, and welcoming world by rejecting harmful practices and opting for new alternative wedding traditions.
If you’re planning an LGBTQ+ wedding or elopement and are looking for a photographer who will honor your unique wedding traditions and love story, reach out to me! I’d love to hear what you have in mind, and I can’t wait to capture your special ways of celebrating.
If listening is more your style, you can join the discussion by checking out my podcast episode from this week. I can’t wait to see you there!
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