Gay marriage likely to boost Central Florida wedding industry
By Caitlin Dineen Orlando Sentinel
FEBRUARY 13, 2015, 8:29 PM
Alex Howell moved from Dallas to Orlando last year because he wanted his DJ business established by the time same-sex marriage was legalized in Florida. “I knew eventually it was going to sweep the United States,” said Howell, who has worked all kinds of weddings and civil ceremonies since starting his business, Your Orlando DJ. He expects an increase in business now that all couples can wed. Same-sex weddings became legal in Florida on Jan. 6, after months of debate and legal action by Attorney General Pam Bondi to stop them. Same-sex marriages are now legal in 37 states. Bernadette Smith, founder of 14 Stories, an LGBTQ wedding-planner company, said she’s fielded calls from business owners wondering where the bump in business is. Smith said business owners need to remember weddings don’t happen right away. “People are still getting engaged,” she said. The Williams Institute, a national think tank at UCLA Law, predicted in August that 24,248 same-sex couples would wed in Florida within three years of the marriages’ becoming legal. Those weddings are estimated to boost the state economy by more than $182 million in three years. Tina Robinson and Kim Klauk of Casselberry got engaged last month on Robinson’s 30th birthday and hope to keep the budget for their March 2016 wedding to $10,000. That’s well below the average $29,858 cost for a wedding, according to 2013 statistics from wedding-planning site The Knot. They plan to invite about 100 people. The couple said they hope to only work with gay-friendly vendors. It shouldn’t only be about the vendor’s making money, but rather about genuinely wanting them as clients. “It shouldn’t be any different because it’s a same-sex couple,” Klauk said. David DeAssis, director of operations at Timacuan Golf & Country Club, said the club booked a May wedding for a male couple after it was legalized in Florida. He said the couple were wed at City Hall in downtown Orlando to ensure they were married before the ruling could be reversed. It’s the first same-sex wedding at Timacuan. Though some wedding vendors are not discussing their stance on same-sex weddings, others gathered earlier this month for the Love and Equality Wedding Expo at an east Orange County hotel so couples could find gay-friendly vendors. “This has been a journey for the gay community for many, many years to try and be comfortable somewhere,” said organizer Wanda Hunt of Central Florida Shows. “There’s a lot of closed-minded people out there that do not realize the impact on business, as well as personal levels.” Mark Kingsdorf, wedding sales manager for Mission Inn Resort & Club in Howey-in-the-Hills, said companies that only service opposite-sex weddings will survive in the billion-dollar industry if they navigate carefully. If businesses lack tact when denying services to same-sex couples, they could be in trouble, he said. “I think people who are saying, ‘We’re not doing those,’ are going to get burned at the stake,” said Kingsdorf. That said, he does think more and more wedding-related businesses will welcome working with same-sex couples. “It’s baby steps,” he said. “It’s not going to happen overnight.” Businesses embracing the new client pool might have some changes to make. Howell and Kingsdorf, who were among the vendors at the Orlando Perfect Wedding Guide at the Orange County Convention Center earlier this month, said employees need to change their verbiage when talking to clients. It will alienate clients if you assume they’re in a heterosexual relationship. Both said businesses need to start calling all couples’ partners a fiancée or fiancé rather than bride or groom, websites should not only include photos of male-female relationships and forms should be gender- and pronoun-neutral for couples. “The more you can treat somebody the same way as somebody else, that’s what the community wants,” Howell said.
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