Where to have your same-sex destination wedding

wedding cake

From State Library of New South Wales, via Flickr Commons


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.


Benn Storey and Brandon Perlberg; courtesy B. Perlberg


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.


Ernesto Rocco and Richard Davies at their public wedding ceremony in France.

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)

Destination wedding travel advice from the TSA

If you’re a bride planning a destination wedding, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) suggests you plot your trip through airport security as carefully as you plan that trip down the aisle.

That way, you’ll avoid wrinkles, both in the process — and in your dress.

Courtesy National Library of Wales

“Brides-to-be can definitely bring their wedding dress through a security checkpoint,” TSA employee and occasional blog contributor Lynn Dean wrote recently on the TSA’s blog. But she said if the dress can’t lay flat in its garment bag or box and fit through the X-ray machine, TSA officers will screen the dress manually.

If that happens, “Stay calm,” said Jack Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations, a luxury-focused Virtuoso agency that plans more than 200 destination celebrations a year. “Many dresses have wires and fake jewels and other decoration that may need to be inspected. And even through TSA agents wear gloves, you can ask them to put on a fresh pair before touching your dress.”

For the flight, Ezon suggests brides book a first-class or upgraded seat to get early boarding and first pick of storage space in the overhead bins or the closets. “I’ve had brides whose dresses were so elaborate that we even booked the dress its own seat.”

Ezon also said that while it’s important to protect a wedding dress on an airplane, there are other outfits to be concerned with as well. “You have the mothers of the bride and groom as well. They’re all focused on getting their clothing there, too.”

Beyond dresses, the TSA’s Dean notes other wedding-related items that may cause a checkpoint glitch for those on their way to getting hitched. Knives designed to cut wedding cakes should be shipped or put in checked bags, but wired bouquets are OK, “along with rice, birdseed, sand and candy-coated almonds,” she said.

Jewelry and other valuables should be packed in carry-on, not checked bags. And gifts for the bridal party should be wrapped at the destination, in case they require additional screening.

Another important consideration: identification. A bride may leave for her destination wedding with one last name but return to the airport with another. Current TSA rules require that the name on a ticket match the name on an ID exactly but, often, honeymoon tickets are made in the married couple’s name.

The TSA’s advice: “Take your marriage license with you in the event you booked your plane tickets in your married name but haven’t updated your driver’s license.”

Ezon isn’t totally comfortable with that advice. “It’s often left to the discretion of TSA or immigration officers whether or not to accept a marriage license as a legal document. But a wedding or honeymoon is such a big deal. You don’t really want to rely on that.”

Bottom line: Make sure your paperwork, like your partner, is a perfect match.

(My story: Planning a Destination Wedding? What to know before you go, was first published on’s Overhead Bin)

SAS proves Love IS in the air with same-sex, in-flight weddings

Gay and lesbian couples wed on SAS

Giving a new meaning to the phrase “walking down the aisle,” on Monday, December 6th, weddings for one gay couple from Germany and one lesbian couple from Poland took place on SAS Airlines flight SK903 traveling from Stockholm to New York.

Within the first 20 minutes of the flight, after the fasten seat-belts signs were turned off and while the plane was still in Swedish airspace, a Swedish representative from the European Parliament presided over two brief marriage ceremonies.

SAS holds first same-sex, in-flight wedding

The sky-high nuptials took place in the business class cabin with a large, heart-shaped floral wreath as backdrop, first for Aleksandar Mijatovic and Shantu Bhattacherjee, a gay couple from Germany, and then for Ewa Tomaszewicz and Gosia Rawińska, a lesbian couple from Poland.

SAS host first same-sex, in-flight wedding

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Sweden since May 1, 2009 and while same-sex couples may enter registered partnerships in Germany, they may not do so in Poland. “So this ceremony is not only for us,” said Ewa Tomaszewicz who first met her partner, Gosia Rawińska, on a soccer field and got to know her through spirited political debates on the internet and, later karaoke. “It’s also a small victory for all those who believe that one day in Poland we’ll have a normal country where everyone who loves each other can just get married.” 

For the in-flight wedding, as in many traditional weddings, rings and teary personalized vows were exchanged, toasts were made, champagne was poured, a first dance was danced, and a multi-course wedding dinner was consumed. Finally, a multi-tiered wedding cake was rolled out to be cut and tasted by the wedding couples before the dessert was served to guests.

SAS hosts first same-sex, inflight wedding

Airline as wedding planner

Scandinavia airline SAS is owned by the governments of Norway, Denmark and Sweden, which were amongst the first countries in the world to legalize same-sex marriage or partnerships. SAS spokesperson Anders Lindstrom says it was because of that, and because of the widespread focus on love created by the wedding of Sweden’s Crown Princess Victoria earlier this year, “It just hit me that SAS should be the airline to host the world’s first same-sex wedding in the air.”

To choose which same-sex couples would be married on the historic flight, SAS created a “Love is in the air” social media contest and launched it in September, 2010. 300 couples from around the world, many from Poland and other countries where same-sex marriage is forbidden, entered the contest and campaigned aggressively for supporters and votes on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and elsewhere.

“We’ve been living together for six years and wanted to be married in an interesting way. So for six weeks of our lives we reduced our normal work so we could promote ourselves,” said contest winner and newlywed Aleksandar Mijatovic. “We had very good competitors,” added Mijaztovic’s husband, Shantu Bhattacherjee, “They inspired us to do more and push ourselves forward so we did videos and promotions on the internet, in magazines and newspapers. It just grew bigger.”

More than 450,000 visitors viewed the airline’s contest site and more than 350,000 unique votes were cast. As top vote-getters, the couples from Germany and Poland each won an in-flight wedding, designer wedding rings and other gifts, and a honeymoon package in New York and Los Angeles. (A couple from North Carolina also won a trip to Sweden that includes a land-based commitment ceremony and honeymoon package.)

Publicity stunt or meaningful marketing?

While SAS is the first airline to host a same-sex, in-flight wedding, it is not the first to reach out to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community.  In the United States, that community includes about 16 million adults, or about 6.8% of the country’s population. And, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the LGBT community spends an estimated $70 billion a year on travel, or about 10% of the U.S. total.

Air New Zealand’s Pink Flight, in 2008, celebrated the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and featured live performances by drag queens, music, contests and screenings of classic gay-themed films and was emceed by comedienne Kathy Griffin.

In May, 2010, JetBlue’s JetPride flight #1969 flew from San Francisco to Long Beach to celebrate Long Beach Lesbian & Gay Pride, a major pride celebration. The flight number commemorated the 1969 Stonewall Riots and the birth of the pride movement, while in-flight festivities included entertainment, gift bags and pink cocktails.

When he learned that SAS planned to host a same-sex, in-flight wedding event, Ian Johnson, founder and CEO of the marketing and consulting firm Out Now Global, asked event organizers if they planned to include feather boas, drag queens “and other stereotypical elements too often associated with ‘gay’ promotional events.”  He was relieved to learn that nothing of the sort was planned.

“Their whole approach recognized this is not a game. It is about real people, real lives and their genuine love for each other. The SAS approach has been clever from a marketing standpoint, but far more importantly consistently respectful throughout to offer recognition and support to provide a life-changing memory for the winners of the competition.”

Clark Massad, European ambassador for the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), a major gay and lesbian travel trade association, agrees.  As SAS flight SK903 began its descent into Newark Liberty International Airport, Massad said “Today there are a lot of companies going for the gay or ‘pink’ dollar and they think it’s sufficient to just hang a rainbow flag outside their business. Well, it’s not. And we can take a lesson from how sincere SAS was in conducting this same-sex, in-flight wedding.”

“It’s been like a fairy tale,” said SAS newlywed Shantu Bhattacherjee, “Alexsander and I both lost our mothers several years ago. But it’s nice to be married up here, close to them in the clouds where they have the option to be here and be part of the ceremony.”

(All photos by Harriet Baskas. This story was prepared for

German gay couple weds on airplane

Love is in the air at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport

Throughout the year, Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport is a pretty lovey-dovey place.

marriage ceremony at Stockholm Arlanda

Last Thursday morning, I stopped by the airport chapel just as chaplain Anders Berglund was finishing up a short marriage ceremony for Melitza and Frank Kortman (below).  After chit-chat and champagne, the couple set off for their honeymoon in Bali and Berglund explained that this was the second of three weddings he’d be presiding over that day and just a few of the more than 200 weddings that take place at the airport chapel each year.

Wedding at Stockholm Airport

More than 200 Swedish marriages begin with ceremonies at the airport’s VIP lounge as well.

Wedding at Stockholm Airport VIP Lounge

The folks at Guinness World Records may not be keeping tabs, but I’m pretty sure more wedding ceremonies take place at Stockholm’s Arlanda than at any other airport.

That’s all very romantic. But on Monday, Arlanda is going to be the starting point for what is certainly a world first in weddings.

On Monday morning, December 6, 2010, one of the business class cabins on SAS fligh SK903 from Stockholm to New York will be transformed into a wedding chapel in preparation for the world’s first in-flight, same-sex weddings.

One gay couple and one lesbian couple – winners of a spirited, record-breaking, on-line contest that took place over the last few months – will be married when the plane takes off and while it is still in Swedish airspace. Once the legal business is completed, there will be an in-flight reception, complete with wedding dinner, wedding cake, first dances  and other traditional, and no doubt some non-traditional, wedding celebrations.

I’ll be attending the in-flight weddings as a media guest and will share more details once the flight arrives in New York.

In the meantime, you can read more about the contest and winning couples on the SAS website, where there’s also information about the flowers, the wedding bands and the wedding outfits.

Museum Monday: 75 years at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

There are more than 700 aviation and space-related museums in this country. Each Monday we try to profile one of them.  Eventually we’ll visit them all.

This week, we’re stopping at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, which has an exhibit of photos, videos and historic memorabilia celebrating its 75th anniversary.

History exhibit at Phoenix Sky Harbor

According to airport history notes, the city of Phoenix purchased Sky Harbor Airport on July 16, 1935 for $100,000. That November, a dedication event took place that included speeches, an aerial circus performance and a dinner dance.

The original terminal building, hangar and tower were located on the north side of today’s airport property and at one time a chapel with a bell stood at the entrance of the airport.

Sky Harbor wedding chapel

Arizona didn’t require a three-day waiting period for couples wanting to get married, so the airport hoped to generate business by having an on-site wedding chapel for couples wanting to tie the knot as soon as possible.

Interested in learning more about the history of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport?

75 Years of Nonstop Service will be on exhibit until March 13, 2011 in the pre-security area of Terminal 3.  You can also go online, to Sky Harbor’s History section to watch video clips and read excerpts from research done for the airport’s 50th anniversary.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport pilot log