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Wedding industry poised to tap growing market

By Jack Broom

The Seattle Times

At Morfey's Cake Shoppe in Seattle, Wash., owner Bill Moore put it simply:

"I've done them with two men. I've done them with two women. I did one with two Barbie dolls," he said. "I don't tell people what to do. I sell cake."

Moore doesn't care about the gender mix of figurines he places on a wedding cake, or whether the couple chooses to use cake-toppers at all.

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While the national debate continues over whether same-sex marriages should be legalized or banned, Moore is one of countless business owners across the country looking at this simple proposition: If weddings equal business, then more weddings equal more business.

Weddings already constitute a $50 billion-a-year industry in the United States, according to Conde Nast Bridal Group, publishers of Bride's and Modern Bride magazines. And while no one knows what lies ahead politically and socially for gay and lesbian unions, there are plenty of signs the wedding industry doesn't intend to be caught napping:

A same-sex wedding show in Seattle April 17 and one scheduled for April 4 in Washington, D.C., follow similar events in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

An article on gay weddings in Bride's magazine last year, which drew international attention as the 70-year-old publication's first look at the subject, is being expanded into a how-to book out this summer, adding to a growing body of such information.

Pride, a new bimonthly magazine for gays and lesbians, is planning a July wedding theme, and it says the issue is drawing far more advertising than any of its three previous editions.

A growing variety of products and services for same-sex brides and grooms is offered on Web sites such as Vancouver, B.C.-based gaymart.com and Dallas-based twobrides.com.

The average American wedding now costs $22,360, a 50 percent increase in the last decade, according to Conde Nast's surveys of its readers.

The 2004 GSBA Gay Wedding Show, to be held at Seattle's Swedish Cultural Center April 17, has 50 vendors signed up, including caterers, florists, photographers, hotels, wedding officiates and banquet facilities.

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"We're starting out small this year," said Louise Chernin, executive director of the sponsoring Greater Seattle Business Association, which serves the "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied (straight) community."

"The original focus, because we are a business organization, is that it's good business for our members to help people purchase services and plan celebrations," Chernin said, adding that same-sex couples constitute "a community, without stereotyping, that loves to mark celebrations and festive occasions."

Another reason for the show, she said, is that some gays and lesbians may avoid traditional wedding-related shops, "not necessarily because of overt discrimination, but because they don't see their world reflected there."

Seattle caterer Eric DuBois, a co-chair of the show, has personal as well as professional perspectives on the issue.

As a co-owner of As You Like It Catering, he's handled about 25 same-sex partnership events in the last five years, nearly a third of his wedding business.

"Before this they were called 'commitment ceremonies,' " he said. "This is the first year I've heard it with the actual 'W' wedding."

Same-sex weddings are likely to be similar to "straight" ones, reflecting a longing to be part of a tradition rather than re-invent it, DuBois said. He notes the ones he has worked "tend to be not in churches as much as in back yards, private home or parks."

The role of religion in a same-sex union may be a delicate one. Some couples simply do not have religious inclinations, some are reluctant to ask and some churches won't perform such ceremonies.

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Whether same-sex weddings become a cash cow in the near term depends on the answer to this question: Will more couples, emboldened by small or temporary steps toward legal gay marriage, decide to hold weddings or weddinglike ceremonies -- even without the benefit of legal status?

David Toussaint believes they will. Toussaint is a freelance writer, actor, director and producer in New York City. He wrote the single-page article on same-sex weddings in Bride's last summer and was surprised by the attention it triggered.

Part of that reaction was an invitation from Random House to develop a soon-to-be-published "Gay and Lesbian Weddings: Planning the Perfect Same-Sex Ceremony." The work is drawn from the experiences of 50 same-sex couples coast to coast.

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