The Business of Gay Marriage

On Jan. 6, 2015, Florida became the 36th state to legally recognize gay marriage. The past two years have seen great advances in the search for marriage equality in the United States, and as Florida joins the growing majority of states that accept same-sex unions, the federal ruling is expected to have an equally positive impact on the lives of gay couples, the bottom lines of wedding vendors, and the value of local economies. It all started in February of 2014, when civil rights attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Florida same-sex couple that was actually married in Canada. The case, Brenner v. Scott, would become synonymous with Florida’s fight for gay rights over the next several months.

Simultaneous to these proceedings, American Civil Liberties Union attorneys filed a similar case, Grimsley v. Scott, on behalf of eight couples that had been married in other states and wished for Florida courts to recognize the union. These cases were soon combined so that their ruling would have implications for the entire state.

“Our federal lawsuit in Tallahassee was consolidated with the sole other federal lawsuit,” said Benjamin Stevenson, a local ACLU attorney.

After they were consolidated, Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that Florida’s statutory and constitutional bans (approved via amendment in 2008) were not constitutional. The order was stayed temporarily, and after the US Supreme Court denied a request to extend the stay on Dec. 19, 2014, the stay expired and gay marriage became legal in Florida on Jan. 6, 2015.

On Jan. 6, it was clear to the Clerk’s offices that demand was high. The Escambia County Clerk issued about 90 licenses to wed that first day, compared to the usual five or so.

“These requests are no different than those for anymarriage license for two people who love each other,” said Stevenson.

While some administrative changes still have to take place, Stevenson reported that there are no remaining legal differences in Florida between married straight and
gay couples.

“We are still waiting for the Social Security Administration to update their internal guidance so that Florida marriages of same-sex couples are fully recognized for all purposes,” said Stevenson.

As various administrative agencies in the state sort out the changes on their end, the state as a whole and wedding vendors are already benefitting from news of the now recognized marriages. One vendor in particular is enjoying both sides of this ruling, as he has been the only openly gay wedding planner on the coast for some time. Darrin Land of Legacy Event Design has been designing and coordinating same-sex weddings for years and looks forward to the greater meaning these  ceremonies now have for him and his clients. After the news finally broke that gay marriage would soon be legal, Land’s phone rang off the hook with business requests from enthusiastic couples who just couldn’t wait to profess their love.

“I answered 20 to 25 calls in the first 48 hours,” said Land. “Being openly gay, I am glad to see Florida on the right side of history. We are the 36th state to legalize marriage for everyone. Florida has joined the new reality.”

Weddings merchants can expect an increase in business of up to 30 percent, which translates to big money for all of Florida, but especially for the wedding-friendly
shores of Northwest Florida’s gulf coast. According to a 2014 study by the Williams Institute at UCLA’s School of Law, the state’s economic boost will come not only from same-sex couples planning their nuptials, but also from out-of-state guests who purchase goods and services in Florida. Each wedding is expected to draw about 16 out-of-state guests, slightly less than the guests expected at heterosexual unions because of the still-present stigma.

There are currently about 50,000 homosexual couples living in Florida. It is estimated that more than 24,000 same-sex couples will choose to marry by 2018
(based on statistics following Massachusetts’s similar ruling), resulting in a $182 million boost to the state’s local economies, with $116 million in the first year alone. All of this means $12 million in sales tax revenue for local governments, based on the 6.6 percent state average, and between 900 and 2,600 jobs in the tourism and recreation sectors, according to the Williams Institute study.

Out-of-state couples will likely come to Florida to wed, as well. Approximately 17 percent of all same-sex weddings performed in Florida are expected to be made up of those outside our region. When Washington State ruled that gay marriage was legal, couples traveled from as far away as Texas to receive their licenses. We can likely expect couples from Georgia and Texas—the two states that boast Florida’s greatest number of visitors that also do not currently allow same-sex marriage. Those two states have an estimated 50,000 homosexual couples. These numbers may change slightly, however, depending on the Supreme Court’s decision on national same-sex unions later this year. If gay marriage were made legal throughout the US, consumer spending on same-sex weddings could total $2.5 billion—or an increase of 5 percent over the current wedding industry value—with Florida still being among the top ten states with the most to gain from the decision.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, federal tax revenue would increase by about 0.1 percent if gay marriage were legalized nationwide. Locally, even vendors who usually provide services to straight couples are excited for the development and have no plans to create a policy against helping homosexual individuals.

“We are thrilled about the ruling in favor of gay marriage,” said Beth McLean, of Barret McLean Photography. “It’s been a long time coming. There is no bias whatsoever on our end, and from purely business and financial standpoints, this is of course a great thing for wedding vendors.”

Despite these economic gains, what is most important is the validation and ratified commitment that can now be shared amongst gay and straight couples all over the state. But the fight is not over.

“Opponents of justice for the LGBT community will continue to attempt to impede the LGBT community from obtaining formal legal equality,” said Stevenson. “However, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice’.”