Congratulations to the tens of thousands of happy couples who’ve gotten married in the decade-ish since marriage was first legalized in Massachusetts — and also to the many thousands more who’ve married since it was legalized nationwide last year!
With the freedom to marry now the law of the land, the institution of marriage is indisputably transforming — for the better. More marriages means more tear-jerker love stories, more romantic ceremonies, and more cakes, and who doesn’t love that?
We’re at a remarkable moment in history where traditions are evolving and love is everywhere you look. But just what does that evolution look like? Let’s chat with Kathryn Hamm, the founder of GayWeddings.com, to find out.
Unicorn Booty: What led you to start a wedding business with an LGBT focus?
Kathryn Hamm: You can read our story here. We are the first business of its kind. My straight mom founded the business in 1999 (originally as TwoBrides.com and TwoGrooms.com) when she realized that she couldn’t find a wedding album with two women for me and my fiancee (now wife).
In what specific ways has the gay wedding industry changed since the national legalization of marriage equality in 2015?
The most recent trends, largely since 2012 or so have revealed a creep toward assimilation. And, this has certainly accelerated since 2013, after DOMA was overturned. I wouldn’t exactly say that there has ever been a “gay wedding industry.” In fact, we are one part of a large and dynamic market — the “wedding industry” — so in some ways I really see this question better framed as in what specific ways have the needs of same-sex couples changed since the national legalization of marriage equality last year and in what ways has the industry changed to embrace those needs and opportunities?
My answer to that is that same-sex couples are now having weddings (and will continue to do so) that look structurally more than ever like non-LGBTQ weddings. We are spending more than we used to; we have bigger guests lists than we used to; and we are taking more time to plan our weddings. These structural elements track more closely than ever with our straight counterparts. HOWEVER, and this is a big “however,” we continue to show variation from straight couples in how we plan our rituals and celebrations. We are far more likely to adapt, update and dispose of heteronormative wedding ritual in order to develop a ceremony that’s meaningful to us rather than checking a box. Further, we continue to see more non-LGBTQ couples taking a page for our wedding planner and getting creative with their rituals as well.
What does a wedding-related business need to do in order to be considered truly “LGBT-friendly”?
I spend a lot of time talking to wedding professionals about this. There are number of elements that begin with the virtual “handshake” or first point of contact, which must display an openness and understanding of who we are as individuals and as a community. From there, pros must look at their contracts, facilities, checklists and so on to make sure they are being inclusive. I speak with them about not relying on being “gay-friendly” to be enough (as it once was!), but that they must educate themselves and learn more in order to demonstrate cultural competence or, in my short-hand, an upgrade from being “gay-friendly” to “gay wedding competent.”
Have you encountered vendors or officials who were hostile to the work that you do?
Hostile is a strong word. I will say that I have absolutely encountered professionals who are very firm in their opinion and mindset. Most who are uncomfortable with this topic will avoid my presentation. Basically opting-out. Hateful emails and cyber bullying notwithstanding over the years, I’ve only been challenged by 1 or 2 in a way that felt really unsafe and uncomfortable. One, actually, was in 2014 over a breakfast with a DJ from Houston who was bent out of shape about their “bathroom bill.” I began trying to gently help him tone down his rhetoric (there were 5 other pros sitting at the table) and then eventually had to push back in much more direct, yet professional ways. Eventually, once they felt safe, the other pros at the table started to challenge him as well. Thankfully, he left the table and the discussion that ensued was fascinating. Every person that had been sitting there had been offended on some level and talked of how hurtful his words had been to them as a result of their feelings for the LGBTQ friends and family members in their lives. By & large, the majority of interactions I have with pros are overwhelmingly positive. If anything most pros are worried that they are messing up. They are in the business they are in for love and they see same-sex couples as no exception to this. That’s one reason why the vast majority — 86 percent of pros surveyed— said earlier this year that they are ready, willing and able to serve same-sex couples. That glass is way more than half full!
As far as you know, have any LGBT-friendly wedding-related businesses spoken out against the laws that still allow LGBT to be fired or discriminated against in other ways? If so, which businesses are they and what did they do? if not, why do you think that’s the case and what will it take for them to speak out?
I can point to the many wedding professionals I’ve met who have been clear in their websites, marketing materials and speech that they support marriage equality and want to work only with other professionals who feel similarly (as a means of taking care of their same-sex clients). I’m also affiliated with WeddingWire, which acquired my site, GayWeddings.com, and this year received a 100% score on HRC’s corporate equality index. The company has been an active and vocal supporter of marriage equality, has LGBT-inclusive policies and practices and has also signed on to HRC’s recent letter of corporate leaders who spoke out against discriminatory laws.
Have wedding destination cities changed in order to accommodate same-sex couples?
Yes, this is certainly something that happened over time as marriage equality spread across the US from 2005 onward. New York City offered one of the most prominent examples of this and, in fact, two planners told me that their NYC-based elopement business plummeted after the 2015 Supreme Court ruling. These days, most of the focus in on wedding professionals updating their business practices to be more inclusive of local couples who can now marry legally.
Are there still legal challenges facing LGBT couples?
Absolutely! The recent spike in religious freedom bills is a perfect example. I believe HRC just released a statement that revealed that there are 200 examples of anti-gay pieces of legislation pending in the US.
Is there any resistance to marriage among some LGBTs?
Of course! Especially amongst many of us who came out at a time when marriage wasn’t an option. We also have members of our community (and some non-LGBTers, too) who reject the notion of what marriage represents. I’d say, overall, however, everyone prefers the opportunity for individuals to have the option for themselves rather than a rejection of marriage equality.
How common is it for LGBT couples to incorporate activism into their wedding?
I would reframe this to say that it’s very common to incorporate individuality into their weddings, which, to me, is a bit of activism since it rejects many of the heteronormative and gendered aspects of wedding tradition. There are also many examples of LGBTQ couples using the language of court rulings as a means of underscoring the newly gained legal significance of their spiritual union.
Have you seen any wedding traditions taking hold in the LGBT community?
Yes. I am still referring to them as “trends” since we are still so new to the “wedding industry.” We tend to be more nonconforming relative to straight couples when it comes to the rituals themselves. Structurally speaking, however, our weddings are looking more than ever like straight weddings. For example, on average, we take 13 months to plan our weddings; our average spend on weddings is slightly less than the national average for straight couples, but it is tracking closely, just as the number of guests we are inviting to our weddings. We do, however, tend to have mixed gender wedding parties; individual expression in what we and our wedding parties wear; and we tend to pay for most if not all of the wedding ourselves. For more information on the latest trends, check out this Newlywed Survey (2015) and this infographic.
Have you seen any LGBT wedding traditions being adopted by non-queer couples?
Absolutely! Non-LGBT couples are feeling more permission than ever to break rules. Here’s a piece I wrote on that. One example is the increase in straight couples who are mixing their wedding parties and I’ve often heard of couples reading from the Massachusetts and Supreme Court rulings that recognized marriage equality.
What can straight family and friends do to indicate their support for same-sex couples getting married?
Receive the news of their engagement or wedding announcement with the same gusto as you would for any other family member and don’t pressure them with your own expectations for what it should look like. Celebrate their commitment and the opportunity for this legal marriage, which only a dozen years ago, would have been impossible.
(Featured image via Enrique Mendez/Flickr)