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Profits eyed on gay weddings

Industry sees boon as marriage becomes legal

The walls of the Designer Bridal Outlet in Wellesley are lined with racks of creamy white gowns, their silky trains and intricate beading carefully sheathed in plastic. The five-year-old store, where Vera Wang remains the most sought-after designer, sells hundreds of dresses a year, said co-owner Joan Antinarelli.

And with the state poised to begin offering marriage licenses for gay couples in May, many more dresses might start flying off the racks come spring and summer.

From cakemakers to hotels to justices of the peace, the local wedding industry is expecting a boost from the Supreme Judicial Court's landmark ruling on gay marriage. While vendors say they have yet to see a sharp increase in demand from same-sex couples, many are eager to tap into the newly expanded market for their services, taking out ads on gay-friendly websites and preparing for a gay wedding expo called Same Love, Same Rights, slated for May at a hotel in Cambridge.

''There [are] an enormous amount of people out there," said Antinarelli, who plans to attend the expo. ''Why not open the doors?"

Richard Griesel, a Sudbury justice of the peace who advertises on a gay-friendly website called the Pink Pages, said he already has scheduled ceremonies with three lesbian couples.

''There are some people who are very anxious to get married," he said.

One is Carolyn, an area resident who asked that her last name not be used. She plans to marry her partner in a May 20 ceremony officiated by Griesel. The couple is planning a simple ceremony, she said, and will take its small group of guests out for lunch afterward.

"It's been 21 years in the making and we just want to get married," she said, adding that she believes many gay and lesbian couples will hold weddings in the coming months.

But even as vendors reach out, some say local demand for wedding services among same-sex couples may be slow to take off because of continued legislative wrangling over the constitutionality of gay marriage.

Legal scholars have said there is nothing the state can do to keep cities and towns from issuing marriage licenses in May. The long-term picture is much cloudier, however.

State legislators are expected to meet today to take up a possible amendment to the state constitution that would define marriage as a heterosexual union while creating the designation of civil unions for gays and lesbians. If it proceeds, the amendment could come up for a popular vote in 2006 and might call into question the legality of any gay marriage licenses issued before then.

''I think once things are a little more settled . . . then we probably will see it," Antinarelli said.

Michael Wilson, senior sales associate for the Rainbow Wedding Network, which is organizing the May expo, said the group quickly sold all 40 booths for the event and has had to limit the number of vendors it allows to advertise on its website. The interest spiked immediately after the SJC issued its initial ruling in November.

''My phone was ringing off the hook for a week," Wilson said.

Organizations like the Rainbow Wedding Network are important, Wilson said, because they help gay and lesbian couples screen out vendors who are unwilling to work with them.

''It's really shattering when someone says, 'I don't do your type of wedding,' " he said.

Wilson added that although the gay community does not generally support the idea of only civil unions being allowed, the formal designation would still benefit the local wedding industry.

Gerard Monaghan, president of the Association of Bridal Consultants, a Connecticut-based trade organization, said while some vendors won't work with same-sex couples, most recognize gay marriage as a potential gold mine. The industry already generates a whopping $120 billion in revenue a year, he said, simply because ''people are willing to spend."

Unlike birth and death, marriage is ''the only rite of passage that you can control," Monaghan said, and more couples are tending toward lavish ceremonies.

While heterosexual weddings often assume traditional roles for brides and grooms, both Monaghan and Wilson said it is simply up to gay or lesbian couples to decide how to organize their ceremonies. Antinarelli, for example, said she has outfitted two lesbian partners in bridal gowns.

''I think it just depends on the couple and what they want to do," she said.

While Monaghan said gay marriage will likely mean a boost for the industry, he also noted that the market for commitment ceremonies is nothing new, and many vendors have been reaching out to gay and lesbian couples all along.

''The smart ones have been doing that for years," Monaghan said, ''because the market has always been there."

Dessert Works in Medfield has supplied about five cakes a year for commitment ceremonies, said owner and pastry chef Kristen Repa, compared with about 150 cakes for traditional weddings.

The shop, which hopes to start baking more of its elaborate, multi-tiered confections for same-sex couples, became one of the first cake decorators to advertise on the Rainbow Wedding Network last fall, even before the SJC ruling.

''We saw the opportunity for getting our name out there," she said.

As for gay-friendly churches, the Rev. Clifford Gerber of Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church in Shrewsbury said he was surprised he hadn't heard from anyone yet.

The Rev. Rand Peabody, interim senior pastor at the United Parish of Auburndale in Newton, which is affiliated with the Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ, said his parish also has not seen any demand for same-sex weddings but believes that will change after the ruling goes into effect May 17.

''I would certainly not be surprised to see a fairly quick upsurge," he said.

Others in the industry are taking a wait-and-see approach. Kristen Weiss, a wedding coordinator and owner of I Thee Wed in Natick, said she will monitor the resolution of the legislative debate but recognizes the benefit of tapping into the gay wedding market.

''Obviously, if they're going to get married, they're going to need some help planning their wedding," Weiss said.

Emily Shartin can be reached at

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