The topic was her wedding, but the tears in Tracey Nolan's eyes had nothing to do with joy. Instead, she was recalling how two different Baltimore venues had declined to host her unofficial wedding ceremony next spring after she and fiancee Lori Aikens officially tie the knot in Washington.
"It's the most important day of your life," said Nolan, a 43-year-old Parkville resident. "We want to feel comfortable; we don't want to feel like we're outsiders."
Their quest for friendly vendors took them Sunday to Club Hippo in Mount Vernon, site of a wedding expo for gay couples. Three dozen companies — including caterers, photographers, officiants and Bloomingdale's — set up tables to market their wares and services to those eyeing a wedding in Washington, one of the few places in the nation where same-sex marriage is legal.
"It's given us somewhere to start," said Aikens, a trucking company manager. She and Nolan plan to wed in Washington, then have another ceremony and reception in Baltimore.
The group that held Sunday's event billed it as Baltimore's "first Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender wedding show."
"There are lots of businesses that want to tap into the gay marriage market and don't know how," said Deborah Cummings-Thomas, who co-owns Marry Me in DC, a consortium of wedding officiants. "It's a huge economic market. You have people with lots of disposable income, love to travel and love to have a good party."
Among the companies present was Oh, What a Cake in Columbia. Owner Marcia Thibodo said she has baked cakes for two gay weddings recently and considered the $200 expo fee worthwhile. She had taken down names of 10 people curious to learn more about her custom-designed cakes, which cost $300 to $600.
"From a business standpoint, money is money," Thibodo said, explaining her hope to build sales as the number of gay weddings rises. "And from my personal standpoint, love is love."
A mercantile theme ran through the expo. "Money is green, whether it's gay or not," said officiant Sharon Lewis, who is scheduled to preside at a same-sex wedding next week in Washington's Dupont Circle. "It might boost the economy, and wouldn't that be good."
It's also personal for Lewis, who works as an investigator for the state Department of Transportation. In April she married her female partner of 25 years in Washington. Then she got certified by the D.C. Superior Court as a wedding officiant and started a business called Legally Wedded.
"Even after 25 years, it's different now that we're lawfully wedded," said Lewis, who lives in Brooklyn Park.
Washington began sanctioning gay marriage in March. While same-sex marriage is illegal in Maryland, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler issued an opinion in February holding that Maryland should recognize same-sex nuptials performed out-of-state. The opinion has a direct impact only on state agencies but has been hailed by gay-rights advocates as a step toward equality.
"We're sort of in that gray space," lawyer Heather McCabe told expo attendees at a session on legal matters. McCabe said that the issue in Maryland will ultimately be decided in court and that same-sex couples should sign wills, prenuptial agreements and other legal documents.
The expo cost $5 per person. Less than halfway through the afternoon, all 100 pink gift bags were gone. For Drew Vanlandingham, a wedding planner, the prospects seemed promising. "The people who are coming today are serious," he said. "They're not playing around."
Neither was Vanlandingham. He transformed the club's dance floor into a wedding banquet, decking out a long table in hot pink place settings and elaborate floral displays.
Christine Yeoman, 23, just moved to Baltimore from South Carolina with fiancee Jordan Payne. The two will eventually have a big ceremony in South Carolina. But their official wedding will be in Washington in four months. Money is tight, so they plan to hold a simple ceremony and need to find an inexpensive officiant.
"It's a lot different compared to South Carolina," Yeoman said, marveling at the array of vendors. Payne, 26, agreed. "This is borderline overwhelming, in a great way," she said. "I wish I had the money to give them. I really appreciate it."
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