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Friday, March 26, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Booming wedding industry poised to tap into growing market for gay marriages

Seattle Times staff reporter

Gay Wedding Show


2004 GSBA Gay Wedding Show, noon to 5 p.m. April 17 at the Swedish Cultural Center, 1920 Dexter Ave N. Free admission. Info: 206-363-9188 or www.thegsba.org.
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Editor's note: This is part of a series of stories examining the cultural, social and political currents swirling around marriage.

At Morfey's Cake Shoppe near Seattle Center, owner Bill Moore put it simply:

"I've done them with two men. I've done them with two women. I did one with two Barbie dolls," he said. "I don't tell people what to do. I sell cake."

Moore doesn't care about the gender mix of figurines he places on a wedding cake, or whether the couple chooses to use cake-toppers at all.

While the national debate continues over whether same-sex marriages should be legalized or banned, Moore is one of countless business owners across the country looking at this simple proposition: If weddings equal business, then more weddings equal more business.

Weddings already constitute a $50 billion-a-year industry in the U.S., according to Condé Nast Bridal Group, publishers of Bride's and Modern Bride magazines. And while no one knows what lies ahead politically and socially for gay and lesbian unions, there are plenty of signs the wedding industry doesn't intend to be caught napping:

• A same-sex wedding show in Seattle April 17 and one scheduled for April 4 in Washington, D.C., follow similar events in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

• An article on gay weddings in Bride's magazine last year, which drew international attention as the 70-year-old publication's first look at the subject, is being expanded into a how-to book out this summer, adding to a growing body of such information.

• Pride, a new bimonthly magazine for gays and lesbians, is planning a July wedding theme, and it says the issue is drawing far more advertising than any of its three previous editions.

• A growing variety of products and services for same-sex brides and grooms is offered on Web sites such as Vancouver, B.C.-based gaymart.com and Dallas-based twobrides.com.

The average American wedding now costs $22,360, a 50 percent increase in the last decade, according to Condé Nast's surveys of its readers.

In this area, the average price is likely lower. While Seattle Bride magazine says the average "formal" wedding costs more than $20,000 in Washington and more than $25,000 in the Seattle metro area, it notes that only about half the weddings here are considered "formal."

The 2004 GSBA Gay Wedding Show, to be held at the Swedish Cultural Center April 17, has 50 vendors signed up, including caterers, florists, photographers, hotels, wedding officiates and banquet facilities.

"We're starting out small this year," said Louise Chernin, executive director of the sponsoring Greater Seattle Business Association, which serves the "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied (straight) community."

"The original focus, because we are a business organization, is that it's good business for our members to help people purchase services and plan celebrations," Chernin said, adding that same-sex couples constitute "a community, without stereotyping, that loves to mark celebrations and festive occasions."

Another reason for the show, she said, is that some gays and lesbians may avoid traditional wedding-related shops, "not necessarily because of overt discrimination, but because they don't see their world reflected there."

Seattle caterer Eric DuBois, a co-chair of the show, has personal as well as professional perspectives on the issue.

As a co-owner of As You Like It Catering, he's handled about 25 same-sex partnership events in the last five years, nearly a third of his wedding business.

"Before this they were called 'commitment ceremonies,' " he said. "This is the first year I've heard it with the actual 'W' wedding."

On the personal side, DuBois and his male partner of 22 years traveled to Portland earlier this month where they were issued a marriage license and had a brief, assembly-line wedding with the help of two strangers — the couple behind them in line. "They witnessed us, and we witnessed them."

Although he found the moment deeply meaningful, DuBois laments, "We really didn't get to do the wedding thing at all." That will be corrected this summer, when he and his partner plan a large reception for family and friends.

Same-sex weddings are likely to be similar to "straight" ones, reflecting a longing to be part of a tradition rather than re-invent it, said DuBois. He notes the ones he has worked "tend to be not in churches as much as in back yards, private home or parks."

The role of religion in a same-sex union may be a delicate one. Some couples simply do not have religious inclinations, some are reluctant to ask and some churches won't perform such ceremonies.

A local group called the Multifaith Alliance of Reconciling Communities will be represented at the GSBA show. Rev. Ed Shields, a Catholic priest, said the organization has a directory including 85 "faith communities" in this area that perform same-sex unions, and more will be listed in a new edition of the directory out in June.

At Argosy Cruises, also participating in the gay wedding show, marketing director Vanessa Bloy calls gay and lesbian events "a great market, an upscale market."

Chartering most Argosy boats ranges from $1,550 to $4,600 for three hours, depending on the size of vessel, plus additional costs for food, drink, and entertainment and decorations.

Businesses at the GSBA show reflect just a small percentage of those receptive to same-sex couples as clients. For example, baker Bill Moore won't attend the show; he has several weddings to work that day. His gay and lesbian business has come largely from word-of-mouth referrals.

Whether same-sex weddings become a cash cow in the near term depends on the answer to this question: Will more couples, emboldened by small or temporary steps toward legal gay marriage, decide to hold weddings or weddinglike ceremonies — even without the benefit of legal status?

David Toussaint believes they will. Toussaint is a freelance writer, actor, director and producer in New York City. He wrote the single-page article on same-sex weddings in Bride's last summer and was surprised by the attention it triggered.

Part of that reaction was an invitation from Random House to develop a soon-to-be-published "Gay and Lesbian Weddings: Planning the Perfect Same-Sex Ceremony." The work is drawn from the experiences of 50 same-sex couples coast to coast.

Toussaint, who is gay and views same-sex marriage as a civil-rights issue, said a trend has been established. "It's already exploded," he said. "There will be setbacks and backlashes, but I believe you can't turn back time."

Toussaint's work will be just the latest in the field. One widely known book, "The Essential Guide to Lesbian & Gay Weddings" by Tess Ayers and Paul Brown, was first published in 1994 and revised in 1999.

Seattle's GSBA show, with 50 business participating, will be much smaller than the 14-year-old Seattle Wedding Show, billed as the largest event of its kind on the West Coast. It drew 400 vendors and some 3,000 brides to the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in January.

Even though the show may be mainstream, its participating businesses are fielding an increasing number of inquiries and bookings from same-sex couples, said Howard Jensen, the event's producer.

"All of a sudden there's more and more interest," he said. "The floodgates have opened up."

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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