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Will Vermont's Same-Sex Marriage Law Precipitate a Wedding Windfall? 

Local Matters

Published April 22, 2009 at 8:31 a.m.


About 1000 gay and lesbian in-state couples will get married over the next three years, while another 8200 same-sex couples from other states will travel to Vermont to get hitched. Governor Jim Douglas was ice cold to the idea of allowing gays and lesbians to marry, but he may extend them a warmer reception once the new law kicks in on September 1. That’s because a new report, published by UCLA’s Williams Institute, predicts that by extending marriage rights to same-sex couples, Vermont’s economy will enjoy a $30.6 million economic infusion over the next three years. An estimated 700 jobs would be created, generating $3.3 million in state and local tax revenues. Additionally, weddings by in-state and out-of-state gay couples are expected to contribute another $414,400 in marriage-license fees alone.

The report, published prior to the legislature’s override of the governor’s veto on April 7, is based on the conservative estimate that about 1000 gay and lesbian in-state couples will get married over the next three years, while another 8200 same-sex couples from other states will travel to Vermont to get hitched. Many of those pairs, the report notes, are expected to come from New York, which doesn’t allow same-sex couples to marry but recognizes gay marriages — but not civil unions — from other states. Could that explain the recent bill proposed by Gov. David Paterson to make same-sex marriage legal across the lake?

Thus far, Vermont hasn’t launched any coordinated marketing effort to court all that gay green, admits Bruce Hyde, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing, “but we’re certainly open to sitting down with people.”

According to Hyde, his agency typically promotes much more “generic Vermont” — that is, Vermont’s outdoor recreation, culture, history and culinary products. Occasionally, the tourism department partners with niche-industry groups, such as Vermont’s ski areas and outlet malls. But, as Hyde emphasizes, “We will absolutely consider any entity that comes to us with a plan to do out-of-state marketing.”

The state’s most logical partner in such an endeavor is the Vermont Association of Wedding Professionals, which formed only four years ago. According to the group’s president, Tim Piper, Vermont’s $252 million wedding industry — one of the state’s most powerful economic engines — is gearing up for a busy autumn but hasn’t launched an organized marketing campaign yet. That said, the group is in the process of updating its website to reflect the new law and researching its options for out-of-state marketing possibilities.

Vermont’s wedding industry experienced a big windfall in the first few years after the civil-union law took effect in 2000, Piper notes. However, those numbers fell off between 2003 and 2005, when Massachusetts and Connecticut extended full marriage rights to same-sex couples. But Piper predicts Vermont’s numbers will rise again, as many couples — gay and straight — see Vermont’s potential as a celebration site. In fact, Vermont is the third most popular state in the U.S. — per capita — for destination weddings. Roughly 37 percent of all marriage and civil union licenses are issued to nonresidents.

Piper, who also runs the Inn at the Round Barn Farm in Waitsfield, says he’s already seen an increase in interest since the same-sex marriage law passed. But it may take some time before Vermont can measure the impact of the new law, as same-sex couples aren’t too different from hetero couples when it comes to planning a wedding affair. Gay or straight, Piper says, “the angst, the planning, the worry, the timing and the family politics, it’s all there. We’ll just try to help them all out.”

Marriage Issue

So much for the "bridal" issue. Gender-specific terminology no longer applies to Vermont marriages - the first state to extend rights to same-sex couples without judicial prompting. Wedding industry professionals hope that translates into more Vermont ceremonies. Wedding photographer Karen Pike looks forward to... her own. Legal scholar Cheryl Hanna predicts when the feds might join the party. And, as our lead story reveals, some gay couples are still getting used to the idea that they, too, can say "I do." Congrats.

Click here for more stories from the April 22, 2009 Marriage Equality Issue.

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About The Author

Ken Picard

Ken Picard

Ken Picard has been a Seven Days staff writer since 2002. He has won numerous awards for his work, including the Vermont Press Association's 2005 Mavis Doyle award, a general excellence prize for reporters.


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