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White Wedding

Tina Fetner & Melanie Heath

photo of Melanie Heath

Melanie Heath

Associate Professor | Graduate Chair of the Department of Sociology

What you need to know

Traditional weddings reinforce heterosexuality as the norm and act as a reference point when both straight and same-sex couples plan their marriage. Straight couples are more likely than same-sex couples to embrace a traditional wedding.

What is this research about?

The wedding industry promotes the image of a "white wedding" where the bride wears a luxurious gown, there is a traditional religious ceremony, and couples spend about $30,000 on their day. A traditional wedding also goes hand in hand with a straight couple. Same-sex couples are aware of the heteronormativity that surrounds weddings when planning their own special days.

The purpose of this research is to see the differences between how gay and straight women view wedding ceremonies, by studying whether they have similar views as to what constitutes a conventional wedding, and if they follow through with those ideals.

What did the researcher do?

The researchers interviewed 46 recently married women, 27 of whom are in straight marriages and 19 in same-sex. All interviewees were married in Ontario, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2003. The interviews asked questions that explored marriage and relationships. The researchers used the responses to compare how straight and gay women make decisions about their weddings.

What did the researcher find?

The researchers grouped the women into four categories: non-reflexive adopters; acquiescent adopters; same-sex resistors; and frugal resistors.

Non-reflexive adopters: These are the women who consciously embraced the traditional wedding Heterosexual women were the most likely to have a conventional white wedding, though some same-sex weddings also took on a traditional style. Most of the weddings in this category were religious ceremonies, which helped guide the expectations of the wedding.

Acquiescent adopters: This group was made entirely of straight women who did not readily conform to the traditional wedding. Due to outside pressure from religion and family, they ended up having a traditional wedding. This group shows that it is not just individual choices that go into a wedding, but also societal norms.

Same-sex resistors: Some same-sex couples saw having a traditional wedding as an act of defiance, as it was something that had previously been denied to them. Other same-sex couples resisted the norm by holding their ceremonies outside of religious institutions and limiting the involvement of their family.

Frugal resistors: Both straight and same-sex couples fell into this category, seeing the traditional wedding as optional and costly. These women did not get pressured into spending from their friends or family, and most did not hold their weddings with religious institutions.

For all women, traditional heterosexual marriage shaped the way they planned their wedding. Women planning a straight marriage were more likely to embrace the conventional wedding, while women planning a same-sex marriage were more likely to critique the traditional.

How can you use this research?

This research may be useful to activists interested in same-sex relationships and weddings. It may also be reassuring to those who are currently planning their wedding. They can be comforted that weddings don't all have to look the same. Instead, couples can focus on creating their ceremony with values that they hold important, rather than what is dictated by society.

About the researchers:

Dr. Tina Fetner is an Associate Professor of Sociology at McMaster University.

Dr. Melanie Heath is an Associate Professor of Sociology at McMaster University.


Fetner, T. and Heath, M. (2015). "Do same-sex and straight weddings aspire to the fairytale? Women’s conformity and resistance to traditional weddings". Sociological Perspectives. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/0731121415601269.