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From Hot Sauce to Elopements, Anticipating a Gay Marriage Bubble
Rachel Ward | Photo: Memoire Studio Photography | June 24, 2013
The local wedding industry preps for this week’s Supreme Court decisions.
Gay marriage-themed hot sauce? It didn’t seem so far-fetched to a SoMa couple who launched a Kickstarter campaign this month to fund their homemade condiment, which they cheekily dubbed Fire Dragon Love Sauce: The Official Hot Sauce of Gay Marriage. And that’s far from the only marriage equality-themed product hitting the shelves right now, says Gigi Otalvaro-Hormillosa, who created the sauce with her wife, Heather Cox Carducci. “We met a winemaker from Napa,” she says, “selling a blend called Same Sex Meritage at a recent event.”
With the Supreme Court potentially overturning Prop. 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act this week, the entrepreneurial opportunities for Bay Area wedding professionals are limitless. Many are cooking up new products and inventing services to cash in on the expected flood of same-sex couples looking to get hitched. Gay weddings generated an estimated $259 million in economic impact in New York City during the first year that they were legalized in the state, according to the office of Mayor Mike Bloomberg. And in San Francisco, where an estimated 15.4 percent of the population identifies as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, the results could be similarly dramatic.
Melia Coordes, owner of Wedspring, a wedding planning service and paperie in Russian Hill, believes the city can expect a 30 percent increase in wedding business across the board if Prop. 8 is struck down. Her company already specializes in helping gay couples navigate the etiquette of invitation wording. “You’re smart if you make sure that you’re educated and fluent in the factors that are specific to same sex unions because it’s going to be part of your job,” she says. Many of the same-sex couples that Coordes consulted with this year are getting engaged now but taking their time with the planning process in hopes that they can legally wed in the near future. “They don’t want to postpone it forever, but they feel like it’s so close to really happening,” she says.
Another entrepreneur who foresees a gay marriage victory on the horizon, Heather Cassady of Wish Social Events in SoMa, is founding a side company targeted to gay couples. Called Exclusive Elopements, the venture will specialize in small, high-end destination weddings, from San Francisco to Bermuda. She projects that within the next few years 70 percent of her clients will be gay. “It’s exciting to not just be working with the cookie cutter vanilla bride,” she says. “Gay weddings can be more daring and have more style because the couple doesn’t feel bound by the traditional elements.” Coordes has observed a similar tendency. Unlike the majority of her heterosexual clientele, she says, most of her gay clients are paying for their own weddings and don’t have a standard wedding template in mind. “They start from a place of no rules—there’s none of ‘my mom or dad wants this,’” she says.
However, Chanda Monique Eddens of A Monique Affair, who founded her pioneering Oakland-based wedding planning business specializing in lesbian ceremonies in 1999, is dubious of opportunists inventing services for this new market. “I’ve heard about someone in New York charging for a gay wedding certification course, but who made her an expert? There’s no gay wedding tradition,” Eddens says. That’s not stopping business owners like jewelry designer Adam Neeley, who, despite devoting the majority of his career to designing for women, recently announced a line of contemporary men’s bands incorporating avant-garde concepts such as fingerprints impressed into precious metal. “In 2004, we had a flood of same sex couples coming in to get rings, but it very quickly turned off when Prop. 8 went into effect. The economics were very clear,” he says. “It’s only a matter of time before it comes back around as the country shifts toward equal rights.”
After noting a spike in wedding inquires this year from same sex couples anticipating a gay marriage triumph in the courts, the Loews Regency San Francisco* devised lavish and aggressively priced wedding and proposal packages specifically aimed toward them. The hotel even produced a photo shoot with two men for its latest wedding ads. “We want to let the lifelong partners who will be getting engaged as a result of the laws changing know that we welcome their urban wedding,” says, Edwina Kluender, director of communications.
Meanwhile Tomboy Tailors, a custom suiting shop serving queer women that opened in the Financial District this year, has already been tailoring formalwear for same sex weddings. Owner Zel Anders expects to receive even more orders, especially from smaller localities around the state, if gay marriage is legalized.
Of course, not all Bay Area couples have chosen to wait for the government to recognize their unions before hosting elaborate weddings. When Michael Pfyl, an attorney at Google, wed Taures Jackson, a psychologist, at Villagio Inn & Spa in Yountville last year, the pair deviated from custom in a number of ways. They eschewed traditional wedding parties, which they found to be divisive, served champagne and wine before the ceremony, and named each reception table after a pop diva, from Lady Gaga to Kylie Minogue. Suzy Berberian, the wedding planner who worked on Pfyl and Jackson’s celebration, is working on having more of her gay weddings published in the media in order promote her work with the demographic. “It’s a moving experience for me to work on those events,” she says. “The sense of jubilation and support really shines through.”
Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association, envisions the city becoming a national gay wedding mecca. “This market is already very important for us,” he says, citing a national poll of gay and lesbian travelers who named San Francisco the most gay friendly city in North America. “But weddings don’t happen overnight. There’s planning that has to be done, so the benefit won’t be overnight. Still we’d see a serious economic benefit on a prolonged basis.”
To which many gay marriage opportunists say, “Pass the hot sauce!”
*This article has been edited to denote the name change of the Mandarin Oriental San Francisco to the Loewes Regency San Francisco.