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A Stimulus Package

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by Miriam Marcus

Howls of protest erupted last month when California's Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, stripping gay and lesbian couples of their right to marry. Adding to the din: all the disappointed planners, seamstresses, jewelers, travel agents and caterers who comprise the massive yet plodding American wedding industry.

There are 781,267 same-sex couples living together in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau's 2005-07 American Community Survey. The Williams Institute, a research arm of UCLA's law school, predicts that if gay marriage were legalized nationwide--only Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, Iowa and (as of earlier this month) New Hampshire allow it now--about half of those couples would tie the knot within three years.

Talk about a stimulus package. While wedding-related revenues--snagged by small shops to giant corporations like Tiffany ( TIF - news - people ), Williams-Sonoma ( WSM - news - people ) and Marriott International ( MAR - news - people )--top $160 billion (an average wedding now costs $20,400), the industry has shrunk at an annualized 1.9% rate after inflation since 1999. If half of the same-sex couples got hitched, Forbes estimates that the industry would reap nearly $10 billion in additional revenue.

The Williams Institute draws from data on same-sex marriages in Massachusetts (where the practice has been legal for five years) and Vermont. As of September 2008, 52% of all same-sex couples living in Massachusetts were married; overall, the institute says, in the states that provide legal recognition, "more than 40%" of same-sex couples married, entered a civil union or otherwise have registered their relationships.

The average same-sex couple tends not to spend as much on their wedding as the average straight couple, notes Lee Badgett, research director at the Williams Institute and professor of economics at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. On average, those couples spent 34% of what straight couples spent on their weddings.

Chalk up part of that difference to the rush of exhilaration to seal the deal after legislation gets passed. Says Badgett: "It takes time to spend a lot of money." Badgett adds that many couples may have already held commitment ceremonies and as a result don't have a need (or the money) for a large second celebration. It's also possible that same-sex couples don't have the financial support of their parents. Or that more than a few are older and have been together for so long that they don't feel the urge for a big bash.

To estimate the financial impact of gay weddings were they legalized nationally, we multiplied the number of same-sex weddings by 34% of the amount straight couples would spend on such items as engagement rings, banquet halls, wedding dresses and honeymoons. Add it all up, and it comes to $9.5 billion.

The biggest category--at $3.4 billion--is gifts. According to the Association of Bridal Consultants, the average amount spent per wedding gift is $113, and the average couple receives 75 gifts. The haul per couple: $8,475. To find the aggregate figure, multiply by 406,000 (a little over half the number of same-sex couples that live together). (We assumed gift givers are as generous to same-sex couples as they are to straight ones.)

Coming in second is reception and catering. According to The Wedding Report, a research company that tracks consumption trends, the average straight couple spends $11,863 on the reception, catering and bar service (including rentals of tents, tables, chairs, etc.). Multiply by 406,000, take 34% of the total and there's $1.6 billion.

Honeymoon expenditures came in third, at $694 million, followed by photography and video ($554 million) and jewelry ($502 million), including wedding bands, earrings and anklets--but not engagement rings, which clock in at $444 million.

Adds up fast, doesn't it?

exceprted from http://www.forbes.com/2009/06/15/same-sex-marriage-entrepreneurs-finance-windfall.html

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