The White House prepares to celebrate its 19th wedding.
On Saturday, November 19, President Biden’s 28-year-old granddaughter Naomi Biden, the daughter of Hunter Biden and his ex-wife Kathleen Buhle, is will marry Peter Neal, a 25-year-old law graduate, with whom he began dating four years ago. The wedding will be the first event to take place on the South Lawn (despite the frigid temperatures expected in Washington DC), but so 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 partly because there are no hard and fast rules about what a wedding at the president’s house should look like.
Who can get married in the White House?
Naomi’s wedding is unique, according to historian Sarah Fling.
“This will be the 19th wedding hosted by the president and the first lady in the White House, but this is the first granddaughter to be married in the White House,” he notes.
Prior to Naomi’s nuptials, the last wedding that took place in the White House was not actually to a member of the First Family. Pete Souza, the White House photographer under the Obama administration and the Reagan administration, married his long-time partner Patti Lease at the Rose Garden, hosted by then-President Barack Obama.
“As to who gets to get married in the White House, that’s really up to the president’s discretion at the time. It is his home for as long as they live there,” Lina Mann of the White House Historical Association tells Yahoo Life. “Usually they are family members, like first daughters, occasionally first sons, as well as nieces and nephews. There are also two personal examples, including Pete Souza, and one during the Franklin Delano Roosevelt era.”
That staff member was harry lloyd hopkinssocial worker and one of FDR’s most trusted advisors.
Where do most White House weddings take place?
Naomi is the first to be married on the South Lawn, but there are many notable venues around the White House that make great wedding venues.
“Most of the time, weddings are held in the East Room, which is the largest room,” says Mann. “The other great White House wedding venue within the White House would be the Blue Room, which is quite large. Those rooms were used for weddings, particularly during the 19th century when they were smaller affairs. More recently, there have been several White House Rose Garden weddings. Tricia Nixon got married at the Rose Garden in 1971, and Souza’s wedding was also at the Rose Garden.”
How private are White House weddings?
We don’t know many details about the wedding of Naomi and her future husband, even in the age of social media. White House weddings have been extremely private and very public affairs.
The first wedding held in the White House was the 1812 wedding of Lucy Payne Washington, the sister of First Lady Dolley Madison, who married Associate Justice of the Supreme Court 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, that people began to pay attention to White House weddings.
“Nellie Grant, being this young daughter of the president and first lady, got reporters interested in the event,” says Fling, noting that the president and first lady redecorated the East Room with chandeliers and columns for the special occasion. “It was a relatively small wedding compared to the ones we’ve seen more recently, with just 250 guests. It was the beginning of the visibility of White House weddings, but certainly nothing like it is today.”
In 1971, Tricia Nixon also used the White House as the backdrop for her wedding to Edward Finch Cox in the Rose Garden, and it was quite the sight.
“That’s when you see a lot of increased media attention: over 700 reporters were credentialed for the event,” says Fling. “110 million Americans watched television coverage of this wedding. So this is where we see the flip side of much more media and public interest in the White House.”
What are the rules for getting married in the White House?
Unlike, say, royal weddings in the UK, there are far fewer rules and regulations when it comes to getting married in the White House. There is no standard White House wedding, according to Fling.
“One thing that people may not realize is that White House weddings are so specific to the bride and groom,” she explains. “Normally we don’t 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 as a normal wedding of the families themselves would be. They just get the benefit of being able to use the White House.”
As far as decorations, food, and everything else, that’s entirely up to what the couple wants to do, leaving plenty of room for creating fun new traditions.
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