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From left, Brandon and Sean Carter-Cooper walking together on their wedding day, April 21st, 2012. Photo by Maximilian Franz.

WeddingWire deal another sign of economic impact of gay marriage

For GayWeddings.com publisher Kathryn Hamm, last week’s acquisition of her website by longtime partner WeddingWire was just a formality in the vein of her own relationship history.

Kathryn Hamm, the former President of GayWeddings.com, who will continue as publisher of GayWeddings.com and will continue to serve as a WeddingWire “education expert.” (Weddingwire.com submitted photo)

Kathryn Hamm, the former President of GayWeddings.com, who will continue as publisher of GayWeddings.com and will continue to serve as a WeddingWire “education expert.” (Weddingwire.com submitted photo)

“It’s just like how I did in my own relationship — we were together a long time and we just made it legal,” said Hamm, who wedded her now-wife in 1999 but didn’t become legally married until 2013.

As same-sex weddings become more entrenched in the marriage industry, wedding vendors across the country are making strides toward becoming more inclusive and accommodating toward their potential same-sex customers.

Since 2011, the Arlington, Va.-based GayWeddings.com has been working with Chevy Chase-based WeddingWire, a website that connects engaged couples with local wedding professionals in a variety of fields, from bands and DJs to photographers and videographers to bakers and caterers. As part of the sites’ relationship, vendors on WeddingWire can “opt in” to GayWeddings.com, putting them on the listing of professionals willing to work with same-sex couples.

Industry boom

In the four years since, the number of vendors co-listed on GayWeddings.com has increased from 20,000 at the beginning of the partnership to more than 120,000 as of May 2015.

A WeddingWire survey last year found that 86 percent of professionals using the site either already did or planned to serve same-sex couples in the coming year. Empirically, Hamm said, many of the professionals with whom she has interacted have been accepting and open to working with same-sex couples.

“It’s not the story that makes the headlines; there’s not a lot of cynicism in it,” she said.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Maryland since 2013, and it is recognized in 36 other states plus Washington, D.C. Estimates place around three-quarters of the country’s population in a state that allows for same-sex marriages.

But the legalization and subsequent influx of couples seeking same-sex weddings hasn’t been a painless process.

Bernadette Smith is the founder of LGBTQ wedding planning site 14 Stories, which was the first such service to reach the market after same-sex marriage was legalized in any state. She said that planning involves a number of hurdles unique to same-sex couples.

“Even the fact that same-sex couples have to come out — every time they have to call a wedding professional, they have to say, ‘We’re planning a gay wedding. Is that something you’re comfortable with?'” she said.

Each step of the planning process involves such pitfalls, Smith added, from DJ forms asking about father/daughter or mother/son dances to floral shops asking specifically about bridal bouquets.

“Everything throughout the entire industry is based on the assumption that there’s one bride and one groom,” she said.

In addition to running 14 Stories, Smith conducts seminars on how to make wedding language and practices more inclusive. More than 700 people have taken her certification course, most of them “mainstream wedding professionals” who typically have served opposite-sex couples but want to expand their reach.

Hamm sees a similar trend. “The industry understands that this has arrived and wedding professionals need to prepare themselves, and that is their responsibility to be prepared,” she said.

‘Incredibly awkward’

That development is a far cry from when Hamm had her wedding in 1999, a full five years before Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. She was in Dallas at the time and found limited resources for a same-sex marriage — which inspired her mother to create the beginnings of what would become today’s national GayWeddings.com — as well as difficulty connecting with the various vendors.

Hamm toured one location for more than an hour with her partner, only to be asked a question about the “groom.”

“It was so incredibly awkward,” Hamm remembered. “The sales professional totally missed it.”

Wedding professionals in 2015 must avoid those mistakes if they are to gain customers, lest they miss out on a lucrative business opportunity.

If fully legalized, same-sex marriage could be a $2.5 billion industry, analysts say. In a pre-2013 analysis, UCLA’s Williams Institute estimated that in Maryland alone $63.8 million would be spent on same-sex weddings in the first three years after legalization.

Same-sex weddings cost the same and have the same guest counts, on average, as opposite-sex ceremonies. With the majority of weddings in the country costing more than $10,000, every extra job counts for the vendors.

“Wedding professionals understand that this is a really huge market and it can only help their business if they are willing to serve these clients with compassion and sensitivity,” Smith said.

And that compassion and sensitivity are important, Hamm agreed. No longer is it just a question of whether a vendor is willing to work with same-sex couples. “You have to be gay-wedding competent,” Hamm said. “We as same-sex couples now have choice like never before; it’s not just who will take my call.”

In late April, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could make same-sex marriage legal across the country. But even if the Court rules against same-sex marriage as a Constitutional right, Hamm doesn’t see the trend toward greater acceptance in the industry ending anytime soon.

“It will be business as usual,” she said. “Couples aren’t going to stop seeking marriage licenses and they aren’t going to stop having wedding ceremonies. For the market, this is a done deal.”

“The market isn’t just about the bride anymore,” Hamm added. “It’s about two people — the bride and groom, the bride and bride, or the groom and groom.”

Cake photo from Brandon and Sean Carter-Cooper’s wedding on April 21st, 2012. Photo by Maximilian Franz.

Cake photo from Brandon and Sean Carter-Cooper’s wedding on April 21st, 2012. Photo by Maximilian Franz.