By Kevin Sack, published in The NewYork Times
When the Palladinos were planning their wedding, they found that traditional bridal magazines were all but useless in addressing their particular questions.
Questions like: Where does a woman find a man’s suit that does not make her look like a woman in a man’s suit? Should Kirsten and Maria both walk down the aisle, or was it O.K. for Maria, who sees herself as more masculine, to wait for her bride? At which of the Caribbean resorts in the honeymoon pictorials would two women feel most comfortable holding hands?
“On every level there was something lacking,” said Kirsten Palladino, who took Maria’s surname after their wedding in June 2009. “We didn’t see any couples like us. The language was all he and she, bride and groom, please your man.”
Almost from the moment Massachusetts became the first state to offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004, mainstream businesses have tried to find a way to attract customers from this new, lucrative market. But as more states legalize same-sex marriage, and the weddings take root in American culture, the marketplace is responding with a growing number of new companies, services and publications aimed directly at gay grooms and lesbian brides.
Equally Wed, published in a state where same-sex marriage is outlawed, is among a crop of Web sites that are filling the void left by conventional bridal publications. They join companies like OutVite.com, a Massachusetts stationery firm that grew along with that state’s same-sex wedding industry; photographers who promote images of gay weddings on their home pages; purveyors of groom-and-groom cake toppers; and cruise lines that advertise their embrace of gay honeymoons.
“The market doesn’t wait for politics to catch up,” said Katherine Sender, an associate professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Business, Not Politics: The Making of the Gay Market.” “As gay marriage becomes part of the national imagination, marketing to it and publications concerning it become more and more viable.”
Gay weddings have been depicted on network television since the mid-1990s, and about 70 percent of daily newspapers now carry same-sex wedding announcements, according to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. But some mainstream publications and broadcasters are only now taking their first halting steps toward inclusion.
This month, under pressure from gay rights groups, the “Today” show on NBC welcomed same-sex couples to compete in its annual wedding contest. Also this month, Brides, aCondé Nast publication, ran its first feature about a same-sex wedding, depicting the union of one of the magazine’s photo editors and her longtime girlfriend.
Martha Stewart Weddings, a publication of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, had already broken precedent in its winter 2010 issue, with a pictorial that showed Jeremy Hooper and Andrew Shulman stomping on glass and sharing a kiss.
Both magazines played it straight, focusing on menus and decorations, with no mention beyond the obvious of the couples’ orientations. “This is a part of the mix going forward,” said Millie Martini Bratten, the editor-in-chief of Brides. “The world is changing.”
But because it must appeal to a broad base, Brides does not plan to spotlight same-sex weddings in any deliberate way or to document their sociological evolution, Ms. Bratten said. That leaves an untapped market for Equally Wed and a handful of other Web sites devoted to same-sex weddings, with titles like Queerly Wed, So You’re EnGAYged,GayWeddings.com and RainbowWeddingNetwork.com.
In the six years since Massachusetts broke the barrier, there have been an estimated 40,000 legal same-sex marriages in the United States, according to the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles. A comparable number of gay Americans have married in other countries, and an additional 84,000 couples may be in civil unions or domestic partnerships, according to the institute.
Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia have now joined Massachusetts in recognizing same-sex marriage, and court cases in California and Massachusetts are challenging the constitutionality of state and federal laws against it.
It is not lost on the Palladinos that despite the assertion in their publication’s name, they were wed and continue to live in one of the 41 states that prohibit same-sex marriage. But it is the very absence of state approval, they said, that made their own vows so meaningful and inspired the spirit of their magazine.
“We’ve done everything we can to be equally wed,” Maria Palladino said.
The couple are publishing their quarterly from a back room in their tidy house in East Point, an emerging gay outpost just south of Atlanta. Maria, 30, who works as a freelance Web designer, is publisher. Kirsten, 32, who manages the lifestyle sections of a weekly newspaper, is editor.
Their magazine, which features a more content-driven format than some competing sites, is attracting about 8,000 unique viewers a month, Maria Palladino said. It has about 20 advertisers, including a jeweler, a hotel chain and a car insurer.
Equally Wed can seem driven by conflicting impulses. On the one hand, it is devoted to making same-sex weddings seem ordinary, providing the same obsessive attention to floral arrangement and cake design as bridal magazines. On the other, it celebrates the distinctive, norm-flouting nature of gay unions and guides participants through their specific challenges.
In the summer issue, a feature about planning a green wedding shares space on the home page with an article about the legal dilemmas facing married couples when one spouse changes genders. A feature on boudoir photography gives way to an advice column on managing marriage license waiting periods in Iowa and Massachusetts.
Like traditional magazines, Equally Wed pulses with the love stories of real couples and lush photography of their ceremonies. Kirsten Palladino, who always dreamed of a white-dress wedding, writes a blog called “In Bloom,” which dispenses advice on invitation fonts and summer cocktails.
But she also answers reader questions about whether a man should propose to another man with a ring (why not?) and whether a couple should invite homophobic relatives to their wedding (better to send them an announcement after the fact). Maria Palladino, who said she has not worn a dress since high school, writes a blog from the butch point of view called “Broom Closet,” a term she coined for those who do not quite fit as either bride or groom.
The magazine includes a consumer guide to vendors who are practiced in avoiding heterosexist language and customs. When planning their own wedding, the Palladinos quickly learned to detect discomfort among the photographers they interviewed.
“They were so delicate in their handling of it,” Kirsten Palladino said. “They’d say, ‘You know, I’ve never shot a gay wedding, but I’d be happy to.’ And then sign off their e-mail: ‘Much love in Jesus Christ.’ ”
The Palladinos said that what excited them about the future, both of same-sex weddings and their magazine, was the chance to navigate between tradition and innovation. “There are no rules,” Kirsten Palladino said. “We can look to the history of straight weddings and take what we want and leave what we don’t.”