Many California special event professionals who serve the social market predict an uptick in wedding business this year in light of the state Supreme Court's ruling May 15 that same-sex couples can wed in the Golden State. But whether that new business will be a bonanza or just a boost remains to be seen.
With county offices issuing licenses to all couples starting June 17, San Diego-based TK&A Custom Catering has seen a “100 percent increase” in calls from same-sex couples looking into wedding receptions, notes CEO Lisa Richards.
Joann Roth-Oseary, founder of Tarzana, Calif.-based Someone's in the Kitchen, expects another $200,000 to $400,000 in additional revenue this year from same-sex weddings. “We already have several that are booked, and we are marketing to the community strongly,” she says. She is now planning a kosher wedding reception for a lesbian couple.
The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa in Sonoma, Calif., predicts a 5 percent to 10 percent boost in business thanks to the ruling, according to weddings and catering manager Kelly McLeskey. The property has received “numerous calls” since same-sex marriage was upheld and has booked two such weddings for later this summer, says Fairmont spokesperson Michelle Heston.
Some event pros believe that the rush of weddings now is only the first blush of business. Newark, Calif., wedding planner Gwen Helbush of Where to Start predicts a 2 percent to 3 percent increase in business this year, but 10 percent to 15 percent in 2009. “Many of the couples who are marrying now have celebrated their commitment previously and are simply making it legal,” she says. “I think the real surge will come when all the hoopla dies down and the couples who just want to have beautiful private weddings without being on display will start calling.”
All event pros interviewed say the vast majority of their calls are coming from Californians, even though the law permits non-residents to marry in the Golden State. Massachusetts OK'd same-sex weddings in 2004, but at press time only residents can marry there. Canada sanctioned same-sex weddings in 2005.
The Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA School of Law researching sexual orientation and public policy, released a study in June predicting $683.6 million in revenue for California thanks to spending by resident same-sex couples on weddings and by out-of-state couples on tourism and their weddings.
GOING FOR THE GAY CLIENT
Some event professionals are actively pursuing the same-sex marriage market. The Fairmont San Francisco has debuted its “Love is Proud” wedding and honeymoon packages. The hotel will donate 10 percent of revenue from same-sex weddings at the property to the Academy of Friends, a local organization benefiting AIDS/HIV charities in the Bay Area.
Sister property the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn is going one step further. The hotel is not only riding the same-sex wedding trend but going “green,” too. Its “Green and Gay” program offers environmentally friendly same-sex weddings that include options such as invitations printed on recycled paper using soy inks, menus featuring local organic food and guest transportation via hybrid vehicles.
Some event pros believe that despite the media splash, their business involving same-sex celebrations won't change much.
“We've seen more requests from same-sex couples in the past few months,” notes Sheldon Sloan, partner and sales director with South San Francisco-based Melons Catering and Events. However, “I think in San Francisco, many same-sex couples have for the past decade been hosting commitment celebrations regularly.”
San Francisco-based McCall Associates will create a high-profile same-sex wedding party this summer for San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Joe D'Alessandro and his partner at the soon-to-reopen Maritime Museum. Even so, “Commitment parties have been going on for a long time,” notes founder Dan McCall, “and I am not sure there will be any more ‘official’ celebrations over the number of serious commitment parties that we have catered in the past.” He estimates his business will see a 10 percent boost in the number of same-sex celebrations.
Family-friendly institution the Walt Disney Co., based in Burbank, Calif., has been ahead of the curve since last April, when it opened its Fairy Tale Weddings program to same-sex couples. Up to that point, the events had been available only to couples who could provide a marriage license.
The same-sex wedding market will mean incremental rather than monumental business if the situation plays out in California as it has in Massachusetts and Canada.
Boston-based invitation designer Bonny Katzman of BK Design says she met her first engaged gay couple asking for her services in June. “That's the only action I've had so far,” she says, “so it's a .0005 percent increase!”
Mary Crothers, head of Toronto-based event rental company Chair-Man Mills, says that same-sex weddings have increased her business by 5 percent since Canada approved the unions three years ago, a figure that has remained constant. She finds that same-sex weddings are “very similar” to heterosexual receptions, “though they tend to be smaller and more intimate,” she notes. “We have not done any large-scale, 300-plus-type weddings.”
The marriage mood in California could sour if backers of a ballot initiative banning same-sex unions get their way. A coalition of religious and conservative activists submitted 1.1 million signatures to qualify a constitutional amendment that would limit marriage only to heterosexual unions. Californians go to the polls Nov. 4 to vote on the measure.
“I think we will know for sure in November, and people will be more confident,” notes Mathew Baker, president of San Diego-based Feast on This. Looking at same-sex commitment parties compared with weddings, “I really think in the gay community, it will be more a 50-50,” he says. “Most will want commitment only, others will want weddings, and we won't start seeing it happening till at least a year from now.”
Disney Fairy Tale Weddings
Feast on This
Melons Catering and Events
Someone's in the Kitchen
TK&A Custom Catering
Where to Start