When it comes to wedding jewelry culture in the LGBTQ+ communities, the status quo today hasn’t always been, well, the status quo. The history of how LGBTQ+ couples wore their wedding bands — for the most part, on their right hand, rather than the traditional left — is rooted in a desire for differentiation, particularly when U.S. federal law wouldn’t grant these couples the same rights to marriage as those who identified as heterosexual. In the near-decade since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of equal rights to marriage, many mindsets have shifted in accordance, shifting the placement of their rings from their right ring finger to their left. Others continue to wear their wedding jewelry on their right hand as a tribute to history.
More than 20 years ago, Robbins Brothers executive Sue Hopeman and her partner, Diana Miller, followed the trajectory of many couples in love: They dated for a couple of years, then decided they wanted to be together for the long haul. “She woke me up [on Thanksgiving Day 2001], and she brought me a box containing two long stem red roses, and there was a bunch of loose petals surrounding them. And she just said to me that after the events of , specifically with the occurrence of 9/11, it made her think about what was really important to her in her life,” Hopeman tells TZR. It was at about that moment that she noticed that there was an engagement ring tied with a ribbon to one of the roses, and Miller asked Hopeman to marry her.
However, at the time, they were living in Texas, where gay marriage wasn’t legalized at the state level. “I said, ‘Yes, although I’m not exactly sure what you’re asking since we’re not legally allowed to get married.’ And [Diana] said, ‘Well, we are going to be hopeful that someday we can get married,’” she recalls. Because they liked the inclusive nature of [Western] Europe, where more people wear their wedding ring on their right hand (though there isn’t a direct association between this placement and European culture), the couple decided to defy societal norms by wearing rings on their right hands, too. “It was our way of making our own statement that we were in a committed relationship and that our rings on the right hand were a symbol that distinguished our partnership as the same but yet different from others,” Hopeman says.
In 2015, when the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision ruled in favor of gay marriage in all 50 states, Hopeman and Miller got to planning their nuptials in the local Dallas-Forth Worth area, which took place the following year. From their wedding day and on, they wore their engagement rings and coordinated wedding bands on their left hands to honor the normative tradition.
Common culture has designated the ring finger as the fourth finger on the left hand. Wearing a wedding ring on this digit originated from the ancient belief that the finger has a vein, the Vena amoris (Latin for “vein of love”), that runs directly to the heart, New York City-based jeweler Nicole Wegman explains. While a modern understanding of anatomy shows that all fingers have venous connections to the heart and no such singular vein exists, the symbolism has remained intact culturally in the United States and in the doctrines of certain religions, like Catholicism. Meanwhile, in certain European countries, particularly those with robust Orthodox Christian communities, it is customary to wear wedding bands on the right hands. “[Some of my] LGBTQ+ customers wear their rings on their right hand to symbolize their relationship is unique, [but] most Ring Concierge couples opt to wear their wedding rings on their left ring finger,” Wegman adds.
However, Hopeman and Miller’s decision wasn’t necessarily the “norm” for gay couples who had relationships that preceded the gay marriage rights. Hopeman estimates that most of her friends who had either been in a committed relationship or had participated in a commitment ceremony before marriage became federally legal or then got married wore rings on their right hands. “[It was our way of making a statement] that as much as our committed relationship is like other relationships, it is still different from what heterosexual couples experience,” she says. At the same time, a number of her friends continued to honor their practice of wearing a band on the right hand.
Her friend Steve Habgood, a realtor in Dallas, is one such example. He and his husband, Mark Sadlek, first got together in the late 1980s, then had a commitment ceremony in 1993. What stands out to Habgood the most about that day is how special it felt to celebrate the couple’s love with friends and family, “[especially] because there was almost no one doing these type of ceremonies at the time.”
The couple custom-created a set of rings but differed about which hand to wear them on. “I’m a little bit more of a non-traditionalist, and just because culture or society says this is what you’re supposed to do, doesn’t really mean that’s what you want or need to do,” Habgood says. “[I said], ‘I think I want to wear mine on my right hand.’ But, my husband decided differently and has enjoyed it just as much the entire time on his left hand.”
He recalls that he came to appreciate their decision even more when the couple became the subject of a 1998 article written in Life Magazine, which Hopeman says was “groundbreaking” in its intention to showing their audience what gay marriage could look like. “At the time, Mark and Steve had been together for 11 years, so it really broke the [promiscuity] stereotype of gay men by featuring [them] in a monogamous relationship,” she says. In the spread, there was a photo of them in bed with their dog. Habgood posed with his hand on Mark’s, both of their rings shimmering in the light. It was a unique image, he points out, given that one can never see each person’s rings together when they’re worn on the same side.
Like Sadlek, New York City couple Jonathan Rivera and Noah Love identified more with the traditional sphere of marriage customs. In 2015, they celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision at the iconic Stonewall Inn, and when they came home, Love proposed to Rivera with a ring that he would wear on his left hand. “There was never even a conversation or even a thought in my mind of wearing it on the right hand. It was just kind of like status quo, it goes on the left hand,” Rivera says. The engagement ring — a rustic-looking silver band — belonged to Love’s grandfather. Rivera retired it when the couple exchanged wedding bands at their wedding, a simple white-gold set to fit their classic style. (Love, who also received an engagement ring via a counterproposal from Rivera, did the same.)
Looking back on how the events unfolded in synchrony with the Supreme Court’s decision, Rivera is grateful for the freedom it has afforded him and others within the LGBTQ+ communities. Though, had societal circumstances been different, he’s convinced that his path would not have been much different. “When I got engaged and knew I was going to get married, I was very clear with those around me, my husband, and myself that the wedding, the marriage, and the rings were more so symbols,” he says. “I know my husband is my lifelong partner. He’s my soulmate. I don’t need a wedding certificate or even a wedding band to show that or explain that or make it mean something.”
All of the couples who spoke to TZR agree: Actions, and the symbols that represent them, are powerful. Even if gay marriage wasn’t legalized in all 50 states, Rivera believes he would have still gotten married in the state of New York and worn the band on his left hand. “It’s important for me to show others around me, including my family, my friends, and my future children, that it is okay to be gay and married,” he says. “[I would have] maintained that sentiment of, I’m doing this because I can and not all my community can, and for those who couldn’t in the past, so that younger generations can know it’s okay, you can.”