Shakin' Up Your Wedding

By Anica Wong

April 16, 2010 5 min read

Patrick Dempsey isn't the only man who has found himself on the woman's side of the wedding party. In the movie "Made of Honor," Dempsey's character is asked by his best friend, Hannah, to be her man of honor. He happily obliges because of their long history as friends. Though the titles "man of honor" and "best woman" aren't necessarily in the traditional lexicon of weddings, these phrases are becoming better-known.

"It's as simple as the fact that more of us have platonic friends of the opposite sex," says Ariel Meadow Stallings, the author of "Offbeat Bride: Creative Alternatives for Independent Brides" and publisher of "Whereas a woman having a male best friend might have been scandalous a few decades ago, these days many of us have dear friends of the opposite sex."

If you have a good friend who is the opposite sex but you still would like him or her to be on your side of the wedding, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, you must make sure that your friend would be comfortable standing with you and not being on the traditional side. Most friends with whom you are close enough to ask to be your honor attendant would be happy to be at your side regardless. The biggest challenge tends to be what those attendants wear because they won't match the rest of the side.

"When a man stands on the woman's side, I have him dress as any of the groomsmen," says Tanya Porter, owner and wedding coordinator of Weddings, Etc. "The same for the woman standing for the man; if not the same dress, then one similar." This advice works well, say other wedding planners. Having best women wear the same color dress but not the same style as the bridesmaids lets them stand apart from the party while still blending in.

Porter says many of the weddings she has planned that have had more nontraditional gender roles have been when brides want their brothers to be on their side.

"I find families are very open to it," she says. "What I try to do is not put, for example, the bride's brother in an uncomfortable situation, like having to straighten her train. I have the bridesmaid next to him take over for that. It's easier and not awkward."

The obvious next question is whether a woman can throw a bachelor party and vice versa. According to Meadow Stallings, "Absolutely! Personally, I've never been a fan of the gender-dictated bachelor/bachelorette parties that seem to encourage people to have 'one last night of fun.'"

Another way to get your friends and family members involved in the ceremony without having them in the actual wedding party (gender-neutral or not) is to have them officiate the wedding. A simple Google search for online ordinations will produce a list of several outlets through which you can become officially ordained. The top result is the Universal Life Church Monastery, which has seen an increase in people getting ordained through its Web site.

"The demand has gone up," says Benedict Palmer, a site administrator. "We have anywhere between 300 and 600 people being ordained every day." Palmer noted that the primary reason people get ordained is to do marriages.

But Kathryn Kalabokes, the owner and wedding and event planner for Dream A Little Dream Events, wants brides and grooms to think things through before they jump into having acquaintance perform their ceremonies. "The key is to make sure that the person whom you have asked or who has volunteered to do it knows all the rules for that state," Kalabokes says. "That might be something the couple need to investigate because every state is different." According to Kalabokes, someone can get ordained for a day in San Francisco, but that is not necessarily the case everywhere.

"I would really caution anyone who is thinking of doing it outside of their own state to check it out," Porter says. "The worst thing is to, 20 years later, realize that you weren't legally married."

No matter who officiates your wedding, always make sure that your marriage certificate is sent to the correct place.

"The couples leave for their honeymoon; the certificate never goes out. Therefore, it can become a marriage that never happened legally," Kalabokes says. "It is a process. That's why officiants charge what they do. If you have a friend do it, there is a lot of trust."

It doesn't always turn out poorly if you have a friend or relative perform the ceremony. This is a great way to cut costs (most officiants charge about $500 per ceremony), as well as a way to personalize your special day even more.

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