Saying “I Do” To A Destination Wedding

"Every destination couple needs to consider the legality of their ceremony. However, gay and lesbian couples should pay particularly close attention to this, even when marrying in a jurisdiction that now recognizes same-sex unions."

An estimated 9 million marriage proposals will happen this Valentine’s Day. Many of these couples’ first decisions will be when and where to tie the knot.

According to a trend report from, nearly one-quarter of all couples will choose to have a destination wedding and will, on average, spend 16 months planning taking place between “will you marry me?” and “I do.”

Even when everything seems to come together easily, a wedding will require a lot of planning to pull off without the increased difficulty of it happening thousands of miles away. Same-sex couples may also encounter additional roadblocks like localized homophobia or the possibility of being denied a wedding cake for religious reasons.

To help us make it down the aisle for the ceremony of our dreams, we asked Michael Radolinski, a destination wedding expert and the founder of Michael Henry Events Creative, a company with many same-sex clients, for advice:

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Why choose to have a destination wedding?

While we love weddings of all kinds, a destination celebration can certainly help make your special day more magical, memorable and meaningful. A destination wedding also means getting to spend more time with loved ones in a locale that might be meaningful to you as a couple. In the days leading up the ceremony, you typically have time to catch up with old friends and make new memories. That way, the ceremony and reception can feel like the highlight to an incredible and memorable multi-day experience, rather than a fleeting moment in time.

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What should couples consider when choosing a destination?

Radolinski: The single most important consideration is what that location means to you and what it conveys about your relationship with your future spouse to your guests. Whether you are beach lovers, adventure travelers, cultural explorers, urbanites or smalltowners at heart, the destination you select should ideally communicate something authentic about you and your relationship.

After that, convenience and cost are typically the most important determining factors when selecting a destination. It’s important to think about your guests’ experience from start-to-end, travel plans included. If they must take planes, trains, and automobiles to your ideal location, don’t be surprised if they aren’t in the most celebratory mood upon arrival. And, unless you plan to cover your guests’ travel, you should also be sure that flights cost within reason and that accommodations are available at a variety of price points.

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What challenges should a couple expect when planning their event remotely?

Communication issues and cultural differences can sometimes be a source of frustration when couples don’t get ahead of them or align their expectations. Couples may find that things can get lost in translation when not everyone speaks the same native language. If this appears to be the case, consider building a complete outline of the event you want and then have it professionally translated for your vendors’ benefit.

Cultural differences may also be a factor in any number of wedding details—from style of service, to menu options, to the musical style of local bands and DJs. It’s important not to make assumptions and to experience things firsthand whenever possible. Many of these local “twists” can be a positive by making your guests’ experience feel more authentic to that destination.

For same-sex couples, it’s also important to keep in mind that legal acceptance somewhere does not always equate to cultural acceptance. While the wedding industry as a whole, in my experience, tends to be quite supportive of same-sex marriage, not every individual vendor shares that view. However, it is just as important to keep in mind that the reverse can also be true. Although your dream destination may not yet legally recognize same-sex unions, the venues and vendors available there may nevertheless be quite eager to be a part of your nuptials.

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Any other potential issues a same-sex couple might face?

Although we’ve come a long way in the legal and cultural acceptance of same-sex marriage in places around the globe, we all know that such acceptance is far from universal. Every destination couple needs to consider the legality of their ceremony, however, gay and lesbian couples should pay particularly close attention to this even when marrying in a jurisdiction that now recognizes same-sex marriage.

For example, what is the risk if local laws permitting same-sex marriage were later be overturned? Will it be difficult to obtain a certified copy of your marriage license or other documentation you might need later for adoption purposes? Who locally is permitted by law to perform marriage ceremonies? Are any statements required to be included in the text of the marriage ceremony, and do those statements reflect your views and values? If you have chosen a place that has not yet fully recognized same-sex marriage, will a same-sex civil union or other legal relationship be recognized as a legal marriage when you return home?

Given these questions, same-sex couples often legally marry at home and then have a separate, symbolic ceremony in their chosen destination. With family and friends present, such a ceremony can feel just as—if not more—meaningful than the civil one.

Bryan van Gorder usually writes about the places he's been or the famous people forced to talk to him.