How to Plan a Queer Wedding

Planning a queer wedding seems a wee bit more daunting than planning a cis-/het- wedding, doesn’t it?

Partly because the wedding industry is largely focused on straight, cisgender people.

Times are (thankfully) changing, but the availability of resources and representation for queer couples is still lagging far behind. Even well-meaning “advice” can be misguided or fall short at “same-sex,” attempting to force LGBTQ+ couples into boxes that make other people comfortable.

Not here.

Carving out space in the wedding industry where queer couples are not just accepted but celebrated has been the driving force behind my entire business. It’s why I do what I do. My hope is that this guide shows at least one couple out there that you are welcome, you are loved, and you deserve the wedding of your dreams.

Without the bullshit.

If you have no idea where to start planning your queer wedding, if you’ve been putting it off, or if you want to have fun planning, this is for you.

You’re in the right place.

Two marriers smiling and cuddling each other, celebrating their queer wedding. One is wearing a blue dress. The other is wearing a pale pink dress and flower crown.


The first step in planning a queer wedding is deciding to have one! So let’s chat about proposals, rings, and traditions.

What are the rules about proposing?

There aren’t any.

Any partner can propose to the other, both of you can propose, or you can skip the formalities entirely.

You can also propose whichever way you want to. Kneeling down, cuddling in bed together, in the kitchen post-tacos (from experience…), with an audience, or completely private.

You can announce your engagement to the world, a select few loved ones, or keep it your own secret until after you exchange wedding vows.

Do you need rings?

Engagement and wedding rings are fun and meaningful symbols of commitment, whether or not you have a formal proposal. I’m a big fan of the non-traditional (clearly), but it’s entirely your preference! My own engagement ring is a low-profile, lab-grown stone, and my wedding ring is a black tungsten band. Silicone bands are also amazing if you work with your hands, exercise a lot, or don’t want to feel anything sitting on your finger. Tattoos are another ring-less option!

If you’re looking for not-your-average wedding rings, I have some excellent recommendations! (There’s a whole separate blog in the works because I love non-traditional jewelry, but in the meantime, feel free to message me!)

Things to think about:

  • Material: Some metals are softer or harder than others. White gold, for example, is more susceptible to damage. Depending on your occupation, you may want to check out something like tungsten instead. One of my couples had a ring made with a wooden insert!
  • Stones: Diamonds are shiny, but so are…pretty much every other stone you can get. You aren’t restricted to a yellow gold band and a high-profile diamond. Be creative, be minimal, be whatever suits your style.

P.S.: rings aren’t required if you don’t want them! (A theme you may notice is that any time you ask, “do I have to?” my answer will almost always be “no.”)

An engaged couple sitting together with their hands overlapping in their laps. Both are wearing engagement rings.

Pick a date

The next step in planning your queer wedding is choosing either a date or location. The one you choose first depends on what matters more to you.

Not trying to be dramatic or anything, but a lot of decisions down the line will stem from these ones, so it’s good to give them some thought!

There are different ways to go about choosing your wedding date. Are there any significant dates in your lives that mean a lot to you, anything you’d like to jointly commemorate alongside your wedding? Are there logistics that need to be taken into consideration, like time off from work, loved ones’ schedules (if you’re inviting anyone), weather, other events to keep some distance from in the calendar?

For example: my brother and sister-in-law planned a June wedding. When my partner and I were looking at dates, we wanted either spring or autumn for temperate weather, but we didn’t want our elopement to be right on top of my brother’s wedding. So we picked a date in November.

I’ve had couples commemorate the passing of loved ones, dating anniversaries, fun number sequences in the calendar, or “this date felt like a good one.”

Put as much or as little weight behind this decision as makes sense for you. It does help to have either a specific date or at least a general idea before you start reaching out to vendors for scheduling reasons!

A snowy landscape with evergreen trees, a blue lake, and a mountain rising in the background.

Pick a location

As I said above, choosing your wedding date and location go hand in hand. There are two ways to go about this:

Date first, location second

If you’ve already chosen your date, it’s time to start thinking about locations. To book me (and many other elopement photographers), you don’t need to know an exact location to get things moving. Something general like “Washington” will do the trick! A big part of my job is helping you narrow down the perfect locations for your day, based on what types of places you like, how much hiking you want to do, whether or not you want to do any special activities, whether or not you’re bringing guests, any accessibility requirements, etc.

Think about some of the best places you’ve been to in the past. Places that took your breath away or made you feel calm. Places that have meaning to you or made you happy just to have seen them.

Consider the time of year and which types of locations are available. Here in Washington, depending on the winter we’ve had, the snowpack can hang about at higher elevations into June or even July. Some roads and trails are also closed seasonally.

Location first, date second

The other way to go about this is to pick your location or activities first and then pick a date afterward. If you really want to see the Milky Way, April-September is your best bet. If you’re into snowshoeing, maybe don’t elope in August. Looking for wildflowers in the North Cascades? They appear at different times of the year based on elevation. Is your heart set on Arizona? July isn’t going to be kind to you.

Choosing your wedding date and location often go hand in hand–it’s up to you to decide which factors have the highest priority and go from there.

If you need help sorting any of this out, I’d love to hear from you! You don’t have to try and figure it all out alone.

A marrier in a white wedding dress walks to her ceremony under a covered walkway. She is escorted by her father and step-father, on on either side.

Think about guests

Disclaimer: I have to admit here that I’m a wee bit biased. As an elopement photographer, I’m in favour of abandoning the guest list and running off to have an adventure without the weight of anyone’s expectations. 

I have some strong opinions about this, which I won’t shy away from. If there’s anything you take away from this section, let it be this: you don’t have to invite anyone.

Eloping isn’t selfish! And even if it were…who cares?? Dreaming up a day for you and your partner to exchange your vows and promise forever to each other…that’s special!

I don’t care if someone is related to you, if they’ve known you all your life, if they’ve done XYZ for you in the past. Your elopement or intimate wedding is about you, not what other people want.

My partner and I invited 12 or so guests to our elopement. Part of me still wishes we didn’t invite anyone, but one of my family members said, “I’ll never speak to you again if I’m not there.” Before I was even engaged. There’s a lot of pressure, my friends, and I totally get it. You don’t want to ruin relationships or have people call you selfish. But if there’s anything I’ve learned photographing weddings (and living life), it’s that someone is always going to be upset with the choices you make, no matter what you do.

So you might as well do what makes you and your partner happy. If that means not inviting anyone, I’ve got your back.

That being said: inviting a group of loved ones who truly love and support you can make for a magical day too.

Things to consider when inviting guests

  1. Queer weddings can be a novelty for some people, and they may try to make it about themselves, subconsciously or otherwise. Please try not to cave to demands from these people.

  2. “Family” is whatever you choose it to be. Some queer couples have fully supportive blood relatives, which is wonderful! Unfortunately, not all do, and events like this can bring up some difficult feelings. As I said above, you are under no obligation to invite anyone who makes you feel unsafe or “less than,” no matter their relation to you. You deserve to feel safe, seen, and celebrated on your wedding day, and you can 100% choose your own family.

  3. People often mean well, but if you find yourself getting pushed around or misunderstood in the planning process, you absolutely have my support to set some strong boundaries. I know it can be uncomfortable, but you’ll be so glad you did!

A large bouquet of greenery and pink, white, and maroon flowers is held by a bride in a sparkling copper jacket.


Hiring vendors for your queer wedding may initially seem like a monstrous task, but depending on how you look at it…it can be a lot of fun.

For starters, let’s talk about the types of vendors out there, and which ones you may or may not need. As a disclaimer, I’m not suggesting you must hire any of these vendors, nor is this an exhaustive list:

Vendors to Consider


…I promise I’m not a narcissist. I’ve put photographers first on the list because, more often than not, hiring a photographer first is going to make the rest of the planning process so much easier. In the elopement/intimate wedding world, photographers often double up as planners. We help with locations, timelines, other vendor recommendations, and all manner of things that make your day go smoothly. The earlier you get us on board, the more help we can be.


Some, but not all, of my eloping couples hire planners. They’re incredibly helpful, and they go beyond what I offer, like managing other vendors and organizing everything for you. If you’re having a larger or more elaborate wedding, a planner is KEY. Almost non-negotiable, really.


In most U.S. states, you need an officiant to sign your marriage license in order for everything to be legal (as is the case here in Washington). I myself am ordained and can sign your license for you, but I am not a celebrant. I do not perform ceremonies, and trust me, you don’t want me to–it’s not my forte. Hire a pro to help make your wedding ceremony special!


Bouquets, boutonnieres, floral arches, table decorations…As someone who’s taken a bouquet-making class, trust me when I say that this is not as easy to DIY as you think. Florists are not only skilled, but they also know which plants will look good with your location and design choices.


The same person doesn’t always do both, but plenty do. Find someone who sees the same vision that you do, who’ll do natural makeup if that’s what makes you comfortable, or who’ll do full glam if you’re going all out. If you’re eloping, think about where you’re going, how much hiking you’re doing, and find someone who knows what they’re doing–you don’t want your hair and/or makeup going wild an hour in!


More and more couples are hiring videographers for their elopements and intimate weddings. These folks are so far beyond your uncle Mark with his iPhone. If you want your memories in motion, not just stills, videographers are excellent people to bring on board! If an extra vendor/another camera in your face sounds like too much, check out my highlight films!


You have to eat, right? I was going to say “even if you’re eloping,” but especially if you’re eloping. (I don’t know about you, but I tend to forget to eat when I’m out and about exploring.) Hiring a private chef or caterer is an excellent way to celebrate. And no one wants to be hangry on their wedding day. Finding someone local to make you a dessert (cake, pie, cupcakes, whatever you fancy) is also highly recommended.


Ever wanted to take a Jeep up a 4×4 road? Or ride in a helicopter or floatplane? Maybe you want to go whale watching or rise above the mountains in a hot air balloon…? There are a lot of folks out there who can make those dreams come true!

How to Pick Vendors for your Queer Wedding

I wish I didn’t have to go into the difficulties of finding vendors for queer weddings, but I’m genuinely hopeful that one day I won’t have to. I know what it’s like, having to scan websites and social media not just for quality and personality, but for safety as well. And honestly? LGBTQ+ “acceptance” is the bare minimum as far as I’m concerned.

If you see a website with a rainbow badge saying they’re inclusive, excellent. If someone’s site and contact form don’t use heteronormative or gendered language, good sign. …Forgive me if I’m wrong though (I’m not), but that’s not quite enough to deserve a gold star from me, you know?

Your wedding is special, and you deserve to have people there with you who do more than just “accept” you or “tolerate” your relationship.

You deserve people who affirm and celebrate your relationship, who truly do believe that all queer love is beautiful.

Wedding Attire

This particular aspect of planning a queer wedding may feel daunting at first.

Presumed gender roles and safety concerns can be present across the entire industry. But getting bodies involved is an extra layer, isn’t it? Let’s talk about it:

A marrier in a blue suit turns her face to the light coming through the window while leaning on a bar top.

What should you wear?

All together now: wear whatever you want, whatever makes you feel good. There’s no quota that says each couple getting married must put one person in a dress and one person in a suit. You’re allowed to express yourselves in whatever way you see fit. If you aren’t sure, take a look around Instagram, Pinterest, Mr. Google, and keep an open mind.

Dresses and suits are both excellent choices (and there are so many kinds!), but there are also skirts, kilts, “costume” pieces, and so many more. All in a full spectrum of colours, patterns, and cuts.

Wear what makes you feel amazing.

Another thing to consider is how comfortable you are in your clothes. You’re likely going to be moving around a lot, especially if you’re getting married outdoors, so make sure your outfit doesn’t restrict your movement!

Where can you find inclusive businesses?

I have a whole list of wedding attire shops and businesses that I recommend to my couples. Here are a few to check out!

An officiant leads an intimate ceremony for two marriers at a winery.

Plan a Queer Wedding Ceremony

It may not be the only part of your day, but it’s certainly one of the most emotional. Your ceremony is the moment you commit your lives to one another, the moment you say “yes” to forever. It’s kind of a big deal.

What to do During Your Ceremony

Two of the most common ceremony touches are sharing vows and exchanging rings. Personalizing these vows and sharing them with your partner…I cannot recommend this enough. Some couples choose to share vows in front of guests as part of their ceremony, but you can also share them privately during a different part of your day!

Some other ceremony options include incorporating cultural or religious traditions and reading letters from loved ones. I have a whole list of other ideas for you in the packed “How to Elope” guide that goes out to all my couples.

Legal Requirements

In Washington, for a wedding ceremony to be legal and your marriage recognized by the government, you must have an officiant and two witnesses. Different states have different rules, because of course they do, so check yours if you aren’t sure! 

It’s also important to check details about picking up the license itself:

What do you need to bring with you? How much does it cost? How soon after acquiring it you can get married (Washington has a 3-day waiting period)? When does it expire? 

A rainbow flag on a flagpole blows in the wind against a background of blue sky.
Photo by Tim Bieler on Unsplash

Show Your Pride

This aspect of planning your wedding or elopement is completely up to you and your partner, your personalities. Want your wedding to have so many rainbows and LGBTQ+ flags that it’s mistaken for a pride festival? Go wild. Want to keep things subtle or low-key? That’s ok too!

I hope by now you’re sensing a theme… You can do whatever feels right to you.

Your wedding is yours, and that includes how it all looks. Feel free to add special touches to desserts, decorations, and accessories (like pins, cufflinks, or shoes), but don’t feel like you have to. Not all queer people are the TV stereotype, and you don’t have to conform to that if it’s not you.

The Leave No Trace logo with the text "Leave No Trace Aware Photographer"
Visit the LNT Center for more information!

Leave No Trace

If you’ve never heard of Leave No Trace (or want a refresher), I highly recommend you check out their website!

The LNT Center for Outdoor Ethics “is on a mission to ensure a sustainable future for the outdoors and the planet.” They do this through outreach, restoration projects, education, and more. Their 7 Principles provide guidelines for interacting with the outdoors, including proper waste disposal, sticking to trails and durable surfaces, and respecting wildlife.

The wedding industry as a whole is…really bad at sustainability and eco-friendliness.

By choosing to elope or have an intimate wedding, you’re not only going to have a meaningful wedding experience, you’ll also be getting married in a way that’s kind to the planet.

This aspect of wedding planning is near and dear to my heart, and a core value in my business. So much so that I got certified as a “Leave No Trace Aware Photographer.” I discuss LNT with all of my couples, but even if you hire someone else, keep the 7 Principles in mind as you plan your wedding!

Ask your vendors about LNT, make sure they share your values.

With more and more people eloping and spending time in nature, it’s important now more than ever that we all respect the outdoors and take care of outdoor spaces.

Yes, leaving the confetti at home can be a bummer, but getting to return to your elopement location 5, 10 years later without seeing it destroyed or closed off to the public?

Worth it.

Two marriers in suits walk across a ridge, holding hands.


If you want my absolute best advice for how to have the queer wedding of your dreams without the drama, negativity, sensitive subjects, weird wedding etiquette, or delicate situations, ELOPE.

By eloping–with or without a small group of loved ones–you have the most freedom possible to be who you are and get married exactly the way you want to.

I plan and photograph elopements and intimate weddings for queer couples (and eloped myself!), and from experience, there’s nothing quite so liberating.

If this sounds good to you, if this felt like a sigh of relief, a weight lifted, I’d love to talk to you! Whether you’re ready to get things started or need some more info/someone to talk to, I’m just a click away xx

Enjoy the Process

This is your wedding day…You’re allowed to enjoy planning it!

Plus, the more you enjoy the process, the more supportive other people will be (and the more fun you’ll have). Your guests/vendors will ultimately be more enthusiastic about your decisions if you are.

Once people see that something matters to you or brings a huge smile to your face, how can they not love it too??

(If they don’t, feel free to uninvite or fire them. You don’t need that kind of energy on your wedding day.)

So have fun with it. Get weird, tap into who you both truly are, and make your day one that you’ll remember for the rest of your lives. A day that reflects you, not what everyone else thinks it should be.

Whatever you’ve got in mind for your queer wedding, I’m so on board.


  1. https://www.weddingwire.com/wedding-ideas/marriage-proposal-traditions
  2. https://modgents.com/blogs/ringsandthings/marriage-proposal-meaning-history-everything-you-need-to-know
  3. http://lnt.org

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  1. Kelcee says:

    I love how you included so much information and different choices on how to plan for an elopement! I always worry about if I need to pick a date and then an a location, or location and then a date, so thank you for giving those tips! This was such a fun post. Super cool photos by the way!

    • Rachel Downey says:

      Thanks so much, Kelcee! The location/date dilemma slows a lot of people down, I think, or makes some decision-making more difficult. Eloping makes it way easier though (:

  2. Lexi H says:

    I absolutely LOVE this blog post. Not only is your info SO in-depth and helpful, it really gives encouragement to give the middle finger to typical traditions and do what feels so you, which I’m all in on.
    I love that throughout the whole post you give words of encouragement to just do what feels best for you two. I think a lot of couples really need to hear and read that and know that there are photographers and wedding vendors out there who love that and want to empower them to do things their OWN unique way! Anyways I’m rambling a bit but love your vibe and love that you made this post. Helpful AND encouraging. <3

  3. So much practical and lovely information for queer couples to feel truly loved and celebrated! Laying out the wedding planning process in easy steps really does help to make it feel less daunting!

  4. silvia says:

    Such a complete and comprehensive guide! Love the images and all of the specific recommendation you’ve put together, this is so well done!

  5. Kristen says:

    This is a great guide for anyone looking to get married! Weddings are for the couple so they can make their day whatever they want! Great advice in here and lots of good advice!

    • Rachel Downey says:

      Thanks, Kristen! I’m team “people getting married, not their pushy friends or family,” always.

  6. Kiley says:

    I am absolutely in love with this guide. Any couple who has the pleasure to find it must feel SO seen! Not only that, but you have put together a clear, comprehensive guide, and that alone is priceless! This industry is changing, and it’s because of people like you who are creating safe, celebrated spaces for queer couples.

    • Rachel Downey says:

      I may actually cry some happy tears; thank you for this, Kiley! Industry change happens one step at a time, and I’m so here for it.

  7. Laura says:

    This is such a thorough planning resource for queer couples looking to elope! I love all of the advice that you included. Great Post!

  8. Marla says:

    Oh my gosh Rachel, I’m in love with this guide! You’re so clear in your values & you nail the most important thing about elopements– that they can be anything you want to be.

  9. […] If you’re looking for tips on how to plan a queer wedding, I’ve got you covered there too! […]

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