By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 7, 2010; E10
When Don Gillin put up a Craigslist ad for his same-sex wedding planning company a few months back, he was so overwhelmed with inquiries that he had to take the posting down after just 16 hours.
It wasn't only potential clients who got in touch, but other wedding vendors wanting to partner with his firm, and couples from across the country trying to understand how gay marriage legislation was proceeding in the District.
"Everyone is just in a whirlwind," says Gillin, founder of D.C.'s Gay Wedding Planners.
No one knows for sure what the economic impact of last Wednesday's legalization of same-sex marriage will be in the District, but a 2009 report by UCLA's law school projected that the Washington region would see a $52.2 million revenue bump over the next three years. And there are plenty of entrepreneurs, including Gillin, positioning themselves to get a piece of the pie.
GayWeddings.com, a planning Web site run by Kathryn Hamm of Arlington, has been holding workshops and seminars over the past year. Event Emissary of the District is attempting something quite ambitious -- a mass wedding on March 20 that it hopes will attract 400 gay couples.
Gillin, who has worked in the event planning industry doing mostly corporate functions for a decade, started thinking about setting up a company focused on gay weddings 16 months ago, after meeting two women from Iowa who found success running a similar business there.
"It just kind of clicked in my mind that this should be what I should be doing," says Gillin, 36. He bought the domain DCsgayweddingplanners.com, as well as 13 sites for states he felt were close to legalizing gay marriage.
"What I assume will happen -- and it may not be today or tomorrow or even two years -- but I expect all the states will fall into line," he says.
The UCLA report predicted that 1,182 same-sex couples from the District would marry in the first three years of legalization and that an additional 12,550 couples from across the country would travel to Washington to marry here.
Gillin is planning four weddings for March. Getting into the business, he expected gay weddings to be less traditional than straight weddings and perhaps a bit more "over the top." Instead, he's finding that clients want "exactly what everyone else has had. . . . They want it to be really classic."
One difference Gillin has noticed is that in same-sex weddings, the couple themselves are driving the decision-making, rather than a parent, as he has sometimes seen happen with straight weddings. "It's more their own," he says. "The gays really know what they want, and honestly, they've been thinking about this just as much as a bride and groom."
Gillin was shocked by how many inquiries he received from local florists, caterers and limo services. In deciding which vendors he would choose as affiliates, Gillin researched each company's history with the GLBT community. "I tried to make a distinction between vendors who are just trying to jump on this bandwagon . . . and those who previously had an interest in the gay community," he says. "I wanted people who understood how important it was for our clients."
Because for now, at least, these aren't just weddings, Gillin says. "It's more important. It's about gaining a right that we never had. It's historic."
Gillin, who is gay and now discussing marriage with his partner of eight years, says he had always "dreamt about a wedding but never thought that it would be possible. We've been waiting for this for a long time."