Correction:

An earlier version of this story said that Chris Grasso’s band generally charges $7,500 a night to play wedding ceremonies. That is the rate for receptions. This version has been corrected.

Same-sex marriage approval could boost business for wedding services

Immediately after same-sex marriage was approved by popular vote in Maryland on Tuesday night, the Rev. Bonnie Berger’s Facebook page began buzzing with inquiries.

“Is our marriage legal now?” one couple wanted to know. Another couple who had officially wed in Washington, D.C. — where same-sex marriage has been legal for more than two years — wanted to renew their vows in Maryland, their home state. Berger, a Takoma Park, Md.-based interfaith minister who specializes in same-sex ceremonies, received about a dozen inquiries Tuesday night.

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Maryland, Maine and Washington join a handful of states where same-sex marriages are legal — the others are Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont — but the three were the first to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote.

For some, the decision is more than just a gay-rights milestone. It could also have an economic impact, potentially increasing the market for wedding-related services, a big-ticket item in many a couple’s life.

Berger officiates about 100 wedding ceremonies a year, about three-quarters of which are for same-sex couples. Those who want an official legal ceremony have been forced to trek to the District, and they often follow it up with a reception closer to their residences in Maryland, she said. But about half the same-sex couples she knows in Maryland have opted to wait until their marriage is legalized in their home state to get married, Berger said, because they don’t want to feel like they have to “cross the border to get married.”

After Jan. 1, when same-sex couples will officially be allowed to marry in Maryland, Berger anticipates a roughly 50 percent increase in ceremonies. She thinks she may have to draw upon other ministers to deal with the increased volume in requests. Depending on how much time she spends working with each couple, her rates vary from $250 to $500 per ceremony.

“I don’t want to count it by dollars, but I also don’t want to dismiss that this celebration of love goes beyond just the couple,” Berger said. “Maryland can now become a destination for [same-sex] couples.”

Chris Grasso, owner of D.C.-based Chris Grasso Music, specifically markets his wedding music business to both gay and straight couples. He reaches out to same-sex wedding Web sites, advertises through Google’s AdWords and networks in the local gay community. Like Berger, he expects an increase in business from Maryland residents — but not as dramatic a spike as she does.

Despite Grasso’s marketing efforts, same-sex weddings have only accounted for a handful of the 100 wedding performances he usually does a year. Grasso’s band generally charges $7,500 a night for receptions, which he has found to be outside the average same-sex couple’s budget.

In Grasso’s experience, same-sex couples are more likely to pay for their own weddings than to have support from their parents, and they tend to be conservative when spending on extras like music. After Tuesday’s decision, Grasso expects an incremental increase in business as same-sex couples “let the reality sink in” — probably around 5 percent more business this year, he said.

But for one D.C. wedding planning company, the promise of a larger market isn’t enough to stay in business.

Alissa Hall Perine, founder of Lovebus, an events planning company catering exclusively to same-sex couples, has decided to dissolve her business just days after the historic decision in Maryland. Her company planned between 12 and 30 weddings a year for the past 21 / 2 years.

Though the decision would have potentially increased her market, Perine said she found it impossible to sustain her business with so few clients, many of whom were on very small budgets. Instead of expanding the scope of her business to include heterosexual couples, Perine has opted to leave the wedding planning industry altogether.

“The budget for a lot of [same-sex] couples are half what straight people can afford,” she said, noting that the average budget for her weddings were between $10,000 and $15,000, approximately a third of what she’s heard for heterosexual couples.

Perine, who organized her own same-sex wedding, said she thinks gay couples may have been more frugal with their wedding budgets because of laws restricting their marriage and the lack of a “fairy-tale” narrative. But she noted that this pattern may change as same-sex marriage becomes more widespread.

 
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