Recent decisions in Britain and New Zealand to legalize same-sex marriages have given gay American couples seeking a destination wedding some high-profile options.
Same-sex weddings will be legal in New Zealand starting August 19. Among the first to be married under the amended marriage law will be a gay couple from Australia who won a contest hosted by Tourism New Zealand. Air New Zealand, meanwhile, is looking for a Kiwi couple to wed onboard one of its jets while in flight.
Same-sex weddings in Britain won’t take place until next summer, but Visit Britain is already in the planning mode.
“We’ve always rolled out a warm welcome for LGBT travelers,” said Sandi Dawe, CEO of Visit Britain, “We hope this new law will result in an increase in tourism to Britain for gay and lesbian travelers who want to marry and honeymoon here.”
To help those couples “conceptualize their own dream weddings,” the national tourism agency has issued a list of gay-friendly wedding venues and locations, including castles in Wales, the Brighton Pier in England and the restaurant atop the phallic-shaped building at 30 St Mary Axe in London that’s been dubbed “The Gherkin”.
“I already have gay clients inquiring about planning a destination wedding for them in Britain,” said David Rubin, CEO of DavidTravel, a luxury travel agency in Corona del Mar, Calif.
In the past, Rubin has organized wedding celebrations and honeymoons for American couples in South Africa, Spain and in other countries where same-sex marriages are already legal.
“Sweden – with the Ice Hotel – has been a great destination, and in Iceland we’ve had couples get married on top of a glacier,” said Rubin. “Canada is easy: it is close by and same-sex weddings have been legal there since 2005.” Rubin’s agency is also helping plan same-sex weddings in France, where marriage equality became legal this May.
Brandon Perlberg, a 35 year-old lawyer, consultant and “very proud New Yorker,” is currently engaged to marry Benn Storey, a 31 year-old senior newspaper designer from England, his partner of more than eight years.
They’ve set their wedding date for autumn 2014 and are hoping marriage equality reaches Scotland by then, because “my partner and I have completely fallen in love with Edinburgh,” said Perlberg. For now, though, they’re planning to be married in England, in either London or Durham.
“Either way, 40 to 50 friends and family will be flying to the UK from the US to share in the event with us,” said Perlberg.
The Visit Britain team now actively courting the same-sex marriage market will be happy to hear that, and not just because weddings are happy occasions.
While there are no official statistics on how many destination weddings take place or how much money is spent on them, “the potential spending associated with gay marriage is quite simply immense,” said Ian Johnson, founder and CEO of Out Now, a global lesbian and gay marketing and consulting firm.
Competition for the destination gay wedding and honeymoon market is really heating up, said Johnson.
“Places that get this right now can expect a far bigger payoff than just the gay and lesbian people they will attract. It will also affect the attitudes of wedding guests, friends, family and work colleagues of the happy couple, many of whom will choose to spend their travel dollars where all citizens are treated equally,” he said.
That was the scenario two years ago when Ernesto Rocco and his partner had an elaborate marriage celebration in France – even before same-sex marriage was legal there.
The couple first got officially married in Vermont (which legalized same-sex marriage in 2009) and then, with their priest from California presiding, they had a public ceremony at a French chateau with more than 100 friends and family.
“For that couple, the right chateau decided the destination,” said Rubin.
And while Rocco and his partner, Richard Davies, would have rather skipped the stop in Vermont if that was possible in 2011, they also chose France because they felt it important to celebrate and spend their money in a country that supports gay people. “We spent six figures and our friends and family also bought hotel rooms, plane tickets, meals, etc. to be with us. Why should that money go someplace that doesn’t accept us?” he said.
(My story, Where to have your same-sex destination wedding, appeared in a slightly different version on NBC News Travel)