This post was written by WeddingWire Education Expert Kathryn Hamm, Publisher of GayWeddings, the leading online resource dedicated to serving same-sex couples since 1999. Kathryn is also co-author of the groundbreaking book, The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Wedding Photography. Follow her on Twitter @madebykathryn.
On May 1, 2007, Tim Chi and the founding members of the WeddingWire team sat down in his pink living room in Maryland to change the wedding industry by introducing technology built to connect wedding pros and “brides” in the wedding planning process.
Meanwhile, just across the Potomac River in neighboring Virginia, I was taking a look at
the explosive growth of our site traffic (a YOY increase of almost 700%) at GayWeddings.com, which we had updated the previous year from our original sites (TwoBrides.com & TwoGrooms.com). The Dallas Morning News had recently referred to me and my straight mom, who founded our business, as “some of the most knowledgeable experts on commitment ceremonies in the country;” and the only state that recognized “gay marriage” (the term commonly used at the time) was Massachusetts. Most weddings were ceremonies that had no legal component, and the couples who were seeking legal recognition lived in or traveled to Massachusetts or to Canada, where marriage had been legalized in 2005.
It’s hard to believe that 10 short years ago, the landscape for online wedding planning and same-sex marriage was so vastly different. The market still had a traditional feel to it: most couples planned using binders and “bridal shows,” we used different language to describe our ceremonies and customers, and pursuing a marriage license or experiencing federally-recognized marriage equality seemed like an unattainable milestone for the majority of same-sex couples. Even LGBT advocacy groups at the time, with the exception of Freedom to Marry, were hesitant to push for marriage equality over workplace protections and other initiatives.
When did marriage equality and same-sex weddings come to your awareness? When did you begin to advertise your services to lesbian brides and gay grooms? Here are a few special LGBTQ wedding memories from GayWeddings, framed against a backdrop of WeddingWire’s 10th anniversary. We hope you’ll share a few of your stories and milestones with us as well!
Same-Sex Marriage Map, State by State (Pew Research Center)
Detailed Map of Gay Marriage in America (2014) (New York Times)
2008 :: Connecticut became the second state to legalize same-sex marriage and California’s Supreme Court legalized marriage until a ballot measure known as Prop 8 overturned the decision. In the short span of months where marriage was recognized in California, 18,000 couples rushed to City Hall and GayWeddings’ business was booming. As one of the few resources available to couples and professionals, we were a stop along the planning journey for most same-sex couples, and we received dozens of inquiries from national and local press outlets. Meanwhile, legislators reacted defensively in Arizona and Florida and passed Constitutional Amendments banning same-sex marriage. The New York times ran a piece featuring yours truly and my industry peer, Bernadette Smith of the Gay Wedding Institute.
2009 :: Along came Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont, with Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty signing a bill of his own for the District. With more options for legal marriage, couples were weighing options about how, when and if to have a ceremony and this was especially relevant for couples in the Metro DC area who might live in a state where marriage wasn’t recognized (VA or MD), but could easily travel a few miles to get legally married. The Washington Post took a look at some of the conversations that local couples were having as they weighed their legal choices on the weeks leading up to marriage equality.
2010 :: Momentum was building quickly. Washington, D.C. marriages began, with the US Capitol as backdrop, and the stage was set for New York to follow on its heels. Meanwhile, we, at GayWeddings, realized that, much as we enjoyed being a small family-run business, that the bigger wedding planning sites in the market were catching on to the need to serve same-sex couples. The tide was truly beginning to turn as the industry grew to be more open to the conversation. At GayWeddings, we understood that we were headed toward full inclusivity, and wanted to find a business partner with whom we could work toward that end.
Enter Sonny Ganguly, CMO of WeddingWire, with whom I had a lunch that led to a milestone conversation. He introduced me to Tim Chi and the executive team and WeddingWire, and I prepared myself to pitch them on why marriage equality matters and the ways in which same-sex couples continued to be underserved. Their response? Complete acceptance and engagement. For the first time since my mom and I had begun our work in 1999, we encountered a “mainstream” influencer who had no qualms, self-consciousness or worries about open including and celebrating same-sex weddings.
2011 :: Following our preliminary planning work in 2010, GayWeddings launched its partnership with WeddingWire in January of 2011. With a flip of the switch, our “gay-friendly” vendor directory became the largest catalog of more than 20,000 wedding pros who were “ready, willing & able” to serve same-sex couples. That same year, Hawaii approved civil unions and New York legalized marriage equality, which (the New York City media market being what it is) created a tidal wave that was felt nationwide. The storyline about “gay weddings” being “big business” (like this CNN Money article) was the primary headline and wedding pros who hadn’t yet been paying attention began to be more open about considering the needs of and the opportunity in working with same-sex couples.
2012 :: The legal tide changed with a new twist in that voters (not judges and not legislators) in Maryland, Maine and Washington state approved same-sex marriage laws through popular vote. Our vendor directory grew to more than 35,000 wedding pros and we updated our language to be more inclusive, referring to it as “LGBT-friendly” rather than “gay-friendly.” I also found myself as an inaugural speaker of the first ever WeddingWire World at The Kennedy Center in Washington DC. Conferences had begun to be more inclusive of same-sex weddings in breakout groups, but WeddingWire was the first national conference (to my knowledge) to offer the topic from the main stage.
2013 :: Count this year as one of the most important years in the progress toward marriage equality. Two big rulings were issued from the Supreme Court. Thanks to the case of Edie Windsor, who sued as a result of the federal tax she paid upon the death of her spouse, the court struck down part of the “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA), which allowed couples who were legally married in their home states to also receive federal marriage recognition. Additionally, the Supreme Court refused to hear the challenge to marriage recognition in California thus reversing Prop 8 and opening the door to the return of marriage equality in California. Many couples (like my wife and I) used this opportunity to get legally married for the federal recognition, even if in-state recognition remained out of reach.
2014 :: By this point, as a regular speaker on the wedding industry circuit, I often found that, when I would say “marriage equality” from the stage, wedding pros would cheer. The joy and excitement was palpable. In fact, we found that the vast majority of pros we surveyed at the time said they were ready, willing and able to serve same-sex couples and our newly named “LGBTQ-friendly” directory surpassed 100,000 wedding pros. Meanwhile, there was still work to be done to provide a safe and open space for those wedding pros who had questions about same-sex weddings, had some religious reservations about participating, or otherwise were new to the conversation. At conferences, my favorite conversations were the ones with deeply thoughtful pros who were struggling with the new reality of marriage equality, but trusted me enough to talk through their concerns.
Legally speaking, appeals courts rulings struck down same-sex marriage bans in multiple states, but one appeals court upheld a constitutional ban making it clear that the next stop was the Supreme Court for all the proverbial marbles. Oh, and photographer Thea Dodds and I re-released our self-published book, Capturing Love, as The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Wedding Photography, under the imprint of Amphoto Books.
2015 :: A year I’ll never forget. In the early months of 2015, we completed the paperwork for WeddingWire to acquire GayWeddings, and shortly thereafter, on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. One of the proudest moments of my life was standing with my mom and many members of the WeddingWire team on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. as the decision was handed down. WiFi coverage was sparse and digital channels were congested because of the crowd, but word spread quickly and the cheers were contagious as we learned that same-sex couples could now marry in any state in the US. As the year closed, I launched a new initiative — #BridalRebrand — and invited professionals to take their efforts toward inclusivity to a whole new level.
2016 :: In order to help others better understand the needs of same-sex couples (particularly wedding professionals and reporters who cover wedding trends), we worked with Bernadette Smith, Community Marketing & Insights and the WedInsights team at WeddingWire to develop the most comprehensive and disciplined study of current wedding trends for all couples: the 2016 Study of Contemporary Couples & Wedding Trends. This national survey featured the largest sample of respondents and, unlike any other survey to date, asked the same questions of LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ couples — from identity to wedding ritual preferences to fears of rejections. The results were eye-opening.
2017 :: Ten years after the founding of WeddingWire and 18 years after the founding of GayWeddings, I hardly remember a time I wasn’t working with the WeddingWire team to improve inclusivity in the wedding market. I’m proud to be supporting not only the inclusion of same-sex couples, but also love lobbying the industry for more openness to serving men (straight or gay!) and other underserved couples who don’t feel that the market reflects them.
When it comes to love, there’s plenty of room for all of us. So, keep leading with love, listening with love and serving with love. In so doing, you can’t go wrong!