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Updated Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 02:17 PM

Same-sex marriage a boost for wedding business

By Sanjay Bhatt
Seattle Times staff reporter

From bakeries to hotels, salons to photographers, florists to limousine drivers, many business owners expect a lift in sales from both in-state and out-of-state same-sex couples holding weddings and celebrations here.

Washington state began recognizing same-sex marriages Thursday, opening a new era for thousands of same-sex couples who can now plan their nuptials — and possibly spend big bucks.

"This is the right thing to do, but beyond that, this becomes an exciting boost to the economy," said Jon Bridge, co-CEO of Ben Bridge Jeweler and a board member at the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, which supported the passage of Referendum 74 legalizing same-sex marriage.

How big a boost remains to be seen. In January, an institute at the University of California, Los Angeles estimated the change in Washington's law could pump between $18.5 million and $88.5 million into the state and local economy over three years, with nearly two-thirds of that impact in the first year.

Most wedding vendors said they aren't immediately seeing a burst of bookings — though a few are, especially with so many celebrations planned this weekend.

"It's been crazy craziness," said Jenny Harding, whose company, New Chapter Weddings, is arranging four gay weddings next year, including one for a Portland couple.

"Some couples are just wanting to have a party now that it is legal, celebrating that they've already been married for 10 years," she said.

In October, Harding organized the One Love wedding show for same-sex couples with support from Washington United for Marriage and the Greater Seattle Business Association, which represents gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender business owners.

She is planning another such show in March, and hopes to stage her own same-sex wedding next year.

B.J. Duft, owner of Seattle caterer Herban Feast, said he's seen a 15 percent increase in inquiries from same-sex couples since the October wedding show.

An employee at Wallingford's Erotic Bakery said there's been a noticeable rise in orders for male-male and female-female bachelorette cakes.

The economic-impact study by the Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA's law school that focuses on gay and lesbian issues, estimates that over the next three years same-sex couples may spend only a quarter as much on weddings as the $25,414 dropped, on average, on heterosexual Washington weddings in 2010.

The institute made that ballpark estimate after factoring in less financial support from families, and societal discrimination against same-sex couples.

The study drew on the experience of Massachusetts, where just over half of same-sex couples married in the first three years after that state allowed same-sex marriage.

It estimates Washington could see 9,500 same-sex weddings within three years.

Out-of-state couples could add to the impact. Washington's law has only a three-day waiting period for couples to get married, leading some to anticipate an influx from other states, particularly on the West Coast.

Idaho, Montana and Arizona don't offer same-sex couples even a domestic-partnership option, while Oregon and California don't allow same-sex marriage.

"There's going to be a flood of people that are going to get married at least for the first year," predicted Bridge, the jeweler.

Businesses are doing promotions to capture their share of that potential.

The Four Seasons hotel in Seattle is promoting an event Sunday called The Little White Chapel, at which 10 same-sex couples will be married.

Local bakery chain Cupcake Royale is selling a variant on its popular baby cupcakes, decorated with a rainbow and dubbed "gaybies."

Not everyone is expecting so much from the new law.

"It's probably not going to be a huge direct impact," said Austin Beaver, a leading Seattle DJ who plays at weddings.

Still, he said, "You'll start to see people show their support for gay marriage now because the marketing opportunities are there for it. ... Before you did weddings and people found you."

More openness, vendors say, is good for them, too: A few years ago, Amy Barker, owner of Amy's Limousine Service, was waiting outside a Tacoma church after a wedding.

Two women, both in wedding dresses, got into her limo.

"I was waiting for two grooms to come out," Barker recalled.

There was an awkward pause, then:

"It's just us."

"Oh, I thought it was a double wedding," said Barker, who laughed.

The women probably thought it was so obvious, "They felt they didn't have to mention it," Barker said.

Her advice: "It's good to tell your providers, just so they don't make silly mistakes."

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com


KEN LAMBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Wedding planner Jenny Harding, left, visits Choice Linens in Seattle to prepare for a citywide gay-wedding party Sunday.




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