BizBash June 2011

New York Gay Marriage Bill: Event Industry Expects “Enormous Impact”

By Anna Sekula, with additional reporting by Erica Petri
June 24, 2011

After a week of prolonged discussions, today the New York State Senate might vote on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, which has event professionals speculating on how big the impact could be on industry spending.

A same-sex marriage law could pave the way for what analysts estimate to be a multimillion-dollar boost to the state economy. According to a report published by the U.C.L.A. School of Law’s Williams Institute in May 2009, Massachusetts, the first state to allow gay marriage back in 2004, had seen 12,167 same-sex couples wed as of September 2008. This is estimated to have impacted the state’s economy by approximately $111 million.

“I think if you do that math and you realize that Massachusetts’s economy has gained over $100 million, it seems logical that the New York economy would be gaining several times that,” says Bronson van Wyck, co-founder of corporate and social event production firm Van Wyck & Van Wyck. “So from an economic point of view, [approving the bill] seems like a no-brainer.”

The act, introduced by Governor Andrew Cuomo, would make New York the sixth—and most populous—state in the country to recognize such unions. (The passage of the bill in Albany would also arrive just in time for the city’s 42nd annual LGBT Pride March on Sunday.)

Carla Ruben, president of catering company Creative Edge Parties, said she has worked on “dozens” of unions between same-sex couples, and with a change in the law, she predicted, “we will see an enormous impact—30 to 40 percent increase—in our wedding business.”

Van Wyck added, “We’ve worked on a number of [gay marriages] over the years, but always gone out of state to do them because it’s not allowed here. On more than one occasion, they were people from New York and they would have done it here. There will still be destination weddings—gay or straight—for people from New York, but I think there’s a whole group who are going to opt to do it at home if the bill passes.”

“I think we’re looking at a group of individuals who, once they combine incomes in the form of a celebration, the revenue streams for New York City and New York State could be huge,” says designer David Beahm. “The gay community typically has a higher rate of disposable income and the innate ability to entertain, so I’m thinking that the Champagne producers in France should be forewarned.” And news from Albany of a potential breakthrough has already had an effect: “The phones are definitely ringing.”

David Bowen, whose event firm, Bowen & Company, just launched a wedding division, said, “I chose to profile my commitment ceremony from 1993—I couldn’t wait—on our new Web site because we are interested in working with LGBT couples to help realize their dreams. We actually had an inquiry [on Wednesday] and we’re thrilled at the prospect.”

Likewise, when asked about the potential impact on the industry, the event professionals we spoke with also mentioned their personal hopes for a same-sex marriage law.

“I’ve had tentative inquiries from some friends and some people I don’t know who have always wanted to wait until they could get married at home,” said wedding planner Marcy Blum, who has worked for the likes of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, Salman Rushdie and Padma Lakshmi, and Rockefeller family.

On the style front, a new crop of potential customers could also spark new trends and styles. “I am curious about how different the approach to food and beverage will be—we generally work with brides for many of the menu aspects with some input from the groom,” said caterer Olivier Cheng. “It will be interesting to see how this strata develops.”