Following the historic passage of marriage equality legislation in Albany, New York City is preparing to welcome gay couples—and their checkbooks—into conjugal bliss. About 2,600 couples have applied online for a New York State marriage license since July 5, and about half of those couples intend to get married on July 24, the first day the new law will take effect. It’s so many that Mayor Bloomberg just announced that the City Clerk’s office will have to issue a lottery for the lucky 764 couples it will have time to marry on Sunday. While New Yorkers celebrate the impending unions, wedding vendors have been preparing to accommodate this sudden new demographic, and many are hoping it will boost their businesses in a flagging economy.
"Coming anecdotally from some of the planners, there’s a lot of excitement surrounding the event and the new law," said Anja Winikka, site editor of online wedding behemoth TheKnot.com. "We know that the household income of samesex couples in New York is a bit higher compared to heterosexual couples."
A 2008 report by UCLA Law School, based on 2000 census data, found that the average household income of samesex couples in New York City is $116,540, while the average for heterosexual married couples is $79,230. Even if the numbers have shifted slightly since then, most vendors rely on the assumption that the average gay couple has more disposable income to spend on a wedding.
"Mayor Bloomberg’s big ‘I Do’ campaign is exciting for the destination wedding angle, rolling out these ad campaigns, convincing people to come from out of state," Winikka said. The city’s official tourism agency, NYC & Co., has launched a big push to attract visitors wishing to marry and attend weddings. In 2007, then-comptroller Bill Thompson released a report estimating that the legalization of same-sex marriage would bring an additional $142 million in revenue to the state, mainly to the travel and tourism industries; similar figures were touted by gay marriage advocates in the push to get the additional votes necessary in the state Senate to pass the recent legislation.
"A lot of reception states and hotel chains have sort of jumped on board and come up with their own packages to get couples excited, to bring them in and have their weddings at their specific places," Winikka said.
For example, the Millennium Broadway Hotel on West 44th Street is offering a PRIDE wedding package for same-sex couples—for the low-low starting price of $19,500. Many other luxury hotels in Manhattan are following suit, and in most cases, they’re simply offering a few perks added on to existing wedding packages.
Martine Leventer, owner and president of Martine’s Chocolates on the Upper East Side, has been making her popular chocolate bride and groom cake toppers for years. When she started to get requests for "a dark chocolate groom and a white chocolate bride," for example, Leventer said she created separate molds for each spouse, and also developed a more sleek, modern-looking bride. When marriage equality passed, Martine’s posted its gay wedding toppers—pairs of the regular brides or grooms—on its Facebook page.
"The way we work is we don’t especially advertise, we work a lot with word of mouth," Leventer said. "We already had requests, quite immediately after the law went into effect, not only for the [gay] cake toppers but also special favors."
Some wedding vendors see the new influx of business as an extension of what they’ve already been doing for years. City Cakes, a bakery in Chelsea, had already been baking custom cakes for same-sex couples in their neighborhood. They got their first order for a New York gay wedding cake the day the law passed. They decided to help sponsor the Pop- Up Chapel, a project created—and still in progress—by a group of friends to give free mini-weddings in Central Park to same-sex couples.
"They said that they would be doing these weddings and that they would be providing cupcakes for their guests," Jazz Sahota, an assistant manager at City Cakes, said. "It’s the kind of thing that we love to get involved in; we were over the moon at the legislation being passed."
Other vendors are hoping to gain new business from same-sex couples, but are counting on the slow-and-steady method of reputation-building to eventually bring it in.
"Honestly I would love to be doing more [gay weddings]. I have done a couple," said Andy Marcus, who co-owns Fred Marcus Photography on West 72nd Street with his son.
"I just shot an engagement party for two guys who were written up in the New York Times."
Marcus said that he’s advertised on the Rainbow Network in the past, but he’s going to keep up his usual marketing and hope that same-sex couples like his work.
Jacqueline Weppner is the owner and creative director of Merci New York, a company that runs a blog for the city bride and also offers event planning and styling. She definitely considers her services LGBT-friendly, but isn’t rushing into marketing to gay couples.
"Right when the law was passed, a lot of businesses tried to promote specials and incentives to get that demographic in the door," Weppner explained. "We’re excited about it, but we’re not looking to exploit it. As bloggers, we’ve seen a lot of promotions come our way. I think that hopefully we will get couples, whether they’re heterosexual or homosexual, interested in us because of what we provide and not because we’re trying to target them because of legislation passing."
Vendors and websites don’t necessarily have to make a big push to see an uptick in business. The Knot’s samesex marriage site, Gay.Weddings.com, has seen a 166 percent increase since marriage equality passed, according to Winikka. They’re putting together online features about same-sex wedding etiquette and LGBT-friendly destination wedding locations to capitalize on the new influx of traffic, which brings more advertising dollars as well.
Winikka doesn’t think that the wedding industry is exploiting same-sex couples. "I would actually venture to say the opposite," she said. "It’s exciting to see hotel chains, national hotel chains, big resources finally giving it the attention it deserves. Any couple can see through a deal that isn’t the real deal."
"There’s nothing to me really different," said Marcus. "A wedding is a wedding. What makes it interesting is that there are people in the wedding."