Lesbian Daughter Tells Mother, 'Address Wedding Invitations My Way'
I've been helping my daughter plan her wedding to her girlfriend and everything's been going fine — until now.
We're about to address the invitations. The calligrapher is lined up and time is getting a bit short. Here's the problem. My
daughter insists on addressing the women with what I'd call a feminist version of their names. In other words, instead of
writing "Mr. and Mrs. Richard Garcia" she wants to write: "Ms. Jane Garcia and Mr. Richard Garcia," calling out the identity
of the woman separately from her husband. I've explained that this is incorrect etiquette and that my friends will be confused
if not offended. But she won't listen to me. Do lesbians and gays have different rules for this sort of thing? – New
Before I "rule" on your question, let me put this whole pen-to-paper tempest in context: If this is the biggest
mother-daughter wedding issue facing the two of you, I call that Progress (with a capital "P"). Isn't this exactly what
marriage equality is really about: all families and arm-twisting one another over wedding minutiae?
Truth is, I was initially a bit surprised by your reaction to your daughter's preference for envelope equality. I couldn't
quite grasp what anyone's confusion would be. Still, your question generated dozens of responses on my Facebook page, with
these three posts capturing the diversity of views:
1. "Mom, defer to your daughter. Perhaps you live in a Jane Austen novel but I can't imagine anyone in this day and age being
offended, or even noticing something so trivial."
2. "If your lesbian daughter wants to be rude, then I guess let her, but it's improper etiquette. Even lesbians can be
3. "This is not an L.G.B.T. issue; it's a 21st-century issue. Women are not appendages of men. Good grief."
With that out the way, let me jump into the family fracas. Did I see the word "calligraphy" in the question? That tells me,
first and foremost, we're talking about a formal wedding — not some hippy-dippy, flip-flop nuptials. And indeed,
Mother-in-Law-to-Be, you're right on the money in asserting that traditional etiquette calls for the "traditional" (what your
daughter would call "paternalistic" and "sexist") form of address.
But not so fast (lest the ink smudge). Your approach may please some of your friends, but others may find it off-putting.
Plenty of boomers would agree with this Facebook poster: "Being addressed as 'Mrs. Jason Reich' burns me. I took my husband's
last name, not his first name." Since the goal of etiquette is to honor, not offend, then why would you insist on using a
convention that is sure to rattle some women's chains? After all, it was our generation that was the first to seriously
challenge the "Mr. and Mrs." convention with the widespread acceptance of "Ms." as the proper default for an adult woman.
The other problem with traditional addressing is that traditions have changed mightily since your parents advised you (or
ordered you, if they were paying for your nuptials) on how to address your own wedding invitations. A one-size-fits-all answer
won't work easily for couples with different surnames, hyphenated names, a title or an honorific, or who are not married at
Certainly, etiquette has caught up — or been made to catch up — by recent generations of feminists. And now
L.G.B.T. couples are pushing the envelope (yes); for instance, which first name could you possibly use in a "Mr. and Mr." or
"Mrs. and Mrs." scenario?
That's why modern etiquette calls for any committed couple to be addressed with both names on one line, joined by "and," as
Mr. Neil Patrick Harris and Mr. David Burtka
(prohibited from legally marrying in California)
Ms. Ellen DeGeneres and Ms. Portia DeGeneres
(It's up to the couple to decide their preference for the name order.)
Adding even more complexity, some same-sex couples — having fought for traditional marriage — are now following
its most conservative tenets. Not long ago Wendy Carter Smith married Alexandra Epstein. In The New York Times announcement it
was noted, "Ms. Smith … is taking Ms. Epstein's name." In light of your question, I had to ask them how they prefer to be
"People use a lot of different prefixes (Ms. and Ms., Mrs. and Mrs., even Miss and Miss)," Alexandra Smith Epstein replied. "I
guess I'd prefer whatever the inviters are using for straight couples. People also can't seem to wrap their heads around the
fact that we are both named Epstein now [because] people don't expect lesbians to just take one name like we did. I will say
that we love referring to ourselves collectively as 'the Epsteins' and that when the title 'Mrs.' is thrown around it always
seems funny and a little fake — but we like it anyway." However, the former Ms. Smith, now named Carter Smith Epstein,
bristled at the notion of being addressed as "Mrs. and Mrs. Alexandra Smith Epstein," explaining, "One person's identity is
not subsumed by the other when two people are married."
Given all this, I would conclude that neither you nor your daughter can fairly impose your own etiquette on the other —
or on your guests. Together you should go through the invitation list, addressing envelopes the way you believe your guests
would prefer. If you're not sure, it takes just a quick call or e-mail to ask them.
One last note: I hope your daughter and daughter-in-law-to-be have a joyous wedding, surrounded by supportive friends and
family, with invitation wording a distant and trivial memory. As Alexandra Smith Epstein put it: "I really don't have much of
a preference as to how an invitation is addressed as long as it gets to the right house." Amen, sister.
Originally published in The New York Times, April 30, 2013