Burgeoning Markets

Vendors catering to same-sex weddings are picking up a growing piece of the industry’s financial pie.

Now that legal hurdles to same-sex marriages have been removed, all that remains for gay and lesbian couples wanting to get hitched is … everything else. Whether it’s finding food, flowers or a photographer, same-sex couples, like their straight counterparts, can struggle to select the right vendors for their special day.

According to the Los Angeles-based Williams Institute, same-sex marriage is estimated to generate upward of $34 million for Wisconsin’s economy within its first three years of legality. That translates into a big windfall for businesses that cater to same-sex weddings, and some vendors are adjusting their outreach to capture the attention of these potential customers.

“It is definitely a sign of transition in our community that we are starting to hear from same-sex couples who are interested in planning a more significant celebration,” says David Caruso, president and creative director of Dynamic Events. “One thing I feel good about is having such a strong network of resources in the community that would be supportive of working with our same-sex clients.”

Caruso is currently planning a same-sex wedding for 2016. He recommends other vendors modify how they pitch to prospective clients to avoid inadvertently alienating some couples. For example, Caruso advises using non-gender specific terminology, such as “partner,” “significant other” or “fiancé/fiancée” instead of “bride” or “groom” during inquiry calls.

The Wisconsin LGBT Wedding Expo. Photo by Reminisce Studio by Miranda & Adam.
The Wisconsin LGBT Wedding Expo. Photo by Reminisce Studio by Miranda & Adam.

Engaged same-sex couples searching for vendors can now visit the annual Wisconsin LGBT Wedding Expo. Organized by the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce, the idea came about when a member reached out to Executive Director Jason Rae after a vendor claimed it would be uncomfortable to assist a same-sex marriage. Rae responded by organizing an LGBT-friendly vendor fair that covers all areas of weddings, from officiants who perform the ceremony to travel agents offering honeymoon packages to popular gay destinations.

“People spend tens of thousands of dollars on their wedding,” Rae says. “When they’re doing that, we want to make sure they’re spending money with those who are supportive and inclusive of the LGBT and allied community.”

The expo debuted in November 2014 and was so popular, Rae had to turn away businesses due to lack of space. The event showcased 54 vendors and drew a crowd of around 250 attendees. Rae and his husband found a photographer and cake decorator for their own wedding.

The event was reprised in November 2015 at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center. Among the new vendors was catering outfit Classy Girl Cupcakes. Owner Erica Elia says she caters 10 to 15 ceremonies every weekend during peak wedding season.

Elia has long assisted with same-sex ceremonies, having worked LGBT events since the time domestic partnerships were the only legal recognition of such relationships in Wisconsin. When the ban against same-sex marriages was overturned, two plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to that decision hired Elia’s company for their own nuptials.

Elia says reaching out to same-sex couples is smart business, but she participates for personal reasons as well. “I’ve always felt that everyone is equal, and that love is love,” she says. “We want to help celebrate that, whatever it looks like.”

‘Burgeoning Markets’ appears in Milwaukee Weddings, a brand new addition to the Milwaukee Magazine family.

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Correction: The correct name of Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jason Rae’s husband, Phillip Bailey, has been updated. We regret the error.