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Business Booms With Washington’s Same-Sex Marriages

by Shaun Knittel
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Mar 22, 2013

On Feb. 13, 2012, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed the same-sex marriage bill, passed by both houses of the state legislature, into law. Voters would go on to approve the legislation in a referendum held on Nov. 6, 2012. The law took effect on Dec. 6. Within days, more than 600 marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples in King County alone, and the first marriages were celebrated on Dec. 9, 2012.

"Wedding and tourism industry-related businesses, including those businesses that are Greater Seattle Business Association members, should see a bump in business from marriage equality," Mona Smith, spokesperson for the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA) told Seattle Gay News as the start of the referendum campaign to win marriage equality in the state began. "Large, medium, and small businesses including airlines, hotels, restaurants, bakeries, photographers, rental cars, dealerships, caterers, florists, wedding planners, clothing retailers, musicians, DJs, accountants, attorneys, financial planners, and more could benefit from marriage equality."

The GSBA joined Washington United for Marriage, the campaign asking voters to Approve Referendum 74 in Nov. 2012, to keep the state's same-sex marriage law on the books. The GSBA has contributed to making Seattle the ninth most popular LGBT travel destination in the United States. Prior to the GSBA's Tourism Initiative in 2010, Seattle was ranked 19th.

Now, in a post-marriage equality Washington State, the numbers are beginning to pour in and they look promising; marriage equality has in fact given a boost to the local economy and thousands of them have taken place from Seattle to Spokane.

In 2010, the Williams Institute issued a report that said by opening marriage to same-sex couples, Washington State would boost the local economy by 88 million. The report noted that of the 19,003 resident same-sex couples, 50 percent, or about 9,500 couples, will choose to marry in the three years following the legislation. This net impact would result from savings in state expenditures on means-tested public benefits programs and from an increase in sales tax revenue from weddings and wedding-related tourism.

There’s no doubt about it, say local wedding venue owners: inquiries and bookings are on the rise. The reason? Same-sex couples from in and out-of-state are planning their nuptials for some time this year.

"Marriage equality is not just a social issue, it’s a business issue," said Elise Roberts of Urban Light Studios, a gathering space in the heart of Seattle’s Greenwood-Phinney neighborhood. "Indeed, an entire new customer base is emerging for business owners who are willing to market their services to same-sex couples."

Urban Light Studios enjoyed approximately five percent of their business from same-sex weddings in 2012, but with the passage of Referendum 74, their inquiries have gone up significantly. They anticipate having more than 15 same-sex weddings this year.

Obviously the city that has the most to gain is Seattle. The city’s hospitality industry had planned for this, making for a smooth transition from second-class citizens with domestic partners to equal citizens with same-sex husbands and wives.

From bakeries to hotels, salons to photographers, florists to limousine drivers, many business owners saw a lift in sales from same-sex couples holding weddings and celebrations in Seattle.

Wedding vendors said they didn’t immediately see a burst of bookings, due to the many celebrations planned right after marriage equality came to the state. Mass weddings took place at Seattle’s City Hall on Dec. 9 and elsewhere across the state. Some couples just wanted to have a party to celebrate, and not a full ceremony, because in their eyes, they’d already been married for 10 or 30 years.

But now that the rush to the altar has subsided, the people who profit the most from weddings say their businesses are seeing a rise in business from gay and lesbian newlyweds.

B.J. Duft, owner of Seattle caterer Herban Feast, told the Seattle Times that he’d seen a 15 percent increase in inquiries from same-sex couples since last November, and an employee at Wallingford’s Erotic Bakery said there’s been a noticeable rise in orders for male-male and female-female bachelorette cakes.

A number of hotels are also offering special packages and weddings.

Seattle’s Alexis Hotel "Suite On You" package, valid through Mar. 31, provides a night in a suite and bottle of Champagne for $174. Same-sex newlywed couples need to use the booking code ’R74’ and show a wedding license at check-in.

"We welcome all couples planning their dream wedding here at the Fairmont Olympic," said Dana Schroader, Wedding Specialist for the hotel.

Couples that reserve their wedding at the Fairmont Olympic Seattle Hotel will receive their choice of either a "ready to wear" or "couture" level Luly Yang dress or custom tailored suit as a gift from the hotel.

"The package is simple," said Jana Scopis, Director of Catering. "The questions of the venue and the dress (and now the suit) are often the most challenging decisions for couples. We feel that having both elements included with this package makes wedding planning a little less stressful and a lot more fun when you visit the hotel and make an appointment with Luly Yang."

The waterfront Edgewater Hotel offers a "Plunge with Pride" package with a choice of hotel venues for the wedding ceremony, a professional photography package, and overnight accommodations for the wedded couple, a "Mr. & Mr." or "Mrs. & Mrs." throw and bottle of Champagne.

And just outside of Seattle, Kirkland’s Heathman Hotel is offering a "Right to Unite" weekend package through June 30 with a 15 percent discount on a one-night stay (20 percent for two nights), that includes a bottle of sparkling wine and a rose-petal strewn bed.

Gay Wedding Expos Help Couples Plan Their Nuptials

The question on many same-sex couples’ minds once the prospect of marriage became a reality was simple, "How does one go about getting married?" In response, a number of same-sex wedding shows popped up across the state.

On Mar. 16, locals in the Seattle and Everett area attended the Seattle Alternative Wedding Show where, according to the event’s organizers, you’d find "everything you need for an LGBT wedding or commitment ceremony."

Admission was free for the event, held at Zahn Event Center at The Manor, a contemporary event facility located on 13 secluded acres in South Everett. Attendees enjoyed a fashion show and visited with vendors including caterers, photographers, cake designers and more. The best part? Shuttles from Seattle’s gayborhood of Capitol Hill were provided free of charge.

"The Mission of the Alternative Wedding show is to offer anyone interested in a non-traditional wedding a perfect venue and like-minded vendors to make your day perfect," said the event’s organizers on the sites official webpage. "Our event is geared toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender couples -- as well as nudists, pagans, swingers and any non-traditional couple. Please celebrate with us!"

And on Mar. 24, Seattleites can attend the One Love Wedding Showcase, located at the Hyatt at Olive 8, downtown Seattle. More than 80 award-winning local vendors representing 25 life categories are scheduled to be in attendance.

"This year’s One Love Wedding Showcase, taking place less than five months after Washington State affirmed marriage equality for all, is guaranteed to be the biggest and best ever," said Louise Chernin, President & CEO of the GSBA. "After all, when we show up at the One Love Wedding Showcase, created locally by and for those of us who celebrate marriage for all, we know we’ll find the best, most creative vendors who care about our families and are thrilled to work with us to create the perfect celebration."

One Love is "a premier showcase celebrating all couples in love while providing resources for every aspect of creating a life together," said Jenny Harding, owner and wedding coordinator for New Chapter Weddings and founder of The One Love Wedding Showcase.

She said that so many couples haven’t even thought about a wedding before, "so this is for them. This is to celebrate them."

Last October, during the height of the state’s same-sex marriage referendum battle, New Chapter Weddings and Events hosted the first event in association with the Greater Seattle Business Association, the city’s LGBT gay chamber of commerce. Harding said she hopes to extend The One Love Wedding Showcase to other states in the future.

With the arrival of marriage equality in Washington State, the team at Same Love, Same Rights, the leading producer of gay and lesbian wedding expos in the U.S., return for the 5th Annual Gay & Lesbian Wedding Expo in Seattle, May 19, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

This year’s Expo will be better than ever, say officials. Vendors will represent a diverse array of gay-friendly wedding professionals, music, planning tips, free samples, giveaways and more.

"You and your partner will find a unique variety of trendy resources as you plan the ceremony of your dreams," said officials on the website, noting that exhibitor spaces for this event have sold out.

Washington an Alluring Destination for Flyover LGBTs

With the exception of Iowa, all other states that allow same-sex marriage are in the Northeastern U.S. That makes Washington an alluring destination for gay and lesbian couples -- especially in Oregon, California, Arizona, Nevada, and Idaho. In fact, actor Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle) traveled to Washington from Hawaii in January to marry his partner of 38 years.

In January, Noelle Jones and Lisa Augustyn flew from Phoenix, Arizona to Seattle, Washington to make their love legal. Unable to tie the knot in Arizona, they boarded a 3-hour flight to Washington -- the closest state to allow gay marriage.

According to Jones, the two were married in an intimate, private ceremony beneath the sound sculpture at the Experience Music Project in Seattle. Fitting, because as she told the Seattle Times, it was their love of music that brought them together; they met at Augustyn’s music venue in Phoenix.

"It’s hard when two people love each other so much and you have to go across the country to get married," Jones said. "It seems crazy."

Wedding planners and officiants are seeing couples travel from other states in big numbers.

Pat Stimac, owner of A Heavenly Ceremony, officiated the Augustyn-Jones wedding. He told the Times, "It’s obviously going to explode," referring to the rise in out of state same-sex couples choosing Washington -- Seattle in particular -- as a wedding destination.

Wedding planner Jenny Harding, who owns New Chapter Weddings, has seen business pick up since November. Many of her couples are coming from other states.

"They’re not skimping on anything," she said. "They’re planning a really fabulous event and 100 percent of their guests are coming from out of state."

While these couples return to their home state knowing the federal government will not recognize their marriage, it doesn’t much matter to them.

"We feel so normal," Jones told the Times moments after the wedding. "That’s something I think that’s really missing. You go to Arizona you say you’re going to get married and people kind of look at you sideways."

While the exact number of same-sex couples that received a marriage license since last November is unknown, we do know that more than 1,000 same-sex couples have received marriage licenses in counties across Washington since the state’s voter-approved marriage law took effect. Overall, the number of marriage license applications in January was up 58 percent thanks largely to same-sex marriages, the county said.

Under the new law, domestic partnerships of same-sex couples will be automatically converted to marriages on June 30, 2014, unless, the couple has already legally married; at least one partner is 62 years of age or older as of June 30, 2014; or the couple has legally dissolved their domestic partnership or has started a legal proceeding to dissolve their domestic partnership by June 30, 2014.

Shaun Knittel is an openly gay journalist and public affairs specialist living in Seattle. His work as a photographer, columnist, and reporter has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the Pacific Northwest. In addition to writing for EDGE, Knittel is the current Associate Editor for Seattle Gay News.


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