As election returns rolled in Tuesday night and it became clear that Question 1 would pass, Jason Sandifer quickly went online and purchased the domain name gaymainewedding.com.
Sandifer and his wife, Emilie Sommer, own Emilie Inc., a wedding photography company in Cumberland Foreside that handled 60 weddings this year, 90 percent of them involving couples from out of state.
They also are revamping their marketing materials.
“It’s so common to say ‘bride and groom,’” Sommer said. “We’ve changed everything to ‘our couples’ and ‘our clients.’” Sandifer and Summer are banking on the legalization of same-sex marriage in Maine to provide a boost to their business. They’re hoping that when gay couples hold a wedding here, they will be hiring Emilie Inc. to document their happily-ever-after moments.
“Maine is a hot-spot destination location for weddings,” said Emilie Sommer. “(The new law is) going to do tremendous things for the wedding business in Maine.”
As soon as election results were announced Tuesday night, businesses throughout Maine began positioning themselves to take advantage of the increased opportunities that will come with the legalization of same-sex marriage. They are reconsidering how they market their services and scrambling to launch new websites or make their current ones more gay-friendly.
The approval of same-sex marriage is expected to unleash a lot of pent-up demand as gay couples who live in the state head to the altar for the first time or to renew their vows and make their commitment legally binding.
Out-of-state couples also are expected to flock to the state for destination weddings that capture what Portland wedding planner Diane York calls the “mystique” of Maine.
“It’s really going to impact the industry tremendously, and not only with the weddings,” York said. “When you have a destination wedding, you have many people that come for a three-day weekend, which means hotel accommodations. So as a whole, it’s going to be very good for Maine, I think.”
Maine businesses are hoping that legalization of same-sex marriage here will have an effect similar to what happened in Massachusetts, where gay couples have been allowed to marry legally since 2007.
Marriage licenses in Massachusetts aren’t tracked by whether they’re for gay or straight couples, but Betsy Wall, director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism, said the state has seen an increase in gay marriages over same-sex commitment ceremonies.
“It’s been another nice way we’ve been able to attract visitors,” Wall said.
Noting that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender “travel in the United States is considered a $70 billion annual business,” Wall said her department maintains a website devoted to gay travelers.
With more New England states legalizing same-sex marriage, it may dilute the number of out-of-state couples who choose to get married in any particular state, Wall said; but she added that it also adds to New England’s allure as a whole.
“I think it’s great for New England to have so many states that are welcoming in this way,” Wall said.
While it’s difficult to attach a figure to the potential economic effect same-sex marriages will have on Maine, businesses and tourism bureaus are excited about the prospect of the potential for a boost in revenue coming to everything from retail businesses and restaurants to hotels and tourist attractions.
York said the average cost of a wedding in Maine with 120 guests is $23,000; the national average is $27,000. Destination weddings can push that figure up to $75,000 to $100,000, said Barbara Whitten, president of the Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“I think we would probably gain also in the honeymooning side of things,” Whitten said. “Maine is a beautiful place to honeymoon. People like to go where they feel comfortable and where they feel welcome, and I think that sends a message not only for weddings but for honeymoons.”
The Maine Office of Tourism did not return calls and emails seeking comment for this story.
Online resources grow
It seemed as if new websites were in the works almost as soon as the polls closed Tuesday. Advertising agency Might & Main launched gaymarry.me on Thursday. The site offers a free directory of officiants willing to preside over same-sex marriages.
Also Thursday, the Portland advertising agency Proactive Resources, in conjunction with the DownEast Pride Alliance networking group, announced the soft launch of gayweddingsinMaine.com, an online gay wedding directory.
The site will offer free listings to any gay-owned or gay-friendly wedding professionals. For a fee of up to $35, wedding vendors can buy a premium listing with photo galleries and videos. The site will post engagement announcements free and charge a fee for wedding and anniversary announcements.
“(Gay couples) want to do business with people who are comfortable with gay people, and they also want to spend their dollars with gay-friendly and gay-owned businesses,” said Sid Tripp, who heads Proactive Resources.
Tripp estimates that the site, which officially launches Dec. 1, eventually will list between 500 and 1,000 vendors. He’s fielded more than 200 calls about the site since he announced its launch.
Hoteliers that host weddings, photographers and other wedding-related businesses report that inquiries started trickling in immediately after Election Day. That trickle of phone calls is expected to become more of a flood as the months creep closer to wedding season.
“We’ve booked one already for, tentatively, March,” said Steven Gray, a Bangor photographer. “And we had another couple make it clear that they don’t have their plans in stone yet, but they’re definitely looking in this direction for their photography as well.
“There’s obviously going to be an increase. There’s no doubt in my mind. I feel like that ball has just started to get rolling. People right now are just kind of basking in the fact that they can if they want to.”
Jean Ginn Marvin, whose family owns the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport, had a meeting with her staff Thursday to talk about how they would market to newly engaged gay couples. The seasonal resort, which hosts about 60 weddings a year, already had gotten a handful of calls about the resort’s wedding services the day after the vote.
“I think they maybe will be a little bit smaller weddings,” Marvin said.
“A lot of the weddings we do are in the 150-to-200 range. I think we might be looking at some 75-to-100-person weddings, but very high-end — really nice events. And who doesn’t want that business?”
Marvin said she generally expects same-sex weddings to be smaller, at least for a while, because of the pent-up demand from older gay couples who want to get married. People who are in their 40s and 50s have a different set of friends than they had in their 20s, and their guest lists tend to be smaller, whether they are gay or straight.
“There certainly are some people who will have the 200-person blowout, I’m sure,” Marvin said. “They’ve been waiting for a long time. They want something really special.”
Rhonda Davis, who coordinates weddings and special events at the Harmon’s & Barton’s, Minott’s Flowers and Sawyer & Company floral shops in Portland, said same-sex marriage “is going to be great for business.”
Davis said the shops handle floral arrangements for more than 150 weddings each year, with a small percentage involving same-sex couples.
The shops provide wedding floral packages ranging in price from $50 to $500,000, but the gay commitment ceremonies they have done have tended to be on the smaller side.
“Now that it’s legal, I think they’ll feel they can have more elaborate events,” Davis said.
Other than the size of the guest list, there “really aren’t any differences” between gay and straight weddings, said Jennifer Lewis-McShera, of Clay Hill Farm in York. “The only difference is that now we can sign their license.”
Clay Hill Farm hosts 50 to 80 weddings a year, including about a half-dozen commitment ceremonies for gay couples. In 2009, the venue had three gay weddings pending and one that was booked and had to be canceled after voters said “we don’t” by vetoing same-sex marriage.
Instead of taking marriage vows, gay couples were vowing never to set foot in Maine again.
“It was awful,” Lewis-McShera said. “It was a very painful time.”
The farm’s marketing materials always have sent “a message of inclusion,” Lewis-McShera said, but now she is considering “making it more vocal, kind of loud and proud.”
“I think we’re definitely going to see some celebrating,” she said. “This is a big, big deal for Maine.”
Politics affects business
While a lot of Maine businesses probably are seeing dollar signs, others are just relieved that the measure passed, and they see any increase in business as just the icing on the wedding cake.
Gray, the Bangor photographer, suspects he may have lost some business when he posted a pro-Question 1 message on his business’s Facebook page.
Several people de-friended him after he posted the message, and others told him he was being “foolish” from a business perspective, “but it just seemed like the right thing to do.”
“I was a very big advocate of this passing,” Gray said. “Something I didn’t think about was the business aspect of it. It was secondary to actually getting it through and helping a lot of friends and family members it has a direct effect upon.”
Marilyee Dowling, a notary public in Wells, has married more than 200 couples since 1979 in weddings that have ranged from a simple morning beach affair to a grand event with 350 guests. She can’t wait to offer her services to her gay friends.
“I have many gay friends, some of whom have been together for years and have more of an idea of commitment and what real marriage is about” than heterosexual couples, Dowling said. “They have stayed together and been committed to one another.
“It’s a simple fact that I’ve seen some of them make marriage work for years and years and years — what would have been a marriage — and they’ve not been allowed to have that, and I want them to have that.”