When Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell planned to get married in January 2001 at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, they faced all the usual dilemmas. They worried about the caterers. They worried about the florists. They worried about the reservations.
Except for one difference – they weren’t preoccupied about which businesses to choose, but rather if any business at all would service their ceremony. After all, the reverend presiding over them planned to wear a bulletproof vest. When Bourassa and Varnell stepped up to the altar, they became the first homosexual couple in North America to declare themselves wed in holy matrimony.
Their ceremony sparked a legal controversy that culminated in the June 10, 2003 Ontario Court of Appeal decision to legalize same sex marriages. When Bourassa and Varnell took their vows, “It was an issue finding gay-friendly service providers,” says Bourassa. But now that the honeymoon is over and the confetti has cleared, wedding-based businesses everywhere are starting to see profit potential in the relatively untapped market of gays and lesbians wanting to get hitched.
The wedding magazine business is no exception. Next year, Brandon Jones, publisher of Wedding Essentials, will launch the first wedding magazine targeted directly at the homosexual market. Wedding Essentials for Same Sex Couples will be a semi-annual publication with a controlled circulation of 25,000, and will be distributed as an insert in the biweekly tabloid, Xtra. Although Xtra is a national publication, the Wedding Essentials guide will be distributed only in the Toronto area. The decision was based on the advertising market. “The wedding business is a local business,” says Jones. “People in Toronto aren’t interested in a wedding photographer in Vancouver.” And with Wedding Essentials’ business and strength already established in the Toronto area, the choice was natural.
According to Jones, the magazine will be similar to straight wedding guides. Its content will be based on how to host a formal wedding. However, Wedding Essentials for Same Sex Couples will also deal with issues such as how to address problems with homophobia in families. “All wedding publications tend to look at marriage through a soft focus,” says Jones. “This will be more tongue and cheek.”
Jones has tapped into a niche market, judging from the response he’s received. “I’ve had emails from all over Canada and some advertisers have really embraced the idea,” he says. However, many in the gay community have doubts. Bourassa himself would rather see gay couples more integrated into mainstream society. “I would hope that gay people are more reflected in the straight publications,” he says.
Ryan Porter, deputy editor of fab, the Ontario-based monthly gay magazine, doubts if there’s a need, noting that it’s mostly the woman in a straight marriage who does the wedding planning. “I don’t think gay guys put that much thought and organization into their weddings. They fly by the seat of their pants,” he says, adding that lesbians may be different.
Although a same-sex wedding publication may do more to garner acceptance of this non-traditional marriage, Porter worries it’s not the right path. “The closer gay marriage looks to straight, the easier it is to accept,” he says, “but gay marriage should be distinct from straight marriage.” However, he notes that there has been considerable commercial interest in the subject of same-sex marriage. In fab’s August wedding issue, advertising doubled the previous year’s revenues. The profitability of that issue is one reason fab has decided against including Wedding Essentials for Same Sex Couples in their distribution. “Advertisers love the idea,” says Porter.
Everyone, it seems, is starting to realize the potential for advertising bucks from this market. It’s obvious Jones himself is. The only question is if Wedding Essentials for Same Sex Couples will address the important issues that face these couples who are trying to wed. For Bourassa, looking back on his own experience, this is what’s really important. “I hope businesses remember where they got their opportunity,” he says.