"Bride and groom." "Husband and wife." "Bridesmaids and groomsmen." For far too long, the wedding industry has predominately catered to heterosexual couples, which means that the language surrounding weddings has similarly left out a significant swath of marrying folx who don’t identify within these bounds. While the industry has made improvements, there’s still plenty of work to be done—and couples who find the preexisting norms of wedding language lacking when it comes to their lived experience deserve to celebrate in ways that accurately and inclusively encompass their love.
So if the traditional terms of a wedding day don’t work for you, throw them away—along with anything else that might make the occasion feel inauthentic. Instead, opt for some of these gender-inclusive wedding role and title alternatives instead, which we brainstormed with the help of three industry professionals: wedding officiant Karla Villar, wedding photographer Judson Rappaport, and wedding planner Justine Broughal.
Meet the Expert
• Karla Villar is a wedding officiant and love storyteller primarily serving the NYC and Boston areas. They are the queer and immigrant half of a sibling duo at Once Upon A Vow, a family business based in Brooklyn, NY.
• Judson Rappaport (she/her/hers) is a New York City and Atlanta-based queer wedding photographer who captures authentic, values-driven imagery for queer couples and allies.
• Justine Broughal is the founder of Together Events and co-owner of Greater Good Events. She helps couples craft meaningful partnerships through thoughtful celebrations and ensures that every event she designs is unique, inclusive, and memorable.
Why Gender-Inclusive Language Is Important
"Bride-centric, binary language in the wedding industry is both outdated and unconnected to the vibrant history of queer love across generations," explains Broughal. "Queer love stories have always existed, and our language in the wedding industry is just now catching up to that reality."
Beyond this necessary truth, there’s also the fact that a more inclusive wedding industry is a win for all who marry. Rappoport points to the increasing appearance of white jumpsuits and tuxedos on the bridal market as a heartening example. Initially more commonly worn by LGBTQIA+ folx who didn’t feel comfortable in a white dress or black suit, they’ve now become mainstream enough to be regularly incorporated into designer collections, which means that all marrying folx now have the opportunity to more easily partake in the fashion choice. "See? Everybody benefits!" Rappaport exclaims, and the same is true when folx forgo arbitrary traditions that don’t apply to them in favor of language that does.
"You may or may not know it, but someone attending your celebration is on, has been on, or will one day be on a gender identity journey, and your wedding could be the first celebration space where they feel acknowledged, welcome, and/or embraced," adds Villar.
Gender-Inclusive Wedding Roles and Titles
Here, Broughal, Rappaport, and Villar offer alternatives to common wedding roles, titles, and phrases:
Bride/Groom: Marrier, Spouse, Spouse-to-Be, Nearlywed
Bride and Groom: Spouses, Newlyweds, Nearlyweds, Partners, Celebrants
Maid of Honor/Best Man: Attendant of Honor, Best Person, Person of Honor (i.e. "Alex’s Person of Honor")
Bridesmaids/Groomsmen: Wedding Party, Support Party, Wedding Crew, Wedding Squad, Wedding Support Team
"The more creative you can be, the better," says Villar. "I’ve seen a lot of couples play around with their nicknames/pet names when naming their entourages." Rappaport agrees: "Plays on individual names—Sage’s Squad, Caleb’s Crew—can be a great way to stay inclusive and still have a good time."
Ladies and Gentlemen: Family and Friends, Treasured Guests, Folx
"I now pronounce you husband and wife"/"I now pronounce you man and wife:" "I now pronounce you married," "I now pronounce you life partners/lifemates"
Father-Daughter Dance/Mother-Son Dance: Parent dances, Parent-child dances
"It’s especially important to refer to people by names if they don’t fit under the archetype of bride or groom," reminds Rappaport. "For example: 'Dakota is now going to dance with their mother, Jen.'"
Gender-Inclusive Wedding Event Names
Bridal Shower: Wedding Shower
Bachelor/Bachelorette Party: Bach Party, Bachelorx Party, Wedding Party PARTY, Pre-Wedding Bash, Hag Do, Sten Do
Additional Gender-Inclusive Actions to Take
Rethink certain traditions.
The gendered nature of the garter toss and the bouquet toss can leave people out based on arbitrary distinctions, and these activities can also put single people on display in an uncomfortable way that makes them self-conscious of their relationship status. As such, the two have largely waned in popularity at weddings over recent years, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t once begin with good intentions.
"Getting guests involved is at the heart of these traditions," says Rappaport. She, Broughal, and Villar suggest that if you’re not particularly tied to these traditions opting for something more inclusive can be a win for all. "Fun alternatives might include a game of bar-style trivia at the welcome party or rehearsal dinner," Rappaport adds. "I heard from one planner friend that their couple opted for a roast at their wedding, which might just be my favorite new tradition."
Make restrooms gender-neutral.
"The simplest thing you can do to create a gender-inclusive wedding is to ensure that gender-neutral restrooms are available for guests and vendors," says Broughal. "If your venue doesn’t have dedicated non-gendered bathrooms, put up signage indicating that restrooms are open to all genders, and detail whether toilets or urinals are available in each room."
Think beyond your ceremony.
As the romantic heart of your wedding, your ceremony is where language works the hardest to capture your story. Now’s the time to add and subtract and tweak and change the traditional script in the ways that feel most meaningful to you—and to think hard about the reasons behind any alterations you might make.
"Before you write or change anything about a ceremony to ensure it’s more inclusive, I think it’s important that you understand your 'why' for doing it," offers Villar. "Is that effort an acknowledgment that you are not inclusive, particularly to the LGBTQIA+ community? The answer is yes, but few people want to sit with that truth and contend with the fact that they may have caused or may be causing harm with their language. Too often, people don’t want to do the soul-searching and look for more prescriptive answers. They want checklists and clear guidelines for what you should or shouldn’t do. Well, nobody has a comprehensive list for every possible scenario and everyone is on their own journey when it comes to expanding their thinking and becoming truly inclusive in their practice. Context matters, situations vary and not everything is going to call for the same template."
They continue, "If you want your ceremony to truly be more inclusive and less gendered, then you need to pay attention to the language that you use daily. The more you pay attention to your own lexicon and consider your words more carefully in your everyday life, the more genuinely inclusive the ceremony will be.”
On the flip side, there’s also work that your officiant or celebrant can do to ensure their words truly resonate with and represent both the couple and their guests. "Always ask for and use the marriers’ pronouns," Villar adds. "Also, ask for preferred terms of endearment or terms of kinship. Ask about cultural considerations, and about who’s in the audience. This is centered on the couple, for sure, but it’s a beautiful shared experience for all present."