LONDON A slew of countries and states have recently voted to legalize same-sex marriage, which means new gay and lesbian wedding destinations are popping up around the world. Some of the latest locales to honor gay marriage are also some of the most picturesque and romantic places for couples to exchange vows. That's why online travel advisor Cheapflights.com (www.cheapflights.com) has come up with its list of the Top 10 up-and-coming gay wedding destinations. Reuters has not endorsed this list:
1. Newport, R.I., United States
Rounding out the northeast corner of the United States, Rhode Island became the final New England state to legalize gay marriage with same-sex weddings expected to start in August. Situated along the state's 400 miles of coastline about an hour south of Boston, Newport, R.I. gives couples looking to book a summer wedding the chance to declare their love against a backdrop of spectacular beach scenery. With a lively downtown area, a stretch of famous mansions that once played summer hosts to wealthy families and three vineyards to visit, this resort town caters to out-of-towners making it an ideal warm-weather wedding destination.
2. Queenstown, New Zealand
Gay marriage won't officially become legal in New Zealand until August 2013, but Kiwis are already prepping for an influx of tourism from same-sex couples, specifically those hailing from their neighbor to the north, Australia. New Zealand will become the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to officially legalize same-sex marriage, which means gay and lesbian couples will now be able to exchange vows in places like Queenstown. Already one of New Zealand's most desirable wedding destinations, Queenstown is a four-season town offering spring flowers, summer warmth, fall foliage and a winter wonderland. Indoor and outdoor wedding venues are plentiful and its reputation as a resort destination means it's accessible and ready for plenty of visitors - including wedding guests.
3. Montpellier, France
Often dubbed France's unofficial capital of gay culture, Montpellier offers couples a beautiful wedding destination on the southern shore of this romantic European country. Situated along the Mediterranean Sea in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, Montpellier has a vibrant arts scene and a young vibe. From wandering among medieval architecture to taking in a show, couples and wedding guests won't be at a loss for cultural experiences here. The city's sunny, Mediterranean climate and its proximity to some of France's finest vineyards don't hurt either.
4. Copenhagen, Denmark
While Denmark previously allowed short blessing ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples, the country made formal church weddings available to same-sex partners last year. The capital city of Copenhagen is teeming with history and romantic scenery. Plenty of canals, parks and narrow streets give the city an intimate feel for couples looking for a more private affair. Award-winning restaurants are turning Copenhagen into a respected foodie destination and the beer scene is booming with microbreweries popping up across the city. With one of the highest numbers of restaurants and bars per capita in the world and watering holes that often stay open until 5 or 6 a.m., couples won't be at a loss when it comes to taking the celebrations into the wee hours of the morning.
5. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Gay marriage is only legal in some parts of Brazil, but the state of Rio de Janeiro officially invited gay and lesbian couples to walk down the aisle inside its borders this year. The people here know how to celebrate. Known for its colorful carnival festivities, mountainous scenery and famous landmarks like Ipanema Beach, Sugarloaf Mountain and the Christ the Redeemer statue (one of the New Seven Wonders of the World) atop Corcovado Mountain, Rio de Janeiro offers plenty of experiences for wedding guests. And you can be sure they're prepared to host a wedding celebration; after all, the city is preparing to play host to athletes and spectators from around the world during the 2016 Olympic Games.
6. Camden, Maine, United States
When gay marriage became legal in Maine in December 2012, 14 same-sex couples flocked to Portland's City Hall to get marriage licenses - five of those couples married on the spot. For those looking to host a larger, less spontaneous celebration it's worth traveling about an hour and a half north by car to Camden. This affluent coastal town sits on Penobscot Bay along the Pine Tree State's 3,478 miles (more than California) of picturesque coastline - a romantic scene for any summer wedding celebration. Guests will have a chance to connect with nature at Camden Hills State Park, which features 5,500 acres of trails, picnic spots and lookouts delivering beautiful views. Friendly people, plenty of bed and breakfast inns and an open-arms type of hospitality make Camden a popular tourist spot. From casual clambakes to more formal affairs, weddings run the gamut in Camden, offering couples many venues to choose from (an amphitheater, anyone?) and the chance to set whatever tone they want for their celebration.
7. Montevideo, Uruguay
Same-sex marriages are expected to start in July in Uruguay, 90 days after the law is promulgated. With a relaxed atmosphere and beloved beaches, this South American country offers plenty of sights and activities for wedding guests. Uruguay's capital, Montevideo, where celebrations broke out following the vote this spring and street parades are a regular occurrence, is a laid back port city featuring picturesque beaches, captivating colonial architecture and a lively nightlife scene - a perfect place for couples to relax and celebrate. The country is relatively small, making Montevideo an easy jumping-off point for day trips - a helpful feature for guests traveling from a distance and looking to explore. Trek to the southwestern area of the country to see Colonia del Sacramento's historic district - a UNESCO World Heritage site.
8. Rehoboth Beach, Del., United States
A long-time summer tourist hot spot and gay friendly beach town, Rohoboth Beach takes couples and wedding guests back in time. Complete with a boardwalk and an amusement park, this seaside locale gives the feeling of stepping into an old-fashioned summer vacation - an interesting juxtaposition to the state's more progressive adoption of gay marriage. The first gay and lesbian couples will be allowed to marry in Delaware this summer and Rohoboth Beach is one of the state's most popular summer vacation destinations. Located only a few hours away from major U.S. cities like Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, Rehoboth Beach features plenty of restaurants, places to stay, golf courses and even tax-free shopping for those last-minute wedding necessities.
9. Saba, Dutch Caribbean
The number of tourists flocking to this tiny island in the Dutch Caribbean has increased dramatically since gay marriage was legalized here last year. Though the Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage, officials gave the country's islands some added time to integrate the law. But Saba has long been considered a gay-friendly destination - an approach that paved the way for its newfound popularity as a hot spot for gay and lesbian weddings. Secluded and peaceful, the island is known for its scuba diving, hiking, nature experiences and friendly people. Even though Saba is surprisingly lacking in beaches, it offers plenty for adventurous couples and any pair that wants to exchange vows away from the hustle and bustle.
10. Seattle, Wash., United States The state of Washington voted to make gay marriage legal at the end of 2012 (same-sex marriage is now legal in 12 states in the U.S. and the District of Columbia), opening up the city of Seattle as a gay wedding destination. Foodies can get their fill at Pike's Place Market (don't wear good clothes - you'll have to experience catching a fresh fish from a fishmonger!) and the original Starbucks coffee house. There are plenty of neighborhoods to explore - each has its own personality - and a trip to the top of the city's iconic Space Needle is also a must for couples and wedding guests alike. Same-sex couples who journey to Seattle to exchange vows may have to contend with the city's notoriously high amount of rainfall, but they'll celebrate surrounded by Puget Sound and beautiful mountain ranges.
(Editing by Paul Casciato)
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