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All About Everyday Manners

How do you address an invitation to a gay or lesbian couple?

Not only do my parents continue to spell my partner’s name wrong (hello, it’s Ann not Anne!) after 15 years, but more often than not they don’t even write her name on the envelope. That really irks me, and it hurts her because it seems like she’s invisible to them. What’s the right way to address a gay couple when writing to them?

Holiday invitations. Letters of condolence. Thank-you notes. With more and more same-sex couples living together with or without a marriage license (whether by choice or because the law prohibits it), letter scribes (the few that exist) wonder just how to address them. Similarly, many of us aren’t quite sure how to avoid a faux pas here as well. Much of this confusion, no doubt, is the result of the near fascism perpetuated by the etiquette Misses, Emily Post and Amy Vanderbilt. Only when a couple married could they be addressed as a unit. That moral judgment was represented by using the word and to join the two names. As Mrs. Post wrote: “Using the word and in between a couple’s names signifies the marriage and the legitimacy of that institution. It is not to be used otherwise.” In the new century, moral judgments like hers are passé (and I’m being kind in my word choice here). We’re here to support our friends and their relationships, even though the federal government doesn’t—and only a handful of states do.

So, how do you address a letter to a lesbian or gay couple? Just like any other married couple:

“Dr. Susanna Barrows and Mr. Peter Lerner” (heterosexual couple)

“Mr. Levi Black and Mr. Michael White” (gay couple)

The bottom line: Once couples are married, partnered, or otherwise committed, their names appear on one line with the word and placed in between to signify the union. When members of a couple are of equal rank, i.e., no honorific like “Dr.”, couples’ names are arranged alphabetically. And, lest you be tempted, don’t use the title “Messrs.” when addressing a gay male couple; that title is used for two or more brothers.

As for your mother misspelling your partner’s name, that’s a whole ’nother question and it’s above my pay grade. I’ll just note—not only is it rude to misspell someone’s name; to do so repeatedly belies other issues (does nonacceptance come to mind?).

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Ask Steven Petrow about Gay Manners