Same-sex marriage and the reception abroad

Something to Declare

When I first met my partner, Andrew, I joked with friends that he was husband material. Over 20 years he has proved me right, but at the beginning I didn't imagine I'd ever have the choice to get married in my own country. As of this weekend, that changed as the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act came into effect in England and Wales (and in Scotland by the end of this year).

Venturing out into the world for the first time as Mrs and Mrs or Mr and Mr, these pioneering couples will most likely experience the first reactions to their new status on their honeymoon. What can, and should, they expect?

Right now the world seems to be dividing into countries where gay people are welcome and those where we are not. Equal marriage is legal in 16 countries with civil unions in seven more, but there are 82 countries where being gay is still a criminal offence. Russia has criminalised the promotion of homosexuality to anyone under 18, and India has gone backwards and recently re-criminalised homosexuality.

Research in 2010 by marketing agency Out Now Consulting found that three out of four gay travellers worried about the reception they would receive at their holiday hotel, and we know from our own research (we run a website of gay-friendly accommodation in the UK and Europe), that this anxiety increases with travel beyond big cities. With this backdrop, it is easy to understand why a honeymooning gay or lesbian couple might want to travel to a tried and tested gay resort, or an anonymous city chain hotel. But what if they wanted to head for the hills of Andalucia or the Highlands of Scotland and stay in romantic boutique hotels or island hop around the Greek archipelagos?

I have not encountered hostility when travelling as a couple off the beaten track, but I have experienced clear discomfort on the part of hotel staff and owners. Feeling anything less than totally welcome at your hotel on any holiday, especially a honeymoon, is unacceptable and a bad start to married life.

We set up Further Afield, a collection of more than 250 hand-picked gay-friendly places to stay in 23 countries, because gay travellers are as diverse in their travel interests as every other traveller, and also to offer the reassurance of a genuine welcome.

Gay and lesbian travellers don't want their towels to be tied into flamingos, they just want to be treated like everyone else. The same respect and the same welcome, whether travelling alone or with a partner on a romantic mini break.

In the UK, we have come a long way from the dark days of Section 28, all the way to gay marriage and honeymoons. And now, with more and more same-sex couples starting a family, we are looking forward to the next big thing – the gay-friendly family holiday. As well as a good husband, Andrew would make a great dad.

Simon Forrester is co-founder of Further Afield (furtherafield.com), which has just launched a collection of places to get married in the UK and honeymoon across the world.

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