Question: In a recent column, Miss Manners wrote that "etiquette considers wedding presents to be associated only with first weddings" and that it is "blatant avarice" when couples are "permitted to exploit their friends, relatives and colleagues." I'm curious to know what you think about that in the context of same-sex marriages. My partner and I are now planning a wedding here in Washington State, and while we've each been legally wed before (to women) we consider this a "first" wedding, too. I might add that we're moving in together and setting up house. Can we ask for wedding gifts?
Answer: What does Mister Manners think about Miss Manners' advice? Let me tell you right off that I've loved Judith Martin completely ever since she answered the question, way back in the 1980s, "What am I supposed to say when I am introduced to a homosexual 'couple'?" Her tart reply: "How do you do? How do you do?" Over the years she's rarely, if ever, lost her footing when it comes to sensible -- and delectably snarky -- advice for one and all.
Not that I don't trust you, but I went ahead and Googled this column to see her full answer and was not surprised to see this pearl of wisdom: "Traditions do change when there is a compelling reason for them to do so." Bingo for you! (Although I don't imagine same-sex weddings were top-of-mind for dear Judith, which is where I come in.)
Let's be real: same-sex couples have been discriminated against and marginalized for all too long in this country, so let's celebrate when we can. How can we not be joyous of a couple's right to have a state-sanctioned wedding, and show our joy and respect with a gift -- whether it's another toaster oven (please include the gift receipt), a bottle of sparkling wine, or a charitable contribution to Freedom to Marry or any of the other excellent advocacy groups seeking marriage equality? So Mister Manners thinks that it's a grand idea to give a gift to gay newlyweds, no matter their previous marital history.
That's the good news. Now the bad: this is not your first marriage, so let's put that trompe-l'œil aside. Since you've both been married before, any formal wedding announcement should note that "the bridegrooms' previous marriages ended in divorce" or that one or both of you were widowed. (Of course, you have my permission to tell one and all that this is the first time you're being "gay-married," as long as you include a knowing wink.)
More important, regardless of your sexual orientation or whether it's your first or fifth marriage, the answer is no, you cannot ask for gifts. There's nothing discriminatory about that; it's simply tacky to ask family and friends to belly up to the cash register.
Still, since people may well want to give you a little something to celebrate your new life together, it's helpful to let it be known what kinds of gifts would be most welcome. After all, if you really never, ever eat toast (or if you're both bringing much-loved toasters to the marriage), then a shiny new four-slicer is not the best gift for you -- and it would be a kindness to your friends to steer them away from the toaster aisle.
There are tried and true ways to spread the news about what's on your wish list without asking outright for gifts. Let your best man, a family member, a close friend, or all of the above, know where you've registered -- guests will no doubt be asking, so be sure the info is available. If someone is throwing you a shower, he or she may want to include a slip with your registry details in that invitation. Lastly, if you're creating a personalized wedding website (called "wedsites"), it is acceptable to include a mention of store registries or non-profits that you support.
The bottom line is gifts are expressions of our love and support for a couple. When straight friends remarry (or when a longtime couple decides to renew their vows), the "right" thing to do is, in fact, to give another present. It needn't be expensive, especially if you went all out the first time, but it's a symbolic expression of your good wishes and support.
Congratulations to you both and to Washington for being on the verge of becoming the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage.
This column originally was published on Advocate.com.
Steven Petrow is the author of Steven Petrow's Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners and can be found online at gaymanners.com. Got a question? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact him on Facebook and Twitter.