This story was originally published on May 23, 2014 on PennLive.com.
With the striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act, wedding bells are in the air — and so are dollar signs.
The legalization of same-sex marriage could have economic impacts on the Pennsylvania wedding industry, as the number of people eligible for marriages and wedding ceremonies grows.
In fact, the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg has already seen business increase dramatically — with a same-sex wedding occurring every 30 minutes between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on May 24.
But so far no one’s barreling down Susan H. Moran’s door.
The York-based wedding designer, owner ofThat’s It! Wedding Concepts, hasn’t received any phone calls from same-sex couples as of May 22. But she isn’t surprised.
“I don’t think I’m the first thing on this particular group’s mind,” she said. “They’re looking for someone to marry them, for that place to go ahead and move forward.
“If they want my help in finding places and finding appropriate vendors, bring it on, I love it,” she continued. “But I think right now they’re getting to the bare basic: When are we going to do it and where are we going to do it.”
She expects things to change in a few weeks, once the verdict has sunk in. “I think they’re still absorbing this new reality and once this reality kicks in, then I would estimate that all of us in the wedding industry would see an uptick – and hopefully so,” she said.
“I think this offers an opportunity for those of the LGBT community to have joyous and open celebrations for their unions, just as others have in the past,” she went on. “I see that it simply opens up a great deal of happy opportunities.”
Same-sex couples won’t be the only ones happy – the Pennsylvanian economy should see between $65 million and $92.1 million added to it within three years, according to The Williams Institute at University of California Los Angeles School of Law. That would mean an additional $4.2 million-$5.8 million in sales tax revenue alone.
That same study also predicts the creation of 812 to 1,142 full- and part-time jobs as a result of same-sex marriage legalization.
The slow growth that Moran is seeing, however, is to be expected, according to Kathryn Hamm, President of GayWeddings.com, a same-sex wedding resource website since 1999.
Hamm noticed a substantial spike in interest in her site about 10 years ago, when same-sex marriages were legalized in Massachusetts. Vendors were looking up ways to specialize in the industry and there was a wave of couples marrying.
That’s not the case so much anymore. “We see increases, but the spikes aren’t as steep as they were,” Hamm said, adding that there are spikes often around the time the law changes in a state.
“Massachusetts stood to gain the most, because they did it earlier,” Hamm said. “I think we’ll still see the gay wedding stimulus plan happening, but they’re smaller ones.”
Part of that is because so many couples have already gotten married in neighboring states. “Pennsylvania is the last of the northeastern states to join the party,” Hamm said. Many people simply wed elsewhere.
That appears to have been the case nationwide. GayWeddings.com and theWedding Wire joined together to do a survey of where couples got married in 2012. What they discovered was 46 percent of same-sex couples stayed in their home states, compared with 70 percent of straight couples, Hamm said.
That will likely change with the legalization of same-sex marriages.
The main difference between weddings in Pennsylvania right after the legalization of same-sex marriage and a few years down the road is the dissolution of the “backlog,” or the couples that have been waiting to get wed for legal recognition. Once that backlog is cleared up, it should be business as usual – just with more customers.
The same-sex marriage business may actually may never increase for some wedding planners in Pennsylvania.
Terri Altergot, owner of Something Borrowed, Something New Events in Massachusetts didn’t see her business grow exponentially with the legalization of same-sex marriage in that state.
“We’ve done one gay marriage,” she said. “But I don’t see that they’re reaching out to us individually.”
What she has discovered is a whole new market that caters specifically to same-sex couples. “That’s going to be the one getting the referrals,” she said.
But there’s no doubt that the wedding market over all will grow – even if it sections off.
The only kinds of weddings Julie Buckley, owner of Magenta Events in Connecticut, plans are same-sex weddings. For her, those are the weddings she wants to do.
“They’re definitely more about the celebration than the big budget and ‘how can I outdo my friends,'” she said. “It’s a lot more special, I think, than a regular wedding because it’s something they haven’t been able to have for a long time – so they really appreciate the time with friends and family.”
She hasn’t seen too many “blowout weddings,” with one of the biggest she’s done having a guest list of 35 people.
That’s not the only difference.
“It’s often a lot of older couples,” she described. “Less parents. And the couples tend to pay for it rather than the families.”
“They don’t tend to follow all the traditions,” she continued. “They don’t all have a cake, they don’t all do the first dance. There’s rarely a wedding party.”
Hamm has noticed similar trends.
“We, as same sex couples, in considering our wedding rituals … have broken the seal,” she said. “We use the rituals that make sense to us and adapt the ones we want. The result is a lot of amazing, vibrant ceremonies.”
When it comes to the gay wedding industry, it’s easier to have a more personalized, customized ceremony. And that’s a good thing, according to Hamm. “When we go into autopilot, we take that shortcut and we lose what is present and magical about the day and the ritual itself.”
For example, the classic kiss photo. A photo of a kiss may not be appropriate for couples not comfortable with public displays for affection. But there are still ways to convey that love and devotion.
“The kiss is a shortcut symbol to represent love and intimacy,” Hamm explained. “There are actually all these other ways of representing that.” Exploring those other ideas is what inspired her to co-write “The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Wedding Photography.”
That “custom wedding” way of thinking, where traditions don’t necessarily matter, could end up transforming the straight wedding market as well. Hamm has given lectures over the past years and held seminars, helping wedding planners break into the same-sex market.
“I’m talking about how to better serve same-sex couples,” Hamm said. ” By the end of the presentation, I’m talking about considering how working with same-sex couples will actually help them better serve all couples.”