–Updated May 2017

Same sex marriage in the United States is officially legal in all 50 states.  Whether you know it or not, it’s impacting your wedding business.

Gay Weddings

A Brief History of Marriage Equality

The 1970’s – The movement to grant civil marriage rights and same sex marriage begins.  In 1971, the Minnesota Supreme Court rules that same gay marriage bans do not violate the federal constitution.

1993 – Gay rights demonstrators stage a mass gay wedding ceremony for 1,500 same sex couples in Washington, D.C.

1996 – The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is enacted.  It holds that no state is required recognize the legal validity of a same-sex relationship even if it’s recognized by another state and gives the federal definition of marriage as “a union of one man and one woman.”

2004 – Massachusetts is the first state to legalize same sex marriage.

2013 – The Supreme Court declares DOMA unconstitutional, effectively recognizing same sex marriage at the Federal level and opening the door for more states to legalize gay marriage.

June, 26th 2015 – The U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law gives same sex Americans the right to marry, expanding same sex marriage rights to all 50 states.  Go here for updates on marriage equality by state.

What Every Wedding Pro Needs To Know

Whether you support marriage equality or not, it’s coming to the US in full force.  Here’s what you need to know to make sure your wedding business thrives with this new market.

#1 – If you decline service to same sex wedding couples, you may be fined for discrimination.

This is a tricky one to navigate, especially since I’m a huge proponent of individual liberties.

On the one hand, a wedding professional should have the right to refuse a client who is belligerent, difficult or just not the right match.  (In fact, I’ve written about how to fire a client gracefully.)  On the other hand, it’s not fair to discriminate against a client due to race, religion or sexual orientation.

Should you be allowed to refuse a client?

If you own a public business, you may be sued for refusing to serve same sex couples, even if you claim religious reasons.

In most states, private or religious not-for-profit business can refuse on the basis of religious beliefs.  Public for-profit businesses may not cite religious views as a basis for turning down a gay marriage ceremony.

Religious rights advocates claim that the Constitution allows people to abstain from a ceremony if it contradicts their religious beliefs, and that preventing this violates their freedom of speech.

Supporters of marriage equality point out that this is a civil rights issue.  Same sex couples deserve equal treatment under the law, just like minorities and women who are protected by anti-discrimination laws.

Even though the US was founded on the notion of individual freedom and equality, we need these anti-discrimination laws to protect the rights of all our citizens.

Here’s the ugly truth about allowing businesses to abstain from serving individuals based on a “religious belief”: some religions allow or even encourage slavery and racial discrimination.  Even the Bible can be interpreted in this way.

If we hadn’t passed legislation prohibiting these discriminatory practices, these conditions would run rampant in the United States today.

“Not long ago, business owners believed they should have the right to deny people services on the basis of the color of their skin. This is really no different…any professional who runs a business in the public sector must follow the corresponding laws within its jurisdiction. To do otherwise is discriminatory.” – Kathryn Hamm, President of GayWeddings.com and co-author of, The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian & Gay Wedding Photography

“…there is an important difference between requiring restaurants or retail stores to serve everyone, and what we are seeing now with individuals and small business owners being forced to actively participate in highly controversial same-sex ceremonies...The notion that the government could compel anyone to be involved in a religious ceremony, for any reason, is antithetical to the First Amendment…

if a church wanted to hire a videographer to film one of its services, would we force an atheist to accept the job and be part of the service against his will?  I sure hope not. So why are we forcing people to be part of ceremonies in churches and other venues that violate their conscience?  We absolutely have to respect each other enough to allow people—including professionals and small business owners—not to be involved in our special events if it clashes with their beliefs and convictions.” – Staff Attorney, Matthew McReynolds with the Pacific Justice Institute

“As a gay man, I would NOT WANT to be doing business with a business that does not want to enthusiastically serve me. I think the only type of organization which should be forced to serve gay couples are the governmental entities like magistrates that process marriage licenses and do the legal ceremony, and companies that have monopolies (like gas and water companies) serving an area.” – Stan C. Kimer, President of Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer

Anti-discrimination laws may limit your religious or civil liberty in service to the greater good of guaranteeing civil rights and equal treatment for everyone.

When the state government passes a law requiring us to wear our seat belt, that’s a limitation of our civil liberty.  In a state of pure liberty, we would be permitted to choose what we wear, whether it’s a seat belt or a fedora.

It’s commonly understood that limiting our civil liberty in this case is acceptable because it keeps us safe and reduces the burden of medical expenses on society.  Anti-discrimination laws are passed for the greater good as well.

Here are just a few businesses impacted by these laws:

Laws vary based on the state you’re in, so investigate your governing antidiscrimination laws so you don’t violate them by accident.

#2 – You’re missing your share of $2.5 Billion by not serving same sex couples.

The United States wedding industry generates $51 billion annually and employs an estimated 800,000 wedding professionals, according to market research by IBISWorld.  Legalizing same sex marriage is predicted to add $2.5 billion to the economy.

Nerd Wallet’s analysis on the economic impact of gay marriage shows an increase in the economy for every state in the form of millions of dollars.

Same sex marriage is good for the economy of the nation, of the states and individual businesses.

“Should wedding businesses be forced to serve interracial couples? Of course they should…Because turning them away shows them that they aren’t seen as equal or valid in comparison to mixed sex couples. Wedding businesses should not be turning away potential customers; that wouldn’t be a smart business decision, now would it? This isn’t an issue of religious freedom; it’s an issue of discrimination.” – Kristen Martinez, M.Ed., Ed.S., LMHCA, NCC, Pacific NorthWell

The Cost of Same-Sex Marriage Bans: A TakePart.com Infographic
Via: TakePart.com

#3 – Refusing to serve the same sex wedding market can hurt your bookings with the traditional bride/groom market.

According to the Pew Research Center, 55% of all Americans support same sex marriage.  When it comes to Millennials (those born after 1981) who make up the primary marrying demographic, the report shows 71% in support of same sex marriage.

Even if you choose not to work with couples who are planning a gay wedding, it’s very likely that your target market is a supporter of marriage equality.  These Millennial couples often prefer to hire wedding professionals who share their beliefs and interests, so not serving the same sex wedding market works against you.

Same sex marriage is a “deal breaker” for Millennials when it comes to politics; the same may apply to their choice of hiring wedding professionals.

“A strong majority of straight millennials (77%), as well as wedding professionals (based on a study we did with WeddingWire where 82% said they planned to serve same-sex couples in 2014), support marriage equality so, to be competitive, professionals need to educate themselves and think about being inclusive in how they frame and present their services.” – Kathryn Hamm, President of GayWeddings.com and co-author of The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian & Gay Wedding Photography

4. If you refuse to serve same sex couples, other wedding pros may stop referring you.

While this may seem unlikely if you have close connections in the wedding industry who trust you with their referrals, it’s happening to some US wedding business who’ve declined the same sex wedding market.

As more and more wedding businesses embrace same sex couples, businesses and brands who don’t will face financial consequences.

The owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa of Oregon refused to bake a cake for lesbian brides-to-be and were fined $135,000 for violating antidiscrimination laws, as a result. In addition to the hefty fine, they closed their business due to the fallout.

But it wasn’t just the fine that hurt them financially.  “I mean quite frankly, they [the couple] didn’t just harass us, they harassed the other wedding vendors that we did business with. It cut off our referral system,” said Aaron Klein, Melissa’s husband.

Another wedding planner in Florida who declined to work with a same sex couple has been overwhelmed with negative comments and reviews.

Freedom of speech does not equal freedom from the consequences.

When I first came out in support of marriage equality years ago I was discriminated against. Some bigoted wedding planners vowed not to do business with me...I stuck to my guns and belief of equality. And it has paid me back tenfold. Thanks to the local wedding associations they allowed me to help train and advise other vendors on how to successfully work with same-sex couples. I am now the go to guy for same-sex couples to be married by.” – Alan Katz, President of Great Officiants

#5 – The same sex wedding market isn’t large enough to be a profitable specialty for most wedding businesses.

While no one fighting for marriage equality wants this issue reduced to dollars and cents, the economic benefit alone may be enough to convince wedding businesses to court the same sex marriage market.

However, it’s important to note that the number of same sex weddings is still a comparatively small portion of the market.  A wedding business that intends to specialize in gay weddings may find the market isn’t large enough to support their income goals.  The exception would be for businesses in metropolitan areas with a large gay population or those who are willing to travel.

Most wedding businesses do best to extend their current services to same sex couples, rather than serving them exclusively.

Check the size of the gay population and the predicted number of same sex weddings in your market before deciding to specialize solely in serving this population.

Read more about the issues to consider before entering the same sex wedding market.

The Future of Same Sex Marriage

Although same sex marriage is legalized in all 50 states, there is still a battle to fight. As President Trump settles into his four year presidency many worry about the future for the LGBT community. However, in a recent poll, support for gay marriage in the United States has hit a record high. .

Some wedding professionals who believe their religious freedom is violated by being forced to serve same sex couples are fighting back.  The Hitching Post chapel in Idaho is counter-suing and redefining their business in more religious terms to avoid complying with anti-discrimination laws. Another option for these businesses is to attain not-for-profit status.

Meanwhile, wedding professionals are aligning with same sex wedding advocates in organizations like Wed We Can.  These professionals are creating a progressive, inclusive brand identity that is attractive to many young couples.

It’s time wake up and start practicing the values of equality this country was formed upon in our own wedding industry.

What do you think?  Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

photo credit: Jamison Wieser via photopin cc

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Stephanie Padovani

Stephanie is a Hudson Valley wedding insider, blogger, writer, and wedding business coach. Want to book more weddings at higher prices? Quit dealing with price shoppers? Transform your wedding business so that it supports the life you really want? Look her up! They don't call her the Wedding Business Cheerleader for nothing. :)

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19 thoughts on “5 Things You Don’t Know About Same Sex Weddings That Can Hurt Your Business”

  1. Brian Davis says:

    Great Article. Thanks.

    I am looking forward to the day that Same Sex Marriage is legal in Australia. But I am shocked my some of the comments my DJ industry peers say about doing Same Sex Weddings. Will be interesting to watch the discrimination law space down under.

  2. Steven Rosen says:

    Hi guys,

    Thanks for the article. My name is Steven Rosen and I’m a wedding photographer based in NYC. I’m actually one of those vendors who does specialize in same sex weddings. Although I certainly do many straight weddings too, I’ve shot 83 same sex wedding so far, which is probably a record. If anyone out there has shot more, let me know. I’d love to speak with you!

    I have a workshop for photographers to help them with the finer points of working with same sex couples.

    I appreciate the article and am happy to see you discussing this issue. Particularly timely with the goings on in Alabama today.

    Most of the comments seem to be geared toward the issue of whether a vendor should be able to refuse service to a same sex couple based on their religious beliefs.

    I’m lucky to live in Brooklyn Heights, which is a very progressive part of the country, and when I take my gay clients out into my neighborhood to do couple shots, we are always greeted positively.

    Many of my clients come from other parts of the country that are less welcoming and it’s always amazing to see them react when a stranger approaches them on the street as they’re posing. At first they freeze up, preparing themselves for what they fear will be verbal or physical abuse, and then when they realize they’re being congratulated and strangers are coming up to give them hugs (I even had one couple get serenaded), they are overwhelmed. It’s a lovely moment when it happens. It makes me immensely proud to be a New Yorker.

    But that is obviously not the case everywhere. I know there are areas of this country where, if wedding vendors were legally allowed to discriminate, they would. I can easily imagine conservative rural areas where there may only be one photographer, one baker, one venue, etc. for hundreds of miles, and if they all decide to deny service to same sex couples, then there could be big swaths of the country where it may be legal for same sex couples to get married in theory, but in practice it would be impossible.

    If a vendor has a religious objection to a same sex couple, then they should be equally upset about all the other “sins”. Where is the questionnaire they give to all couples so they can find out if they are adulterers, or have ever had an abortion, or premarital sex, or any other “sin” that they oppose. I mean, if you’re going to discriminate, be an equal opportunity discriminator.

    Would I refer a vendor who refuses to work with same sex couples. Of course not. I wouldn’t refer a vendor who refused to work with African Americans or Hispanics, or Jews either.

    Someone in an earlier post talked about how bad it would be to force an atheist to take part in a religious ceremony, so therefore you shouldn’t force a religious person to take part in a ceremony that goes against their faith.

    Well, I’m an agnostic myself and I’ve photographed Catholic, Episcopal, Baptist, Jewish, and Bhuddist ceremonies. I’d love to do a Hindu and a Muslim ceremony one day. I enjoy seeing how different faiths treat the marriage ceremony.

    The only negative thing that has ever happened was when one clergy member made pointed remarks in their sermon about how marriage was a union of a man and woman and only a man and woman. I won’t lie, that stung. But it didn’t affect my work because I am……what’s the word?

    Oh yeah!

    A professional!

    I would encourage those who are in more conservative areas to reach out to the LGBT community in your area and serve them to the best of your abilities. You will not only reap financial benefits, but you will be inspired by stories of love and commitment that have endured against great obstacles.

    Many couples have been waiting decades for the chance to wed. It will change your life for the better to be a part of that.

    1. Well said, Steven. We simply can’t use religion as an excuse to discriminate in our public business.

  3. I think it’s wonderful that they legalized same sex weddings. The thought of two people being in love and not being able to commit to one another always bothered me. You hear of couples who cannot visit their loved ones in the hospital or get insurance. Whether we approve or not is not our business and not going to change things. They should be able to be in a committed relationship just like everybody else. I’m happy to accommodate same sex, inter-racial and all happy couples become one.

    Deborah Carasso
    Unique Invitations by Deborah

    1. Anon says:

      The insurance policy is for kids.

  4. Susan says:

    For those who are for gay marriage and equality, let me ask you this. Equality means to not discriminate. So if a 56 year old mom wanted to marry her 26 year old son, should that be allowed? Let’s go one step further. If I love my dog and want to marry it why can’t i? There shouldn’t be a rule against it right? Because if equality is what you want then u must accept all relationships.

    1. The idea of marrying an animal is not a valid comparison—this is about consenting adults and your dog can’t consent to anything. In some states there is no restrictions on adults marrying their adult children (New Jersey comes to mind right away).

      1. Andrea Malcome says:

        And if moms can marry sons, “Rev” Liz will be right there with her palm out cashing in.

  5. We use welcoming and accepting language–wedding couple, wedding party etc. We do not use the terms bridal party, or bridal couple or bride and groom on our website or facebook page. We include photos of same sex couples we have served. We promote the local Pride events and activities, we are involved in the local LGBT community and mention it on our facebook page and on other social media as well as in the bios on our website. Our statement of who we serve if very clear about our willingness to serve the LGBT community. As officiants we need to let folks know that we serve folks of all religious paths and we mention that we serve everyone regardless of faith traditions, sexual orientation or gender identity as well as folks who have been married before, are currently living together or are bringing children from previous relationships to the marriage (these are often reasons some ministers won’t do ceremonies). Become knowledgeable about the community and the inclusive language.

    1. Great advice, Rev. Liz!

      1. Thank you Stephanie! Since the court ruling for North Carolina on October 10, 2014, we have done 30 same sex ceremonies and have several booked for this coming year. Being involved in such a loving community has been incredible for us.

  6. So, here’s a question – how do you go about indicating that you are gay friendly without being blatant about it? Putting a statement on the site that we are gay friendly seems too in their face about it. We have performed at gay wedding expos in the past – would a blog post talking about the response from that be enough, even if it’s not on the front page?

    1. Including an image of a same sex couple is the perfect start. Linking to gay-friendly sites (like some of those listed in this article) or including the badge of marriage equality websites you may belong it also puts the message across.

    2. Why not make the blog post front page? We did and it brought us a ton of business. We were very active when Marriage Equality finally came to North Carolina–on all the local news channels, in several newspapers. We did more than 20 free ceremonies on the first day it was legal in our state for couples to get married. We are still getting calls from folks saying we say you on the news and we are now ready to make our plans and want you to do our ceremony. I wrote several blog posts about the work we did and how much it impacted our lives and how strong we felt about the right of all people to be married. I received no cancellations, no negative feedback on my facebook (personal or business) or any problems with that.

  7. We only refer to other professionals who will be sure our couples are treated respectfully and fairly. This means that if we find out a vendor does not serve same sex couples, or treat them poorly, we do not refer to them in the future. Fully 50% of business says they pick up because of our stance on Marriage Equality and our work for LGBT rights. Many of our straight couples say they pick up to officiant because they know their moms or dads, sisters or brothers and friends will be welcomed and treated fairly.

    1. Robin Kemp says:

      Not referring others to awedding professional just because they don’t serve same-sex couples….isn’t THAT discrimination????? Come on, if you’re going to be “adult” enough to take on same-sex weddings, then be “adult” enough to be professional in ALL of your business dealings. We all have different likes and dislikes, but we don’t have to behave like bratty children over them. Same-sex marriage goes against my beliefs, yet I wouldn’t be disparaging to the couple – I would be polite and refer the couple to another professional who could meet their needs.

      1. I am professional enough to refer to vendors who will eagerly serve them. It is not about discrimination but about knowing what vendors match the needs of my clients and recommending them. It is also about holding to my own ethics and personal beliefs, that all people are created equal and deserve to be treated fairly and served to the best of my ability. Serving my couples to the best of my ability means that I do not knowingly refer them to vendors who will turn them down simply based on who they love. It is about respecting my clients’ time and the time of vendors–why waste time interviewing or calling if you already know they won’t meet be a good match.

      2. I am exactly the same way! First of all, I want to refer to vendors who will happily embrace ALL of my couples – I shouldn’t have to worry about having two referral lists or resources pages on my website when it’s all about celebrating love. Plus, as Liz noted here, as did the author, Stephanie, since 69% (I’ve heard 78%) of folks aged 18-29 support marriage equality, even my straight couples are wanting vendors who will help ALL of their guests enjoy the wedding, and not be worried about a vendor who will treat any of their family or friends with anything less than full respect.

        And, thank you, by the way, for professionally and politely referring those couples to other vendors. That’s exactly as it should be.

      3. It seems there’s a bit of a difference in these two scenarios. On one hand we have a business that refuses to provide a service to certain individuals based on nothing more than their sexual preference. (which really has so little to with their wedding ceremony anyway) This is discrimination. However, on the other hand, we have a business who provides their clients with referrals to other vendors when necessary based on experiences they’ve had with that vendor, positive reviews from clients, etc. That’s how business works. Most businesses are able to provide their preferred vendors list upon request. Not all vendors, but preferred vendors -the top-notch ones who’ve earned placement on that list. This is not discrimination, it’s just business. Far from unprofessional or childish, Rev. Liz Grimes definitely has a spot on my list.

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