» Same-Sex Weddings & LGBTQ Planning Trends: The Real Story

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.

We often have a tendency to frame what we are looking for based on what we have known. And in these cases, our questions can be limited based on those presumptions.

In the case of understanding LGBTQ planning trends and the choices that go into coordinating same-sex weddings, applying what we have known (eg, the traditions and trends of straight couples) results in a miss on some of the most interesting aspects of how the behaviors of LGBTQ couples are changing.

Assumptions driven by a heteronormative filter – and one that hasn’t needed to question the legal accessibility of marriage or the limitations gender roles – means that key themes are missed. An assumption of the primary client as a bride means that the behavior of grooms is overlooked. An assumption that behaviors of white brides and grooms can be generalized to non-white brides and grooms may not always apply. And so on.

Same-Sex Weddings & LGBTQ Planning Trends:  2016 Survey of Contemporary CouplesSo we asked: What happens if you “flip the script” and ask the same questions of straight couples as you would ask of same-sex couples?

What happens if you compare the choices and reactions of same-sex couples whose marriages and engagements have occurred since the major legal milestones (namely, the 2013 DOMA decision and the 2016 federal marriage equality rulings by the Supreme Court)?

What happens if you compare same-sex to opposite-sex couples, and what if you look at what trends are changing for straight couples while asking the question if there is resonance in those changes with the wedding trends that same-sex couples have pioneered (i.e., blended wedding parties, avoiding certain wedding traditions, discarding a ‘bride’s side’ and a ‘groom’s side’, etc)?

Simple: By challenging the assumptions of the “traditional” one bride/one groom script and utilizing our peripheral vision to shift the context to be more inclusive of all couples, my team – which consisted of me and the GayWeddings team, the WedInsights team at WeddingWire, the experts at Community Marketing & Insights (CMI), and Bernadette Smith of the Gay Wedding Institute – asked better questions of all couples.

The result is the 2016 Survey of Contemporary Couples and Current Wedding Planning Trends report, which surveyed more than 1,400 same-sex and opposite-sex couples who were married or engaged since 2013. Our inclusive and comprehensive nationwide survey revealed the clear impact that marriage equality has had on current wedding planning trends for same-sex, opposite sex and queer-identified couples. With the quickly evolving landscape of same-sex wedding planning underway, this is key; relying on outdated data to inform your business choices will put you at a distinct disadvantage.

Not surprisingly, much of what I’ve been predicting over the past few years has come to play out as expected. For example, with full marriage equality, today’s same-sex couples (77%) are more likely to get married in the state in which they currently live. We are also more likely to plan celebrations with ceremonies and receptions (rather than legal elopements) than we have in the past. This also means the size of our guest lists are growing (the number of same-sex couples celebrating their unions with a ceremony and reception with invited guests has increased to 79%, from 43% prior to 2013).

Even so, our findings revealed that, even with same-sex couples spending more on our weddings than we have in the past, we still invite fewer guests than straight couples, and our wedding celebrations cost less on average across all wedding types (from elopements to large weddings – $11,000) than opposite-sex couples across all wedding types ($15,000). But today’s same-sex couples are spending more per guest ($117 for same-sex weddings versus $100 for opposite-sex weddings). Not bad considering that 74% of same-sex couples pay for all or most of the wedding without assistance from parents. And, of course, it’s worth noting that couples who plan via WeddingWire and GayWeddings tend to be planning larger celebrations on the whole and, as a result, spend $29,000 on average for their weddings.

I also find it heartening to see that same-sex couples report more emotional support from their parents. The vast majority of opposite-sex couples can continue to count on emotional support from their parents (85%), with a majority of same-sex couples (60%) now being able to say the same thing. Prior to 2013, only 46% reported receiving emotional support from parents.

It’s going to take me several webinars and Pro Blog posts to unpack all of the incredible data in our report for you. I invite you to spend some time with it on your own and to look out for the upcoming webinar I’ll be hosting later this month with special guest, WeddingWire Education Contributor Bernadette Smith of the Gay Wedding Institute.

Meanwhile, the same things I’ve encouraged you to do still apply: The wedding market is a competitive market and LGBTQ couples have more choice than ever when selecting their wedding pros. The overwhelming majority of us (87%) are looking for businesses that serve all types of couples regardless of sexual orientation, race and other factors; and an almost equal number (86%) say we are looking for professionals that have experience serving same-sex couples. So, I ask: What do your marketing materials say about your services?

For those of you who live in areas where you wonder if there might be backlash if you include images of same-sex couples in your marketing materials, I offer this: Ninety-eight percent (98%) of same-sex couples surveyed feel positively about a company featuring same-sex imagery on their websites and marketing collateral, while a majority (53%) of opposite-sex couples share the same positive sentiment. Framed another way: 0% (yes, that’s 0%) of LGBTQ-identified couples report negative feelings about it. And only 3% of straight respondents report feeling very negatively and 7% feeling somewhat negatively about it. In sum, if you haven’t already updated your marketing materials to be inclusive, it’s time.

Finally, I’d like to close by pointing you to one more wonderful resource that the WedInsights team has posted. We released a #BridalRebrand Fact Sheet earlier this week, and it offers a wonderful look at how language about ‘brides and grooms’ rather than just ‘brides’ is changing. We also shared data from a GayWeddings survey, where we found that 74% of those surveyed reported a preference for the term “wedding” over the term “bridal.” As many of you know, I’m asking all wedding professionals, and the media, to update its language to be inclusive of all brides and grooms. You can help me challenge ‘bridal bias’ by making sure that you are updating your language to refer to ‘engaged couples’ or ‘brides and grooms,’ as well as to ‘wedding parties,’ ‘wedding shows’ and the ‘wedding industry’ instead of bridal parties, bridal shows, and a bridal industry. Some habits can be hard to break, but, if we all pull together, it can be done.

To continue the conversation, view the full 2016 Survey of Contemporary Couples and Current Wedding Planning Trends report >>