Economic benefits in same-sex unions

Lifting of ban could give Calif. $370 million boost

June 14, 2008|By Alana Semuels | Alana Semuels,Los Angeles Times

Forget economic stimulus checks. Same-sex marriages might give California just the financial boost it needs.

Wedding planners, bakers and hotel representatives say they began booking more business almost immediately after the state Supreme Court's decision in May overturning a ban on gay marriage. Noting years of pent-up demand, a University of California, Los Angeles study projects that same-sex unions could provide a $370 million shot in the arm to the state economy. Barring further legal intervention, gay couples will be able to start marrying at 5:01 p.m. Monday, when the Supreme Court's decision becomes final.

"Being in West Hollywood, we've been inundated," said Tom Rosa, owner of the Cake and Art bakery. "After the ruling, the phone really picked up." Rosa said couples who had waited for decades to marry legally were splurging on 5-foot-tall confections shaped like carousels and cakes featuring handcrafted birds of paradise.

Mike Standifer and Marc Hammer were planning a commitment ceremony for October, but when the court ruling came out, they decided to throw an even bigger bash.

They plan on spending about $25,000, which includes renovations on their Hollywood home so they can have the party in their backyard. The new cost includes rings, their suits and those of their wedding party, and the cost of flying in Standifer's priest from Tennessee - all things they wouldn't have done if they were just having a party.

By some estimates, weddings and commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples generate $1 billion a year in revenue.

PlanetOut, a media and entertainment company that conducts surveys about gay and lesbian consumers, says gay consumers earn 20 percent more than their straight counterparts, on average, and spend about 10 percent more on nuptials.

The court ruling comes at a good time for many small wedding-related businesses, which are finding that their traditional customers are spending less on weddings because of the economy.

"Brides are being more frugal with things they don't see as a priority," said Richard Markel, president and director of the Association for Wedding Professionals International.

Things really slowed down in February, said Michael Willms, owner of Entertainment Design Events, an event planning company.

But they've picked up now. The day after the ruling, Willms booked a $55,000 same-sex wedding.

M.V. Lee Badgett, research director at the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the UCLA School of Law, estimated that gay weddings could provide a $370 million boost to the state economy.

That estimate presumes that half of California's 92,000 same-sex couples will tie the knot, multiplied by $8,040, the amount of new spending each wedding will generate. (The average wedding in California costs $32,000, but the study presumes that same-sex couples spend less than that, and that couples would spend some of this money on other goods and services anyway.)

Event planners, restaurants, tent and chair rental agencies, florists, caterers and hotels should all get a piece of that pie, she said.

"There's an opportunity to get a big wedding windfall," she said.

But there are some caveats. No one can project accurately how many gay couples will spend thousands of dollars on weddings. And the legality of gay weddings is potentially short-lived, as opponents gather signatures for a proposed Nov. 4 ballot initiative that would undo the court's decision.

Still, wedding-related companies that traditionally marketed to the gay and lesbian community are finding business is picking up.

Same-sex couples can obtain a marriage license in California whether or not they live there. That means hotels and airlines might see business from same-sex couples and their guests flying to California to marry.

"It will be the only place where couples from any state can be married legally," said Michael C. Green, president of the Palm Springs Hospitality Association and owner of the Triangle Inn, a Palm Springs, Calif., hotel catering to gay men. That's a boon to places such as Palm Springs, which is a popular gay resort destination.

"Our city has been barraged with phone calls from folks who want to come visit and find out how quickly we'll be able to issue licenses," he said.

Sue Jennings and the Rev. Cindi Love, executive director of the gay-oriented Metropolitan Community Churches, live in Texas but will fly to Los Angeles for a June 24 wedding. They're planning on spending about $5,000 on a dinner for their guests, flowers, a photographer and clothes for the wedding, even if it means a big credit card bill.

"We've been together 28 years," Love said. "We want to have a ceremony and that acknowledgment of one another."

Alana Semuels writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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