Monday, December 29, 2014

Same-sex couples seek gay-friendly wedding services

Elizabeth calls her upcoming marriage to Julie, her partner of 12 years, "the amazing moving wedding."

The South Carolina women initially planned to marry in Connecticut, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2008. They scheduled their wedding around their oldest son's graduation there, on Memorial Day weekend. But when gay marriage bans were struck down closer to home, their plans changed.

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"When North Carolina went with the court decision, we thought we would get married there, because that is really close to us," Elizabeth said. "Then South Carolina struck the ban down, and now we are getting married in Columbia, South Carolina. We call it 'the evolution of a wedding.'"

Elizabeth says the decision has left her rushing to plan a wedding far closer to home than expected.

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"I made my peace years ago with not having a 'real' wedding — 'real,' in the way you think about Southern weddings in particular: traditional and elaborate," she said. "So we are sort of scrambling to pull this off. It’s fun and exciting, but I think we are overwhelmed in the same way all straight couples are about finding wedding services."

Planning a wedding can be particularly stressful for same-sex couples in traditionally conservative states. Although some states have laws barring businesses from discriminating against gay couples, in many parts of the U.S. inclusive wedding services are still far from ubiquitous.

"I feel like we sort of have to check around," Elizabeth said of her South Carolina community. "Most people within the gay community tend to use word of mouth about who is friendly and who is not."

Whether it involves avoiding outright discrimination or making sure a bakery can provide a cake with two brides or two grooms, the question of how to find gay-friendly wedding services is becoming more and more prevalent.

The issue was brought to the forefront after a barrage of traditionally conservative states saw same-sex marriage bans struck down in 2014. States affected by this year's rulings include North Carolina, South Carolina, Montana, Kansas, Alaska, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Arizona, Idaho, Mississipi, Nevada, West Virginia, Colorado, Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia.

Michael Jamrock is the owner of EnGAYged Weddings, which he describes as "the yellow pages for gay weddings." The website functions as a directory of vendors who have been vetted as being gay-friendly, listing everything from flower vendors to photographers and wedding officiants. He said that inclusive vendors are scarce, especially in states that very recently legalized same-sex marriage.

"One of our biggest problems is that we have more couples coming to the website looking for vendors than I actually have vendors to accommodate them," he said.

For example, Elizabeth noted the only South Carolina catering company listed on EnGAYged was in Charleston — two hours from Columbia where her wedding will take place.

Jamrock said this problem exists even in states that have traditionally been considered more liberal, including New York, where he has 200 listed wedding officiants who say they are all completely booked months in advance for services.

Reverend Will Mercer is one of the New York officiants listed on EnGAYged. He said he initially experienced a huge surge in demand for his services after gay marriage was legalized in 2011, but the number of same-sex weddings he officiates has dropped by at least half since then.

"At first there was a massive outpouring of people who were interested in catching up with the long wait they had lived through — sometimes 30 years or more — to have their relationships legally acknowledged," he said. "Since that time, it has become a more mainstream activity and the initial demand dropped off. In addition, with other states acknowledging same-sex marriage, people do not drive to New York to get married."

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