Yes, marriage equality was legalized a while ago (June 2015), but compared to the head start our straight peers have, marriage is new to us. That’s why so many LGBTQ people are still figuring it out. The idea of getting married to the person we love popped up on many of us like … well, a marriage proposal.
Unlike our straight peers, even though marriage is now legal for same-sex couples in all 50 states, it’s not accepted by all people in all 50 states and getting married to a same-sex partner in some states could do as much harm as good.
So, what is it LGBTQ people should consider before marrying someone of the same sex? Based on our personal experience having just gotten married three months ago, here are five questions to which same-sex couples should answer before saying ‘I do.’
Who is paying for your wedding?
As recently as 2018, it was reported that same-sex couples pay about 59% of their wedding costs, 14% more than the 45% average of all couples combined. With the average cost of a wedding in 2017 being $25,764 with lesbian couples spending an average of $25,333 and gay men spending an average of $33,882, that’s a hefty expense for any newlywed.
Yet, as we learned ourselves because same-sex marriages still aren’t accepted by many people today, a same-sex couple might have to pay most or all their wedding expenses themselves. Even if their family accepts and want to celebrate their gay son’s marriage to another man, many families didn’t assume they should save money for their son’s wedding as such practices are traditionally, though not exclusively done, for daughters.
Without the family support or with lack of family savings, same-sex couples should manage their wedding costs accordingly. Lucky for us, because our weddings are already non-traditional, we can more easily throw all tradition, including the expensive ones, out the window.
What traditions should you and your partner include on your wedding day?
From the start of our wedding planning, we weren’t married to any tradition. Therefore, we designed our entire wedding from scratch picking and choosing the traditions and new elements that we wanted most. This isn’t exclusive to queer couples, but it’s easier for us because we’re already shaking up the traditional foundation of matrimony.
We can also disregard the expectation that the parents who traditionally pay for the wedding can influence the wedding. Those who write the checks often want to make the decisions. People’s opinions about who and what your wedding should and should not include can now be kept to themselves if you really want it that way. If a same-sex couple is paying all the wedding expenses, all decisions are theirs. Everyone else’s opinions are just that.
If parents or in-laws want certain traditions included, such as a white dress for the bride or a certain champagne for the toast, this may be an opportunity for them to pay for those traditions with the approval of the brides or grooms. However, the touchiest and costliest tradition that can be thrown out the window may be a way to remove individuals with the most adverse opinions about your same-sex marriage from the guest list.
Who should you invite to your wedding?
The part of our wedding that caused us the most angst was our guest list. Both of our immediate families to varying degrees had reservations about our wedding. Likewise, one aunt was supportive while an uncle wasn’t. Some cousins we see regularly and their sibling we haven’t seen in years.
Tradition often compels us to invite people we don’t necessarily want at our wedding to avoid family friction. Thus, the best advice we received from our wedding planner was, “You don’t have to invite any of your family to your wedding.” Once our mouths recovered from an agape stare and we processed this wisdom, all our stress was gone.
Ours was a non-traditional wedding. We paid 100% of the cost of our wedding out of our own pockets. Therefore, we assumed complete discretion over who was invited and who wasn’t to our special day. Our wedding of 41 people, then, was considerably smaller than the average of 120 people.
With 66% fewer guests, we had 66% fewer mouths to feed and 66% fewer people to provide drinks and desserts. We rented fewer tables and chairs. We didn’t need a location that suited a large attendance. Thus, we had the flexibility to spend our money where it mattered most and less where it didn’t.
Whether you have familial and financial support for your wedding, LGBTQ couples should consider only inviting friends, family, and colleagues who truly want to celebrate our special day. Why pay for someone to be at a celebration they don’t want to celebrate? That’s like ordering a pizza with anchovies when you hate anchovies.
How can you avoid financial infidelity before your wedding?
Typically, though not exclusively, the bride does more of the wedding planning than the groom. When there’s a disagreement, the final decision often defaults to the bride. While that may be for better or worse, same-sex couples are often both involved in their wedding planning. Both individuals bring their histories and opinions. Thus, it’s easier for conflicts to arise without a traditional default.
Most businesses that make traditional weddings happen also do the traditional upsell. Be clear about the one or two features you and your partner each want most. Spend in these areas, skip everything else.
If a traditional wedding attire isn’t your style, go casual. If traditional wedding rings aren’t for you, go with rings made from a material with more meaning and less cost. Try a birthstone instead of a diamond for her and her and tungsten carbide for him and him.
Skip the costly sit-down dinner and make your after-ceremony dinner uniquely yours with food stations or a cocktail service. For whatever food you provide, use local and seasonal foods that are more readily available with lower transportation costs.
It’s important for both individuals to understand the hierarchy of their desires for their wedding day and be willing to let less important wishes go. Knowing your most important expectations is why it’s so important for couples to be candid with each other. This lets both brides or both grooms have an influence over the day and lets the couple stay within their wedding budget.
What are the consequences of same-sex marriage?
Finally, there’s more to a wedding than the wedding day. Yes, everyone’s excited about the proclamation of love and the party, but what are the consequences of marriage the next day?
Same-sex couples should know how their tax requirements may change because of their marriage. Couples with similar incomes could jump to a higher tax bracket, thus experiencing the “marriage penalty.”
Alternatively, couples with disparate incomes could experience the “marriage bonus” because the individual with the lower income pulls the average of the household income into a lower tax bracket. While there are ways around the marriage penalty and the marriage bonus, if one wishes, this is a topic couples should talk with their accountant about in advance of saying ‘I do.’
Two major benefits that same-sex couples are now afforded because of marriage equality are the Social Security spousal and survivor benefits. The spousal benefit includes two factors. First, if either spouse never worked nor contributed to FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act), they’re still eligible for 50% of the working spouse’s Social Security benefit in retirement. Second, if both spouses worked, the lower income earning spouse may apply for the larger of 100% of their Social Security benefit based on their earnings or the spousal benefit of 50% of their spouse’s Social Security earnings. This spousal benefit is in addition to the working spouse receiving their own benefit at 100%.
The survivor benefit qualifies a surviving spouse – when their spouse passes away – to receive the larger of 100% of their own Social Security benefits or 100% of their deceased spouse’s benefits, at full retirement age. As with the spousal benefit, the survivor benefit applies even if the surviving spouse never worked or never contributed to FICA.
Medical, financial and legal decisions
Marriage includes both perks and responsibilities. Some of those responsibilities include giving authorization to one spouse to make medical, financial and legal decisions on behalf of the other should the other spouse become incapacitated. Obtaining these responsibilities, including hospital visitation rights, is a major step toward equality. They can still be burdens, though. That’s why spouses should establish wills, powers of attorney, living wills, including DNR or “do not resuscitate” instructions, and update beneficiaries to be aligned with current relationships.
Because family members may never recognize your same-sex marriage, they may try to fight any well-intentioned decisions you make on behalf of your spouse. The more these important and heavy decisions are spelled out in legal documents, the more leverage the surviving spouse has and the more likely your wishes will be fulfilled.
While federal law makes marriage equality legal in all 50 states, LGBTQ people can be denied housing, employment and services for simply appearing to be LGBTQ. So, you can get married to your same-sex partner one weekend and be fired the next week for putting a picture from your wedding on your desk.
For this reason, it’s wise for LGBTQ people and couples to have more money in their emergency savings account than the standard three to sixth months’ worth of living expenses. While for many saving so much money may sound challenging, losing a job without backup resources would be even more challenging.
As with many parts of life, there are still unique considerations for LGBTQ people. Marriage is no different. That’s why it’s important for us to do our homework to ensure we make the best decisions for ourselves and, in marriage, our future spouse. We all want a happy wedding day. Asking and answering these questions will ensure ours