When Will Bridal Magazines Invite Same-Sex Couples to the Party?

Katie LoCricchio and her partner are engaged. The two live in Queens and, now that same-sex marriage has finally been legalized in New York, they can begin the process of planning their wedding. LoCricchio, like so many frenzied brides-to-be, went straight for the magazines.

"Every time I see a bridal magazine I always want to pick it up," she told me, "but there's no point. I have yet to find one with more than a ten-line article pertaining to my wants and/or needs. [It's] discouraging to read all about bride and grooms and not have any references for same sex couples."

Because unless you are a bride (a woman) planning to marry a groom (a man), there just doesn't seem to be much of a place for you among the glossy pages of Modern Bride. There's not yet a catalog for gay marriage.

As far as the bridal mag industry is concerned, same-sex marriage simply doesn't exist. The language is heavily gendered and there is virtually no mention of same-sex couples anywhere. It's as though the industry β€” which not only survived, but flourished during the recession -– is playing dumb to the news rather than making moves to embrace same-sex marriage.

Condé Nast's Brides, the indisputable behemoth of the industry, took ten days to respond to my questions about how their editorial vision has changed since last June saw the legalization in New York. When I finally did hear from Executive Editor Keija Minor, via email rather than over the phone as he had initially promised, he pulled the old, well, it's not for us but some of Brides' best friends are gay. I half expected him to PDF me a picture of the gay, married couple Brides carries around in its wallet as proof of acceptance of same-sex marriage.

Not surprisingly, Minor said not much has changed since June:

We have certainly featured some great ideas from gay weddings ... [But] since gay weddings haven't been legal in many states, those submissions have been limited. As a national magazine with a circulation of more than 300,000 and a total audience of more than 5 million across the country, one state's legislation wouldn't necessarily affect our [circulation] overall numbers.

Fair enough, I guess. Brides Magazine is a national publication and because there are still 42 states that have yet to ratify same-sex marriage, the change would be a controversial and dramatic one. It would affect the face of the magazine itself.

So I took my questions to Gary Paris, the publisher of Contemporary Bride, a publication that circulates only in New York and New Jersey. Regardless of the fact that same-sex marriage is now legal in New York, attitudes are often, well, different here than they are in much of the country. I thought perhaps a magazine with a New York-centric demographic would yield different results.

"I think after all the dust settles about all the hype [about gay marriage], it's pretty much going to be the same," Paris told me. "I don't anticipate tremendous amount of new parties or celebrations. Although we welcome it." Contemporary Bride, Paris said, has no plans "as of yet" to change its editorial vision to more inclusive language, imagery, or features.

Just more of the same.

But a handful of publications recognize the cash-laden bottom line of the still untapped same-sex marriage market, and they have slowly begun to take advantage of it regardless of their stance on the issue. Anja Winikka, site editor for Manhattan-based bridal magazine The Knot and TheKnot.com, told me that when the legislation passed in June their LGBT site, gay.weddings.com, saw a 166 percent jump in page views the next day. Winnikka also said she was unaware of any other major brands who had similar sites. Similarly, NYMag Weddings said that they featured a three-page front-of-book story about three newly engaged LGBT couples in their Winter 2012 issue. They're also beginning to see advertisers directly appeal to same-sex couples.

The difference in same-sex and straight weddings, according to Bernadette Smith, founder of LGBT company 14 Stories Wedding Planning, is that a same-sex wedding involves much more than properly complimentary white gowns. They can be difficult in ways that heterosexual weddings aren't. Gender identity, says Smith, completely changes the landscape of the wedding: "A lot of times the families are not involved or not supportive. The weddings tend to be smaller. Ceremonies tend to have political messages and note the weightiness of what's happened. And there's a sense of wanting to say, 'This right is ours. It's finally ours.'"

Afloral.com is an online retailer of silk flowers that often works with wedding planners, and a company quick to recognize more than just the financial benefits of legalization. The site's newly minted marketing manager Kristen Vanstrom said that she recently began to seek out gay wedding planners and sites for Afloral to partner with. "Not doing something will almost seem like you're against it," she observed. "You have to go out of way to say 'we'll gladly supply you.'" While she had only just begun the project, Vanstrom said she was looking forward to opening Afloral up to a whole new market. "It could increase our sales an infinite amount," she said. "Conservatively, maybe a 10-30 percent growth [in sales]."

Michael Musto, the Village Voice's trenchant cultural observer, neatly summed up Vanstrom's calculations when he informed me he thought current magazines were terribly silly to not include LGBT content.

"I feel the magazines should definitely become inclusive," Musto said. "Not doing so seems to ignore current developments, not to mention turning their back on a large part of the wedding market."

Maya Shwayder is a Master's student at Columbia Journalism School. You can follow her on twitter here.

[Image via Flikr/Amy T. Schubert]