The business of gay marriage

Clark County same-sex couples' weddings may add millions to local economy in next 3 years

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 

Estimating the economic activity from gay marriage

The Columbian estimated economic activity in Clark County from gay marriage by looking at the county’s share of state numbers calculated by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles and multiplying that by Clark County’s share of the state’s gay couples who live together.

The state had an estimated 19,003 cohabiting gay couples in 2010, according the Census Bureau. Clark County has 1,007 of those couples, or nearly 5.3 percent.

The Williams Institute estimated wedding-related spending of $88 million statewide in the next three years, based on average wedding spending in the state, wedding spending by gay couples in other states and state tourism figures. About 5.3 percent of that is $4.7 million, Clark County’s share of state spending. It excludes spending by any out-of-state couples who may marry in Clark County. To estimate state and local tax revenue, The Columbian used the same method. Clark County’s 5.3 percent share of The William’s Institute’s estimate of $8 million in state and local tax revenue statewide is about $474,000. The calculation doesn’t account for differences in local tax rates.

— Paris Achen

Kelly Keigwin, 45, and Sam MacKenzie, 33, of Vancouver plan to wed Dec. 9, the first day gay marriage is legal in Washington. The couple have booked their wedding at downtown Vancouver’s Torque Coffee Roasters, a warehouse-style coffeehouse on Columbia Street across from the Hilton Vancouver Washington. They chose the cafe for its low cost, large windows that flood the venue with light, and spacious areas for the couple’s some 150 guests.

The wedding is a first for the family-owned coffeehouse, and co-owner Ryan Palmer hopes it’ll lead to other weddings.

“We would be excited to do more,” Palmer said.

Same-sex marriage will be a boon for Clark County’s wedding industry, according to experts. In addition to Washington couples who will marry under the state law, Clark County businesses may see an influx of Oregon and other out-of-state couples who are not legally allowed to tie the knot in their home states.

“It’s pretty exciting that this is happening,” said Lisa Marie, a Vancouver wedding photographer. “It’s a whole new group of people who will want our services.”

Voters on Nov. 6 upheld the gay marriage law, passed by the state Legislature earlier in the year. The law takes effect Dec. 6. A three-day mandatory waiting period means the first same-sex marriages won’t happen until Dec. 9.

Economic benefits

Gay marriage supporters said they campaigned for gay marriage for equality reasons, not financial ones. But the economic benefits have been documented in other states that have legalized same-sex marriage, as demand increases for wedding venues, photographers, lodging for guests and other wedding-related services.

“Certainly the first priority was allowing people who love each other to be able to marry … but the business benefit was the second tier,” said state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, a longtime proponent of marriage equality. “It wasn’t something that came to the forefront. Now people are starting to wake up and say, ‘Wow, we really can make some money on this.’ ”

Of course, not everyone favors the law allowing gay marriage, and a narrow majority — 52.6 percent — of Clark County residents voted against it. Under the law, for-profit vendors and venues cannot discriminate against same-sex couples, but churches are exempt from marrying the couples.

Vancouver resident Carolyn Crain, a former bakery owner, said she voted against Referendum 74.

Crain used to bake “wedding” cakes for same-sex couples having commitment ceremonies. However, she said she disagrees with forcing businesses to serve gay couples if that conflicts with the business owner’s beliefs.

“The right of a private business person or a public official to practice their faith is completely compromised under the law,” Crain said. “They will be sued if they refuse service.”

She said such lawsuits could have a detrimental effect on the economy.

Weddings of Clark County gay couples will boost wedding- and tourism-related spending by an estimated $4.7 million and generate about $474,000 in state and local tax revenue in the next three years, according to The Columbian’s analysis based on a study by The Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. The institute examined the potential economic impact of gay marriage in all of Washington state. The study’s estimate is based on the number of cohabiting gay couples in the state, regional and demographic wedding spending data, regional tourism data and state and local tax rates.

The Columbian’s $4.7 million estimate doesn’t account for out-of-state couples who will travel to Clark County to marry.

“We are right across the bridge from Portland,” said Vicki Greenleaf, manager of Vancouver’s Winsor Weddings at The Academy. “We will get not only locals but Portland couples, as well.”

$6,350 per wedding

The calculation also assumes only half of the county’s cohabiting gay couples, counted at 1,007 in the 2010 Census, will marry in the next three years, and that each will spend an average of $6,350 per wedding. Couples such as Keigwin and MacKenzie weren’t counted because they don’t live together.

Some couples who marry also may not have a wedding because they already had a commitment ceremony, or they can’t afford the expense. Others may allow their domestic partnerships to automatically transfer into marriage, as outlined in the law, or just make a trip to the county Auditor’s Office to secure their license sooner rather than later.

It’s anyone’s guess how many out-of-state couples will marry in Clark County.

“We don’t know if it’ll affect tourism,” said Jill Daniel of the Vancouver USA Regional Tourism Office. “There’s always a possibility visitors could stay in Oregon, but being the only West Coast state that allows same-sex marriage, we hope we’ll see an upward trend in tourism.”

Gay couples also could do some of their wedding spending in Portland, but they must marry in Washington to receive a state marriage certificate, per state law. That means Clark County wedding venues will be in greater demand.

Winsor Weddings at The Academy is already seeing new business as a result of the new law, Greenleaf said. The venue will host its first gay wedding this month, she said.

The Vancouver tourism office offers a weddings page on its website — www.visitvancouverusa.com/visitors/weddings/ — to encourage visitors to shop local when they marry in Clark County. Daniel said she hopes out-of-state couples who want to marry in Washington will take a look at the website when planning their wedding.

Some Clark County businesses already cater to gay couples.

Simply Sweets custom cakes at the Westfield Vancouver mall makes a rainbow torte cake filling. The filling is meant to remind people of The Rainbow Flag, which symbolizes gay pride.

“When you cut inside, there’s a rainbow,” said owner Jennifer Allpress.

Keigwin and MacKenzie said they tried to do most of their wedding spending in Vancouver, rather than in Portland, to show their appreciation to Washington voters who supported gay marriage.

“Ryan was a supporter of marriage equality, and we wanted our wedding to be local,” Keigwin said, referring to the Torque Coffee Roasters co-owner. “For us, it’s really important to do everything we can in Vancouver.”

But they found some of their choices were limited in Vancouver, Keigwin said. They had to go to Portland, for instance, to find stylish men’s formal wear tailored to women’s bodies, she said.

But Moeller said the gay wedding clientele could be an impetus for entrepreneurship to provide those kinds of specialty items, Moeller said.

“This is a tremendous business opportunity if entrepreneurs take advantage of it, and I think they will,” he said.

He said some Portland businesses also could relocate to Vancouver to meet demand.

At least half of more than 50 vendors at Clark County’s first gay wedding show — I Do for Us, Too — Nov. 4 at the Hilton Vancouver Washington were from Portland.

About 150 visitors attended the wedding show, said organizer Rob Figley, a Vancouver wedding officiant.

Marie, who was a photography vendor at the wedding show, said she hasn’t been hired to shoot any gay weddings yet. But she said business may pick up during the typical wedding season. Gay couples may not rush to the altar because they feel more secure in their ability to marry.

That gives them the time and the luxury of planning the perfect wedding.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Courts;http://facebook.com/ColTrends;paris.achen@columbian.com.