Post DOMA: Wedding Vendors Hear Bells...Ka-Ching!
By Martha C. White
After the gavel, comes the chiming of wedding bells …and the ringing of cash registers.
Even as proponents of same-sex marriage cheered the Supreme Court's decision Wednesday to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, professionals who work in the wedding industry also rejoiced.
"Weddings are the most important celebration most people do in their lives, so it will definitely impact business," said event planner David Monn, owner of David Monn LLC. "The moment it changed in New York state, we were inundated with calls."
Legalization in some states over the past few years was a watershed moment for same-sex marriages. And the Supreme Court's decision to declare DOMA unconstitutional also is expected to spur an increase in weddings, especially from couples who were reluctant, some for financial reasons, to tie the knot before.
In a separate decision, the Supreme Court also effectively permitted legal gay marriage in California, although it may take some time before California joins 12 other states and the District of Columbia in permitting same-sex unions.
Bernadette Coveney Smith, owner of LGBT wedding-planning company 14 Stories, said her business doubled after same-sex marriage was legalized in New York in 2011.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration said that the city issued more than 8,200 marriage licenses to gay couples in the first year after New York legalized same-sex marriage—about 10 percent of all licenses issued. The mayor's office estimated that related spending, including visits by out-of-state couples seeking to get married, totaled $259 million in that time period.
The Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA, estimates that around 100,000 same-sex couples have gotten married since 2004, when it became legal in Massachusetts. Industry observers say Wednesday's decisions will make this number soar.
"There were people who opted not to get married… they held out for federal recognition. Those people should be hopping on the bandwagon now," said Deb Neiman, a financial planner in Massachusetts who focuses on same-sex couples.
California community-college instructor Jason Wayne Hough proposed to his future husband more than a year ago. But rather than marry right away, the prospect of being able to get married in California and have that union legally recognized prompted him to push his wedding date forward.
"We very deliberately set it for 2014 instead of 2013 with the hope that what happened today would be the case," he said. "I proposed March 2012. … We decided to wait to see what would happen with the court cases."
Hough will probably have plenty of newlywed company. Around 30 percent of same-sex couples who live in a state get married within the first year after that state legalizes gay marriage, said Lee Badgett, Williams Institute research director and economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
A 2009 Williams Institute study of gay wedding spending in Massachusetts found that gay couples there spent about $7,400 on their wedding. That's roughly a quarter of the average $28,427 TheKnot.com says straight couples spent in 2012.
One reason for the discrepancy is that 86 percent of same-sex couples pay for their weddings themselves, compared with 40 percent of straight couples, according to the TheKnot.com and The Advocate Same-Sex Wedding Survey. In general, 2009 was a lackluster year for wedding spending, and that $7,400 doesn't include spending in big-ticket places like New York and California.
There also are some demographics that account for the lower spending. The survey found that about half of gay couples have a bridal party and 40 percent call their weddings "casual." Fewer than 10 percent have showers and 13 percent have bachelor or bachelorette parties. Gay couples do more post-wedding celebrating, though: nearly one in five have afterparties, and 13 percent host post-wedding brunches.
"The first surge is usually older couples," Badgett said. Since these people might have already had domestic partnerships, civil unions or other private commitment ceremonies, they often treat their wedding more like a second-marriage ceremony.
As more gay millennials pop the question, though, weddings are likely to look more traditional—and more expensive. (The Knot is laying the groundwork to woo advertisers with gender-specific gay wedding-planning digital guides.)
Carter Edwards, an executive producer at the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy theater in New York City, proposed to his boyfriend in April. "I feel like I probably would've proposed regardless, but it definitely made me more comfortable" when pundits started speculating that DOMA would be overturned.
Edwards said his wedding is tentatively set for next summer so he and his fiancé can take their time planning a fancy celebration. "I think we're going to go as big as we possibly can," he said.
Rony Tennenbaum, a jewelry designer who focuses on the same-sex wedding market, predicted this view will predominate as gay couples realize they don't have to dash off a quickie wedding before their right to marry is revoked.
"A lot of people are going to say, 'well, it's a law we can feel comfortable with, it's not a law that's going away,'" he said. "I've seen increases in the past but I think the increases are going to grow even more so now."
And it takes an extended, leisurely engagement to pull off an extravagant wedding, Badgett pointed out. "As time goes on, people will spend more time planning them… It takes time to spend money," she said.
Event planner Jes Gordon, owner and creative director of Jes Gordon LLC, predicted that California in particular, where same-sex marriages could resume within a month (barring legal challenges from supporters of Proposition 8), could be especially lucrative for the wedding industry.
"California just celebrates kind of big anyway, the whole Hollywood vibe," she said. "Cali does it big, man… They put the tent up, everything is expressed in a very big, fabulous way."
—Martha C. White NBC News contributor.