Same-sex weddings could pump millions into Ohio

Area businesses getting calls from gay couples looking to wed.

In the first hours and days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry, some gay and lesbian couples in southwest Ohio who had waited years to wed dashed to courthouses and city halls.

In the coming months and years, however, thousands of same-sex couples are expected to book bigger, more elaborate ceremonies that will increase wedding spending locally and throughout the state.

“We’re definitely going to make an impact on the economy,” said R.J. McKay, 39, of Beavercreek, referring to his upcoming wedding to his partner of 17 years, Todd Figgins.

In the next three years, Ohio could see 9,842 same-sex couples who reside in the state marry, which would pump almost $71 million into the state’s economy and create hundreds of new jobs, according to a report by the Williams Institute, a research organization at the UCLA School of Law.

Butler, Champaign, Clark, Greene, Miami, Montgomery and Warren counties have about 2,500 same-gender households, according to Census Bureau estimates.

Weddings can take months to plan and coordinate, and the economic benefits of marriage equality may take a while to materialize. But gay and lesbian couples may feel like spending big bucks to celebrate their love and the big step forward for gay rights.

“It may not be immediate, but I believe we will see an increase in business over the next few years and may even see bridal consultants that specialize or cater specifically to same-sex weddings,” said Jenny Garringer, a professional bridal consultant with Pink with Envy Event Planning Services in Beavercreek.

On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution gives same-sex couples the right to marry.

Dayton’s first gay marriage occurred about 90 minutes after the ruling. Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley has wed more than 30 same-sex couples since the decision.

Between June 26 and July 21, the Montgomery County Probate Court issued 354 marriage licenses, a 20 percent increase from the same period in 2014.

At least 77 licenses were obtained by same-sex couples, according to a newspaper review of the names and information provided by applicants. Greene County also has seen an increase in marriage licenses issued since the ruling.

“It seems that most of the initial weddings that have occurred since the Supreme Court ruling have happened at the court house or city hall, depending on the area,” said Garringer. “A lot of the couples that have been together for years and years wanted to take the first opportunity they could to be married within Ohio.”

But industry experts, economists and researchers predict there will be a small wave of same-sex weddings in Ohio that will be more elaborate — and expensive — than a simple exchanging of vows at city hall or the courthouse.

About half of same-sex couples in Massachusetts wed in the three years following its legalization of gay marriage, said Christy Mallory, senior counsel at the Williams Institute, which studies law and policy that impact the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer (LGBTQ) population.

It’s impossible to know how many local gay and lesbian couples will wed. But the numbers won’t be insubstantial and neither will their spending, experts said.

The average wedding cost in Ohio is almost $24,000, and LGBTQ couples nationwide tend to spend between $13,000 to $20,000, according to the Knot, a wedding resource website and magazine.

McKay and his 42-year-old partner, Figgins, recently turned in a non-refundable deposit to rent a space at the Dayton Art Institute.

The wedding will be in April and will feature more than 100 guests, some of whom are from out of the area.

In the next three years, Ohio likely will welcome more than 157,000 out-of-state guests for same-sex weddings, who will inject more than $15 million into the economy, the Williams Institute said.

McKay and Figgins are prepared to spend many thousands of dollars on their big day.

McKay said they both have family nearby and did not want to marry in another state and require loved ones to travel. He said the quality of the venue was the main priority.

McKay predicts many LGBTQ partners will dig deep into the bank to tie the knot just the way they envision it.

“Given that the LGBT community is a minority, we’re not going to make or break the wedding industry, but we’ll definitely provide a bump to the industry as a whole,” he said.

Canopy Creek Farm in Miamisburg had an influx of calls and inquiries from gay and lesbian couples interested in marrying at the venue, said Danette Chance, co-owner of the business.

But the farm is booked a year and a half out, and callers did not want to wait that long to get married, Chance said.

Chance said she expects gay weddings will become a reliable part of the wedding economy.

“Couples hire so many vendors for their special day that it is sure to help the economy to some extent,” she said.

Liftoff Entertainment, which provides DJ services and a photo booth for weddings and other events, has not seen a direct increase in bookings this year, but expects more business in 2016 because of the Supreme Court’s ruling, said Jay Nigro, the company’s owner.

Other local business owners are similarly optimistic about the opportunity for new customers and catering to new clientele.

“I have done commitment ceremonies in the past, (and) I believe it will definitely help the industry,” said Todd Willis, co-owner of Creatif Catering and Celebrations Banquet Center, with locations in Dayton and Vandalia.

On March 5, Tom Humbert, 51, of Oakwood, will wed his partner of nine years, Jim McKinnon.

The pair shopped around for the right venue and decided on Top of Market Banquet & Events Center in Dayton.

Humbert said renting the space and providing food and alcohol for roughly 100 guests will cost about $7,100.

He said other expenses associated with the special occasion will include hiring a DJ and photographer, outfitting his partner and McKinnon’s daughters in appropriate garb and buying a wedding cake.

Humbert said he’s waited a long time for this opportunity, and he will not scrimp.

“If I was going to get married, I wanted it to be where my parents could be there, Jim’s parents could be there, and so could my friends and family,” he said.

LGBTQ partners tend to splurge on the same wedding-related items and services as heterosexual couples, such as hotel rooms, venue rental, photographers, entertainment and catering, said Kristen Maxwell Cooper, deputy editor of the Knot.

But same-sex couples often are older than heterosexual couples at the time they wed, and some prefer a more intimate celebration and have fewer attendees, which lowers overall costs, she said.

Data from marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples in Montgomery County reveal that many are older residents, including some their late 60s and 70s.

But Maxwell Cooper said the historic nature of the Supreme Court’s decision may motivate couples to spare no expense and host mammoth celebrations, to commemorate their union and the progress made for gay rights.

Industry experts anticipate that as more same-sex couples walk down the aisle, the wedding bells will translate into higher earnings for businesses.

“Weddings are a big business nationwide,” said Kathy Piech-Lukas, owner of Your Dream Day, which plans weddings and other events in Dayton and other parts of Ohio. “Now that same-sex marriage is legal, that will only add to that statistic.”

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