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There's nothing quite like a destination wedding -- all your guests have flown in to see you walk down the aisle, you're probably already at your honeymoon location and best of all, your marriage is actually legal there. "I now pronounce you husband and husband" (or "wife and wife") takes on a real meaning when you choose to have a gay wedding in one of the four countries where same-sex marriages are legal.

The Netherlands became the first country in the world to offer full, legal marriages to same-sex couples in 2001, closely followed by Belgium. Same-sex marriages had been legal in most provinces in Canada for several years, but last month (July 2005) it became legal throughout the country. Spain's gay marriage laws were passed on June 30, 2005, and it is expected that South Africa will introduce its new gay marriage laws later this year or in 2006.

No wedding is ever easy and there are a few obstacles to getting married in the three European countries if you are not actually a resident or citizen. The Netherlands requires that at least one of the intended brides or grooms must be a resident in the country for a period of four months. Gay couples from the other 14 nations that are members of the European Union can come to The Netherlands and marry without establishing residency. In Belgium the requirement is three months. In Spain, the law is still so fresh that the question of whether two foreigners of the same-sex can get married in Spain apparently has not even been addressed yet.

Canada has a "come one, come all" approach, so any foreign same-sex couple can marry there, but you should bear in mind that although you may legally marry in these countries, if you are a US citizen, unfortunately your marriage will not be legally recognized at home. Marriages in all these countries are conducted as civil ceremonies, although they can be also be blessed by a religious leader or institution following a civil service. A special mention must of course be made to the great state of Massachusetts, who in their wisdom, have legalized same-sex marriages. At this point, only residents of Massachusetts are allowed to marry there (although often a town clerk who will issue a license will turn a blind eye to the residency restriction) and Massachusetts is the only state in the United States to recognize gay marriages.

Readers of De Gay Krant (www.gaykrant.nl) magazine in The Netherlands are offering to assist gay couples from non-European Union nations in establishing a legal address in Amsterdam so they can get married there. Not that we are advocating an illegal activity, but it seems that the Dutch gay community is trying hard to do everything they can to make everyone feel welcome and give those who really want to marry, a chance to do so. Anyone interested in this should e-mail h.krol@gaykrant.nl.

Even if you don't choose to marry your partner, at least travel to these progressive countries (and states), spend your tourist dollars there and show your support for these forward-thinking, non-discriminatory governments.

Traveling to The Netherlands is a wonderful tourism experience regardless of whether you're there to marry or just to enjoy the grand cities, beautiful scenery, historic architecture and bountiful museums. Gay-friendly wedding venues, hotels and restaurants can be easily found at www.gayamsterdam.com. For more information about gay weddings in The Netherlands, visit www.minbuza.nl and www.gay-civil-unions.com/International/Netherlands.htm.

The small country of Belgium is often overlooked as a tourism destination, but it boasts some of the most romantic locations in Europe, from the canals of Bruges, known as the Venice of the west, to the grandeur and artistic heritage of Antwerp. same-sex marriages appear to be more popular in the Flemish part of the country, rather than the French-speaking area, i.e. Brussels, but both regions are gay-friendly. The main gay Belgium information website (www.gaybelgium.be) unfortunately does not feature any information in English, only Flemish and French but both www.outinbelgium.com and www.welcome.to/gaybelgium provide general English language information about everything from hotels and tourism attractions.

Spain's historic legalization of gay marriage led to it being awarded PlanetOut's Out and About Travel Awards Destination of the Year for 2005. Nowhere is Spain's gay heritage more celebrated than in Barcelona and the nearby beach resort of Sitges. Stay Gay Barcelona (www.staygaybarcelona.net) is a website dedicated to providing great lodging options, from rooms in houses to comfortable apartments or luxury villas with all budgets catered for. Located in the gay Eixample district of Barcelona, Porquesi Restaurant (tel. +34/93454-8245; www.porquesi.com/spain/gays) is a popular place for the gay market for everything from dinner and drinks to gay speed-dating. Porquesi prides itself on being a sensational gay wedding venue too with a private area set aside for grand functions and celebrations with 10-course banquets for its mainly gay clientele. In the Spanish beach resort town of Benidorm, potential gay wedding venues are growing with the introduction of a new gay wedding market, including The Babylon Hotel (www.thebabylonhotel.com), Villa de los Sue¿os (www.villadelossuenos.com/vdls1.html) and Queens (www.queensbenidorm.com).

Oh Canada! Our northern neighbors provide the most popular destination for a quick trip over the border to get married. Ontario, in particular, offers a number of gay-friendly venues and wedding packages. Hebden House Bed and Breakfast (tel.888/273-4621; www.homeandweb.com/ontario-gay-lesbian-weddings.htm) offers a scenic, rural setting for a same-sex wedding on the shores of Upper Rideau Lake in Eastern Ontario. They can arrange all the details from the romantic location, to the catering and refreshments, the photography, accommodations, honeymoon pampering and more. Gloucester Square Inns (www.gloucestersquare.com) is a group of three historic mansions located in Toronto that also hosts gay weddings on a regular basis. In Montreal, where the estimated gay community is 10% to15% of the total population, several hotels cater to gay weddings. Auberge du Vieux-Port (www.aubergeduvieuxport.com) and Hotel Place D'Armes (www.hotelplacedarmes.com) are both stunning boutique hotels that offer romantic and personalized wedding options. I Do Toronto (tel. 888/418-1188; www.idointoronto.com) are professional gay wedding planners that will take care of all your wedding details including legal requirements and ensuring that your special day is an event to remember.

If you are specifically looking for international gay-friendly accommodations and travel ideas, it may be worth checking out the U.K. based website Gaydar Travel (www.gaydartravel.com). Likewise PlanetOut (www.planetout.com/travel) can provide you with great gay-specific travel information to help you plan your perfect getaway, wedding or honeymoon.

If you are not that concerned with the legality of the marriage, but rather with the idea of the actual ceremony, you may want to consider Costa Rica as a destination for your commitment ceremony. Costa Rica Gay and Lesbian Weddings (www.costaricapages.com/gayweddings/index.htm) can arrange the entire event for you -- from the ceremony to the travel, the honeymoon suite to the catering, the flowers to the champagne. Prices start from $2,699 for a basic wedding package that includes the wedding ceremony, flowers and table settings, a wedding cake, a three-hour photography package, a personal bridal consultant (who will arrange all travel plans, lodging, ceremony details, witnesses, and pampering the happy couple), legal requirements and bridal bouquets (or grooms' boutonniere). Rates vary greatly depending on location, size of wedding party and services desired. Airfare and accommodations are additional.

Gay wedding planning sites includes Gay Weddings (www.gayweddings.com)for US and Canadian ceremonies only, Gay Marriage World (www.gaymarriageworld.com) and Purple Unions (www.purpleunions.com). Lambda Business (www.lambdabusiness.com) can provide you with information on ordained ministers and celebrants who can officiate at gay weddings, civil unions and commitments ceremonies across the world. Looking for that perfect cake top to adorn your special wedding cake? The Baking Shop (www.bakingshop.com) can provide just what you're looking for in gender and race specific varieties.

For help planning your ceremony, pick up a copy of The Complete Guide to Gay and Lesbian Weddings by K.C. David and the experts at gayweddings.com or consider attending the next GLBT Wedding Expo (www.rainbowweddingexpo.com) which will be held, appropriately, in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia on October 2, 2005. Expo admission is free.

For more information about which countries offer which rights to same-sex couples visit the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission's website (www.iglhrc.org/site/iglhrc).

Connect with other travelers on the Gay and Lesbian Message Boards to get advice and recommendations for planning your perfect wedding.