Marriage Equality Expected to Change the Economic Landscape in WA

The ballots have been counted and the winners announced. Marriage equality in Washington State is no longer a mere dream, but a reality. Many have already obtained their marriage licenses and taken their vows to make it official, but many more have yet to take that big leap from being partners to being wives or husbands.

Even for straight couples the idea of throwing a wedding can be one of the most daunting tasks of a lifetime. From venue to caterer to DJ to guest list, the to-do’s can seem insurmountable at times. Consider then, how much more daunting throwing a wedding is for same-sex couples. Not only have same-sex couples lacked visible life-long role models, but as a group they have also lacked tangible planning resources such as wedding expos, books, magazines, and websites to help guide couples on their path toward matrimony.

While the landscape has yet to change completely, Seattle wedding vendors are leading the charge to make it just a bit easier for engaged couples to plan the wedding of their dreams in Washington. As Elise Roberts of Urban Light Studios, a hidden speak-easy style space in the heart of Seattle’s Greenwood-Phinney neighborhood says, “Marriage equality is not just a social issue, it’s a business issue.”Indeed, an entire new customer base is emerging for business owners who are willing to market their services to same-sex couples.

In the first year after same-sex marriage passed in New York State, New York City reaped $259 million of economic benefits directly related to the new wedding economy. Certainly, vendors such as Urban Light Studios and their partners in the “Rush to the Alter” special they have recently premiered are hoping to cash in on this economic boom. Yet, for each, outreach to the LGBT community began long before the passage of R74.

Roberts explains, “We’ve always kind of been recognized as an open, accepting place. The people who work here- myself, the owners- are all very, very, very welcoming and inclusive people, so I think that when people walk in the door, not only is the space inviting, but we are as well.

Similarly, Kelli Bielema, “owner and evil genius behind Shindig Events” has made education and outreach her personal mission. “I am active in educating other vendors to direct their attention and verbiage away from “bride/groom” and never assuming that anyone who reaches out to you is marrying someone of the opposite sex. I’m dedicated to teaching & sharing with my fellow industry peeps…and it can only help their bottom line, no doubt.  But, honestly, the most important piece of that is that they treat all their couples the same – with respect.”

Directing money toward gay-owned and gay friendly businesses while planning a wedding is, undoubtedly, of the utmost importance to engaged same-sex couples. Yet, finding and securing these vendors can be somewhat difficult. Enter one solution sure to be attractive to many same-sex couples hoping to plan a wedding quickly. The “Rush to the Altar Special” mentioned above- coordinated by long time partners in business, Urban Light Studios, Duos Catering and Shindig Events- is designed to be a one-stop shop offering couples the chance to check venue, catering, photography, and event coordination off their list.

Already the partners have experienced a noticeable up tick in business in the past month since the results of the historic vote were announced. Urban Light Studios has enjoyed approximately 5-10 percent of their business from same-sex weddings thus far, but with the passage of Referendum 74, their inquiries have gone up significantly.

“We anticipate having about 15 same-sex weddings in 2013,” Roberts says.

For Bielema, quantifying how much additional business might come her way is harder to say, but she did notice increased inquiries and web traffic around mid-November and is confident that with “engagement season coming up over the winter holidays (Thanksgiving through Valentine’s Day), certainly more business will be on the way.”

As of November 9 when a story was published in The Seattle Times featuring co-owners of West Seattle’s Duos Catering, couple Joshua Cooper and Benjamin Jury had not yet seen an increase in business. According to Roberts this is not surprising, though. “We’re (as a venue) the first big decision people make, so that’s why I think we immediately saw interest,” Roberts explains.

Other important decisions to make include finding a DJ who can get both your friends and family dancing and securing an officiant with experience and openness to performing same-sex wedding ceremonies. Urban Light Studios officially recommends DJ L.A. Kendall, Seattle fixture at the Wildrose bar and Frank Harlan, secular officiant with ties to the Humanist tradition. Harlan’s website, which provides a wealth of information, details the officiant’s extensive experience performing same-sex ceremonies. DJ Kendall, while not specifically experienced in emceeing same-sex weddings, has nearly two decades of experience producing, booking and playing public events and club nights around Capitol Hill, Belltown and Pioneer Square.

“In my career, I have played to a wide variety of audiences, but as a lesbian, my natural place has always been found in the queer/gay community,” she clarifies.

For further resources and information for those planning their own weddings, the annual One Love wedding expo organized by Jenny Harding, a wedding and event coordinator with New Chapter Events, is sure to be immensely helpful. The next showcase is booked for Seattle’s Hyatt at Olive 8 on March 24, 2013. In the meantime, Roberts also recommends Offbeat Bride – a website aimed at “creative alternatives for independent brides.”

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