Once the euphoria wears off, gay couples — some of whom have been waiting decades to solemnize vows in their home state and others who will travel to hold their nuptials in the latest and largest state to embrace marriage equality — will begin planning weddings. That could translate into an infusion of business for the Hudson Valley’s hard-pressed wedding economy.
“It’s just getting started, everybody is out running around and cheering,” said Judy Lewis, who runs a wedding services website from her home in Woodstock. “Once they stop cheering they’re going to come back to their apartments and start making phone calls.”
Hard data on the economic impact of same-sex marriage is slim; it was only in 2004 that Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to allow same-sex couples to wed. But a 2007 study carried out by the office of then-New York City comptroller William C. Thompson made some projections. The study, entitled “Love Counts: The Economic Benefits of Marriage Equality for New York,” estimated statewide net economic benefit of $184 million from weddings alone in the first three years after the legalization of same-sex marriage. The study took into account revenues from wedding-related businesses, fees for marriage applications, hotel and sales taxes and other sources. (The study also factored in increased costs to businesses which did not previously offer domestic-partner benefits and would now be required to provide health coverage to the spouses of employees in same-sex marriages).
For Lewis, whose website, hudsonvalleyweddings.com, connects wedding-related businesses with clients, the gay-marriage boost began almost immediately. Two days after the historic bill was signed into law, she reported already fielding phone calls from potential advertisers who had decided to put more money into marketing based on the anticipated influx of new business. The legislation was welcome news to an industry that has been squeezed by a recession that has forced many people to scale back or postpone wedding plans, she said.
“We all felt that it was going to happen, we just didn’t know when,” she said of same-sex marriage. “And the fact that it’s happening in this down economy is just perfect.”
Events planner Mary Beth Halpin of Red Hook said that it remained to be seen whether gay couples would turn out in droves to take advantage of the new law. Many people in long-term relationships had already celebrated domestic partnerships or legal marriages in other states, she said. But she expected at least a temporary spike from same-sex couples seeking to tie the knot.
“In the heterosexual community you have waves of engagement and marriage that are pretty regular,” said Halpin. “But at this point, because gays and lesbians have not been allowed to be married legally, you have this pent-up demand.”
At the Emerson, a luxury resort and spa in Shandaken which has played host to Hudson Valley regulars Bill and Hillary Clinton, marketing staff were wasting no time reaching out to harness that demand. Public relations director Tamara Murray said just days after the legislation’s approval, Emerson staff were already working social media sites and planning ad campaigns on gay-themed websites to promote their all-inclusive “elopement package” to same-sex couples.
“We just started working on this with our marketing and social media team,” said Murray. “This is a perfect place to come up and get married and we think a lot of people are going to take advantage of it.”
Gay Wedding Chapel
For Kingston’s Paul Joffe, the passage of marriage-equality legislation represents the fulfillment, just in the nick of time, of a business plan he came up with six years ago when he came to Ulster County looking for a farm, and ended up buying a church. Joffe, ordained a minister in the Universal Life Church on the strength of a mailed-in check for $25, bought a vacant former Methodist church on Wurts Street back in 2005 in hopes that New York would quickly follow the example of Massachusetts and become the second state to legalize gay marriage. Over the years, Joffe poured money into restoring the once-dilapidated church while waiting for the day when the state would open the door for his proposed “Gay Wedding Chapel.”
“I really thought it was going to happen soon, but it never did,” said Joffe, who came to Albany for the tense final hours prior to the state senate vote in order to record the historic scene and hand out business cards. “They kept getting close, but it never happened. At this point I was ready to sell because I thought it would never happen.”
Since the bill passed, Joffe said that he had already received inquires at his website, gayweddingchapelny.com, from couples from out of state. He’s also committed to hosting weddings for friends locally.
“I think for the first week or so people can just come and get married there, and it won’t cost them anything,” said Joffe. “After that, once things normalize, it will be just like any other wedding chapel.”