As of April 2016, there are 22 countries where same-sex marriages are legally performed. While a number of these countries have allowed gay weddings for more than a decade, reflecting their progressive leaning, the United States made headlines last summer when the Supreme Court ruled that bans on same-sex marriages were unconstitutional. Now, gay couples in all 50 states can legally exchange vows, and hundreds of thousands have said “I do” in beautiful states that previously didn’t allow it.
As times are naturally changing for the gay and lesbian community, iconic wedding destinations will forever be rooted in place, and many US cities effortlessly make for magical nuptial moments. Popular places with years of same-sex wedding laws and strong LGBT communities like Boston, Vermont, and New York City have witnessed more gay weddings than the eye can see. Couples are also traveling to other welcoming places like Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Miami for their big day.
But gay couples are thinking outside the box when exchanging vows now that there are more destinations that allow it, and it’s not just limited to the United States. Couples appreciate the allure of destination weddings in atypical places that are spellbinding for their scenery, romance factor, and, in many cases, flamboyant exoticism.
Bernadette Smith, a wedding planner who has organized more than 400 same-sex weddings since 2004 with her company 14 Stories, has seen the rise of destination weddings with the LGBT community largely in part to the number of benefits. “Generally, destination weddings are smaller than local weddings because fewer guests can afford to travel. This often makes your overall wedding budget smaller. Destination weddings can also have a built-in honeymoon component if you choose to stay after your guests leave.”
The most obvious reason for a destination wedding? The opportunity for couples to travel to an unforgettable place with their closest friends and families.
“Couples should consider destinations with large LGBT populations, such as New Orleans, Orlando, and Portland, or gay-friendly tropical locations like Puerto Rico, St. Croix, the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao), and Mexico,” says Bernadette. “Or they can head to one of the number of countries where same-sex marriage is legal, such as South Africa or Iceland. Due to residency requirements and paperwork it’s probably easier to legally marry in the US than in those countries where same-sex marriage is legal, so plan to marry stateside and host your celebration abroad.”
We rounded up amazing destination wedding locations both in the United States and abroad that allow same-sex couples to get married—with a memorable vacation to boot. From Key West to Norway, these incredible destination-wedding locations are less traditional, though it hasn’t stopped hundreds from exchanging vows. Providing excellent hotels and restaurants, dynamic culture and lifestyle, a solid LGBT community, and wonderful scenery, these gay-friendly destinations are an exceptional choice.
Just a short drive from the nation’s capital, Baltimore is one of the most underrated destination wedding locations in the US, especially for creative types. The city has its quirks (like the historic and educational Edgar Allen Poe House that’s worth a gander), and it’s laden with artsy locals, hipsters, and a strong LGBT community that’s shaping the growth of the city. Much can be credited to famed gay director John Waters who put Baltimore on the map; he based many of his films in Baltimore, especially in the funky Hampden part of town. This creative neighborhood is all about being original and unique, and gay couples that thrive on escaping the norm exchange vows here. The burgeoning Harbor East neighborhood right on the water is a must for wedding photos; it’s home to bustling cafés, historic seafood restaurants, and excellent harbor views. Here, the five-star Four Seasons Baltimore features a decadent spa, a stunning outdoor pool (with amazing harbor views!), and the hotel’s signature Wit & Wisdom, a restaurant by celebrity chef Michael Mina that serves up excellent comfort-food classics. For a nightcap, Leon’s of Balto has been serving drinks for 53 years; it’s the longest-running gay bar in town. Locals and visitors alike refer to it as the Cheers of Baltimore, and it’s a truly historic place for cheap (and stiff) drinks during the wedding weekend. Check into the Ivy Hotel, a gorgeous new boutique opened by the developers of the luxury-drenched Lake Placid Lodge and The Point in Upstate New York. With only 18 rooms and suites, most equipped with fireplaces and stand-alone bathtubs, The Ivy is the most intimate hotel in Baltimore. It’s split between two connected buildings, one of which is a 19th-century mansion, and the outdoor courtyard is perfect for wedding receptions. Couples can get officiated with Senior Pastor Andrew Foster Conners of Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church. He’s active in gay rights and helped fight for same-sex marriage even before the Supreme Court ruling.