The White House is getting ready to host its 19th wedding.
On Saturday, Nov. 19, President Biden’s 28-year-old granddaughter Naomi Biden — the daughter of Hunter Biden and his ex-wife Kathleen Buhle — is set to marry 25-year-old law school graduate Peter Neal, who she began dating four years ago. The wedding will be the first event to take place on the South Lawn (despite the expected chilly temperatures in Washington D.C.), but thus far, the public knows very little about what Naomi’s big day will entail. According to historians at the White House Historical Association, that’s partially because there are no hard and fast rules for how a wedding at the President’s home should look.
Who can get married at the White House?
Naomi’s wedding is unique, according to historian Sarah Fling.
“This will be the 19th wedding hosted by the president and first lady at the White House, but this is the first granddaughter to get married at the White House,” she notes.
Prior to Naomi’s nuptials, the last wedding to take place at the White House was actually not a member of the First Family at all. Pete Souza, the White House photographer under both the Obama administration and the Reagan administration, married his longtime partner Patti Lease in the Rose Garden, hosted by then President Barack Obama.
“As for who can get married at the White House, that’s really up to the discretion of the president at the time. It’s their home while they live there,” Lina Mann of the White House Historical Association tells Yahoo Life. “Usually it is family members, like first daughters, occasionally first sons, as well as nieces and nephews. There’s also two examples of staff, including Pete Souza, and one during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s time.”
That staff member was Harry Lloyd Hopkins, a social worker and one of FDR’s most trusted advisors.
Where do most White House weddings take place?
Naomi is the first to marry on the South Lawn, but there are many notable places around the White House that make for excellent wedding venues.
“Most often, weddings take place in the East Room, which is the largest room,” Mann says. “The other big location for White House weddings inside the White House would be the Blue Room, which is fairly large. Those rooms were used for weddings, particularly during the 19th century when they were smaller affairs. More recently, there have been several weddings out in the White House Rose Garden. Tricia Nixon got married out in the Rose Garden in 1971, and the Souza wedding was also in the Rose Garden.”
Just how private are White House weddings?
We don’t know many details about Naomi and her husband-to-be’s wedding, even in the age of social media. White House weddings have been both extremely private affairs, and very public ones.
The first wedding held at the White House was the 1812 wedding of Lucy Payne Washington, the sister of first lady Dolley Madison, who married Supreme Court Associate Justice Thomas Todd. However, it wasn’t until the 1874 wedding of Nellie Grant, daughter of President Ulysses S. Grant and first lady Julia Grant, to diplomat Algernon Sartoris, did people start really paying attention to White House weddings.
“Nellie Grant, being this young daughter of the president and first lady, got newspaper reporters interested in the event,” says Fling, noting that the president and first lady had the East Room redecorated with chandeliers and columns for the special occasion. “It was a relatively small wedding compared to the ones that we've seen more recently, with only 250 guests. It was the beginning of visibility of weddings at the White House, but certainly nothing like it is today.”
In 1971, Tricia Nixon also used the White House as the backdrop of her wedding to Edward Finch Cox in the Rose Garden — and it was quite the spectacle.
“That’s when you see a lot of increased media attention — over 700 reporters received credentials for the event,” says Fling. “110 million Americans watched television coverage of this wedding. So this is where we see the flip side of a lot more media interest and public interest in the White House.”
What are the rules of getting married at the White House?
Unlike, say, the royal weddings in the United Kingdom, there are far fewer rules and regulations when it comes to getting married at the White House. There is no such thing as a standard White House wedding, according to Fling.
“One thing that people might not realize is that White House weddings are so specific to the bride and groom,” she explains. “We don’t typically see brides trying to follow a certain historical precedent. These weddings are specific to their own ideas and traditions and family dynamics.”
She also shares that these weddings are “not taxpayer funded weddings.”
“They are paid for as a normal wedding would be from the families themselves. They just get the benefit of being able to use the White House.”
As for decorations, food and all the rest — that’s completely up to what the couple wants to do, leaving plenty of room to create new, fun traditions.
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