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Gay & Lesbian Weddings: It's Not The Market You Think It Is

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Have you ever noticed that, any time a state legalizes same-sex marriage, numerous articles are published, featuring testimonials that there will be a huge gold rush and money falling from the skies as same-sex couples rush to the altar, Chuppah or City Hall to tie the knot or jump the broom?

In fact, I think I just heard a distinct rumbling coming from our Pacific Northwest...

Let's be honest: there will be economic gain and tax base advantages for those states that legalize same-sex marriage -- especially those states that are amongst the first to do so. And, businesses, like Microsoft, which have recently advocated for marriage equality, and places like New York, which legalized marriage and launched an impressive tourism campaign in 2011, or Washington state, which is poised to legalize marriage in 2012, understand that supporting marriage equality can make a difference in the overall bottom line.

The market is expanding thanks to same-sex weddings and its related services, like financial planning and legal advice. There are opportunities for thoughtful vendors and well-positioned jurisdictions to increase revenues. You will see local long-term couples choose to tie the legal knot relatively quickly when marriage equality legislation passes. And, you will, according to UCLA's Williams Institute, see couples travel to get married legally, even if they can't do so in their home states.

But one should not expect proof of a life-changing windfall within the week of marriage licenses being offered, or a sudden eye-popping, recording breaking number of new engagements happening within a few days of the legalization of marriage equality.

Unless you are of the ilk of Kim Kardashian or Britney Spears in Las Vegas, marriage is a serious commitment, cultivated over time; and -- and this is important -- once the gay nuptial backlog has been satisfied, the windfall storyline will be rendered moot and same-sex couples will be just another run-of-the-mill, engaged couple listed in the Crate and Barrel registry. Ready to spend money, yes; but ready to single-handedly save the economy, no.

Say What?

Let's start with Massachusetts, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. In its first five years of marriage equality, gay and lesbian wedding-related business, according to UCLA's Williams Institute, brought an additional $100 million in business. That's nothing to sneeze at. So score a point to the Bay State for being first to the table and recognizing the importance of embracing out-of-state couples.

And Washington, D.C., which doesn't break out its application count to specify the number of non-gay and gay couples, reported an impressive increase in marriage applications in 2010, the year that same-sex marriage was legalized in our Nation's Capital. Not long ago, The Washington Post reported that the steady annual average of 3,100 marriage applicants shot up to 6,600 in 2010.

While that economic math might not add up to 3,500 more marriages times the rough industry average of $25,000 a wedding, there were still couples traveling to Washington, D.C. and local couples celebrating and renewing their vows. Thus, some businesses enjoyed the market impact as they served those couples, and the District surely gained new residents as couples chose to leave the decidedly non-LGBT-friendly Virginia and the ever-conflicted Maryland.

And, though it hasn't been long enough to develop a twelve-month snapshot of what happened in New York, there are reports of a pronounced increase in marriage license requests in the first months of marriage equality, which surely had a positive impact in related coffers.

Even so, the marriage-related economic gains and the expansion of the market won't always leave every single wedding pro, retailer, and tourist-oriented business feeling that it has just won the Publisher's Clearing House sweepstakes. The real story is much more nuanced than this. (And if you are interested in learning more about why I say this, please check out my article on What Wedding Pros in NY Can Expect From the LGBT Wedding Market from June 2011.)

Now that same-sex marriage is legal in six states and the District of Columbia, and since so many long-term committed couples have tied the knot, the pent up demand has lessened. To wit, the Wall Street Journal recently published an article on a same-sex wedding expo in New York at which organizers claimed that 'thousands visited the expo' though the reporter observed that 'those in the industry appeared to outnumber attendees.'

Our Wedding Goggles

Those of you who are familiar with our business know that we've been a trusted pioneer in this market since 1999 and have been watching the trends as this same-sex marriage train has gained momentum on its track over the past decade and then some.

We've seen longtime couples rush to City Hall for civil unions and marriage licenses when the milestone of legal partnership recognition first became an option. We've watched same-sex couples realize that, as their relationships deepens, they, too, can exchange vows publicly and choose to get legally married. And, we've watched as friends and families of two brides or two grooms have borne witness to these beautiful life-altering and pride-nurturing ceremonies, and seen how every person in the room at such a groundbreaking moment has been transformed.

Without a doubt, our ceremonies have done as much to shape hearts and minds, impact national polls, and inspire phone calls to legislators as the gold rush headline trend, which summons vendors with its siren song and inspires them to reconsider their customer base, and become more gay-friendly as a means of doing the right thing and the smart thing.

Don't Get Me Wrong

There will be many couples who do and should respond to the happy news of a new marriage milestone in short order. (And you can count me and my partner to be on that list if we ever leave Virginia or as soon as its constitutional ban is overturned.) There will also be many happy gay couples who choose to tie the knot, over time, as their relationship deepens. But, for now, let's all agree to set economic hyperbole aside and dig deeper.

Bottom line: a lesbian, as the joke goes, may drive a U-Haul on her second date, but I doubt she'll bring an application from City Hall with her.

Same-sex couples, like so many non-gay couples, see life-long commitment and a legal contract as something serious and sacred. So call me a Traditionalist if you must. Marriage licenses aren't just a party favor at a Pride parade; don't expect us to treat them as if they are.