Gay Marriage: It’s Not About The Money

Photography by AlexanderAt a risk of feeling a bit like I’ve just posted my most sensational headline yet, I do feel compelled to share my perspective on the frequently appearing storyline that, any time a state legalizes same-sex marriage, there will be a huge gold rush and money falling from the skies as gay and lesbian couples rush to the altar, chuppah or City Hall to tie the knot or jump the broom.

Let’s be honest: there will be economic gain and tax base advantages for those states which legalize same-sex marriage – especially those states which are amongst the first to do so.

The market is expanding. There are opportunities for thoughtful vendors. You will see local long-term couples choose to tie the legal knot relatively quickly when marriage equality legislation passes.

But we should no longer expect proof of a windfall within the week of marriage licenses of being offered or a sudden eye-popping, recording breaking number of engagements happening within a few days of the legalization of marriage equality.

Say What?

Let’s start with Massachusetts. In its first five years of marriage equality, it is believed that gay and lesbian wedding-related business 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.

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 subtle and much more complex than this. (And if you are interested in learning more about why I say this, please check out my recent article on What Wedding Pros in NY Can Expect From the LGBT Wedding Market.)

Our Wedding Goggles

Those of you who know 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 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.

The trends, the are a-changin’!


* Report issued by The Williams Institute. 

Photo credit: Photography by Alexander




Wedding innovator Kathryn Hamm (@madebykathryn) is co-author of The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian & Gay Wedding Photography (Amphoto Books, 2014), an Education Expert for WeddingWire and Publisher of GayWeddings.com