Business Booms With Washington’s Same-Sex Marriages
On Feb. 13, 2012, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed the same-sex marriage bill, passed by both houses of the state legislature, into law. Voters would go on to approve the legislation in a referendum held on Nov. 6, 2012. The law took effect on Dec. 6. Within days, more than 600 marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples in King County alone, and the first marriages were celebrated on Dec. 9, 2012.
"Wedding and tourism industry-related businesses, including those businesses that are Greater Seattle Business Association members, should see a bump in business from marriage equality," Mona Smith, spokesperson for the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA) told Seattle Gay News as the start of the referendum campaign to win marriage equality in the state began. "Large, medium, and small businesses including airlines, hotels, restaurants, bakeries, photographers, rental cars, dealerships, caterers, florists, wedding planners, clothing retailers, musicians, DJs, accountants, attorneys, financial planners, and more could benefit from marriage equality."
The GSBA joined Washington United for Marriage, the campaign asking voters to Approve Referendum 74 in Nov. 2012, to keep the state’s same-sex marriage law on the books. The GSBA has contributed to making Seattle the ninth most popular LGBT travel destination in the United States. Prior to the GSBA’s Tourism Initiative in 2010, Seattle was ranked 19th.
Now, in a post-marriage equality Washington State, the numbers are beginning to pour in and they look promising; marriage equality has in fact given a boost to the local economy and thousands of them have taken place from Seattle to Spokane.
In 2010, the Williams Institute issued a report that said by opening marriage to same-sex couples, Washington State would boost the local economy by 88 million. The report noted that of the 19,003 resident same-sex couples, 50 percent, or about 9,500 couples, will choose to marry in the three years following the legislation. This net impact would result from savings in state expenditures on means-tested public benefits programs and from an increase in sales tax revenue from weddings and wedding-related tourism.
There’s no doubt about it, say local wedding venue owners: inquiries and bookings are on the rise. The reason? Same-sex couples from in and out-of-state are planning their nuptials for some time this year.
"Marriage equality is not just a social issue, it’s a business issue," said Elise Roberts of Urban Light Studios, a gathering space in the heart of Seattle’s Greenwood-Phinney neighborhood. "Indeed, an entire new customer base is emerging for business owners who are willing to market their services to same-sex couples."
Urban Light Studios enjoyed approximately five percent of their business from same-sex weddings in 2012, but with the passage of Referendum 74, their inquiries have gone up significantly. They anticipate having more than 15 same-sex weddings this year.
Obviously the city that has the most to gain is Seattle. The city’s hospitality industry had planned for this, making for a smooth transition from second-class citizens with domestic partners to equal citizens with same-sex husbands and wives.
From bakeries to hotels, salons to photographers, florists to limousine drivers, many business owners saw a lift in sales from same-sex couples holding weddings and celebrations in Seattle.
Wedding vendors said they didn’t immediately see a burst of bookings, due to the many celebrations planned right after marriage equality came to the state. Mass weddings took place at Seattle’s City Hall on Dec. 9 and elsewhere across the state. Some couples just wanted to have a party to celebrate, and not a full ceremony, because in their eyes, they’d already been married for 10 or 30 years.
But now that the rush to the altar has subsided, the people who profit the most from weddings say their businesses are seeing a rise in business from gay and lesbian newlyweds.
B.J. Duft, owner of Seattle caterer Herban Feast, told the Seattle Times that he’d seen a 15 percent increase in inquiries from same-sex couples since last November, and an employee at Wallingford’s Erotic Bakery said there’s been a noticeable rise in orders for male-male and female-female bachelorette cakes.
A number of hotels are also offering special packages and weddings.
Seattle’s Alexis Hotel "Suite On You" package, valid through Mar. 31, provides a night in a suite and bottle of Champagne for $174. Same-sex newlywed couples need to use the booking code ’R74’ and show a wedding license at check-in.
"We welcome all couples planning their dream wedding here at the Fairmont Olympic," said Dana Schroader, Wedding Specialist for the hotel.
Couples that reserve their wedding at the Fairmont Olympic Seattle Hotel will receive their choice of either a "ready to wear" or "couture" level Luly Yang dress or custom tailored suit as a gift from the hotel.
"The package is simple," said Jana Scopis, Director of Catering. "The questions of the venue and the dress (and now the suit) are often the most challenging decisions for couples. We feel that having both elements included with this package makes wedding planning a little less stressful and a lot more fun when you visit the hotel and make an appointment with Luly Yang."
The waterfront Edgewater Hotel offers a "Plunge with Pride" package with a choice of hotel venues for the wedding ceremony, a professional photography package, and overnight accommodations for the wedded couple, a "Mr. & Mr." or "Mrs. & Mrs." throw and bottle of Champagne.
And just outside of Seattle, Kirkland’s Heathman Hotel is offering a "Right to Unite" weekend package through June 30 with a 15 percent discount on a one-night stay (20 percent for two nights), that includes a bottle of sparkling wine and a rose-petal strewn bed.