The latest indication that gay and lesbian couples will forever alter the wedding industry--especially if other states follow Massachusetts's lead and begin issuing licenses--can be found at Gump's, a purveyor of fine goods to San Francisco's elite shoppers.
The retailer, known to some as "Tiffany of the West," mailed congratulatory letters to gay newlyweds, inviting them to register for gifts such as silk wedding albums ($145) or band-polished elephant ice scoops ($24). Gump's also has been careful to use registrant and coregistrant, not bride and groom. "I've changed everything I'm capable of changing," says Kathleen Rende, director of Gump's wedding and gift registry. "[The word] bridal doesn't exist. Everything at Gump's has been changed to gift registry and wedding registry."
Weddings have always been big business in America. Consumers spend about $50 billion each year for ceremonies, according to Conde Nast Bridal Group, publisher of Modern Bride and Bride's magazines. Yet the industry has seen business slowly fall off in the past decade as more straight couples wait longer to marry.
Caterers, hotels, retailers, and bridal shops are banking on the possibility that gay and lesbian weddings--estimated by research firm Community Marketing to be a $1 billion industry--will help stop the downward trend. "The wedding industry sees [gay marriage] as a brand-new, untapped market," says K.C. David, president of wedding service directory Web site GayWeddings.com. He is writing an advice book on same-sex wedding ceremonies. "We tend to have large disposable incomes because most of us don't have children."
What is considered the average income for gay households is hotly debated. Some experts put the total disposable income of the country's 14.2 million gay men and lesbians at $451 billion. Market research firm Forrester estimates that gay households rake in $61,300 a year, compared with $56,900 for straight households.
Same-sex couples spend an average of $15,000 on weddings and receptions, says Cindy Sproul, cofounder of RainbowWeddingNetwork.com. While straight couples spend an average of $22,360, according to Conde Nast, the wedding industry's gay boom really only started burgeoning on February 12, when San Francisco began issuing same-sex marriage licenses, and companies have seen huge marketing potential.
Boutique hotelier Joie de Vivre Hospitality introduced the "I Do" package at its Archbishop's Mansion property in San Francisco and renamed the package "Wish We Could" after the California supreme court halted same-sex ceremonies, says Greg Horner, its director of hotel marketing. Olivia Cruises and Resorts, the travel company for lesbians, has scheduled a marriage cruise that is departing from Boston in July. Reservation agency MyCruiseClub.com also has planned a same-sex commitment ceremony and honeymoon package in September for customers aboard the Carnival cruise ship Celebration. The Bucks County Conference and Visitors Bureau in Pennsylvania has launched a Web site (www.buckscountycvb.org/bget.html) advertising commitment ceremony packages offered by local hotels and inns. "What we are marketing is the same," says executive director Keith Toler, "but the way we market it is different."
Wedding planning is also very different than it was just two years ago, when Cary Friedman and Rick Wellisch were planning their commitment ceremony and reception for 130 guests. …