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October 21, 2014

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Las Vegas wedding businesses: We’d love to see gay marriage legalized

Wedding Photographer Linda Quackenboss

Photographer Linda Quackenboss gets to know partners Mel Cole and Phil Pineda before starting their portrait session in celebration of their fifth anniversary at her studio in Las Vegas on Tuesday, March 19, 2013. Launch slideshow »

“Loosen his bow tie and snuggle up, you two,” says Las Vegas photographer Linda Quackenboss, directing a camera-shy couple sitting for portraits in her studio.

Reaching out, Phil Pineda does as he’s told and loosens Mel Cole’s bow tie. “There’s my GQ smile!” the 53-year-old tells the couple, who will be celebrating their fifth anniversary this fall. “Maybe I can shoot your wedding soon.”

For Quackenboss, who estimates that 30 percent of her clientele are members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, the suggestion is more than friendly conversation. It’s marketing.

Gay marriage is on the horizon in Nevada. A bill was introduced last week in the Nevada Senate that would begin to clear the way for legalizing gay marriage in Nevada. That news came just days before the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in a pair of cases challenging California’s ban on gay marriage and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Polling suggests a majority of Nevadans support gay marriage.

That shift, in Nevada and nationwide, is being noticed by wedding industry professionals like Quackenboss, who is among local business owners positioning themselves for the opportunities that will come with legal gay marriage in the Wedding Capital of the World.

“With the economic climate the way it is, people are watching what’s happening around the country with a careful eye and will open up as soon as business demands it,” Quackenboss said.

According to economist M.V. Lee Badgett, research director of the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at UCLA, legalizing gay marriage would generate $23 million to $52 million in business revenue and $1.8 million to $4.2 million in tax revenue over the next three years in Nevada.

The brunt of the revenue impact from gay marriages, however, would come from out-of-state couples bringing their ceremonies and celebrations to Las Vegas: Eighty-five percent of the 86,203 marriage licenses issued in Clark County in 2012 were to couples from outside Southern Nevada.

“Vegas' strengths lie in the fact that it is an event town," said Kathryn Hamm, president of GayWeddings.com. "It has a vibrant collection of wedding chapels, it's a destination location for many, can serve bachelor and bachelorette parties and honeymoons alike, and has featured on its stages every gay icon who has ever electrified and unified and entertained our community.”

The same-sex marriage industry in New York offers some inkling of what to expect in Las Vegas. In 2011, the first year gay couples could legally wed in New York state, marriage license fees, celebrations and wedding-related purchases helped shore up New York City’s economy by $259 million, according to the New York City Clerk’s Office and NYC & Company, the city’s tourism and marketing bureau.

Dianne Schiller, owner of Renta-Dress and Tux Shop in Las Vegas, said she can hardly wait. “It would definitely increase my business and add another dimension to it,” said Schiller, whose shop presented a fashion show at last month’s LGBT Wedding Expo at Circus Circus and has been marketing to gay couples for years. “If we really want to sell ourselves as the Wedding Capital of the World, we need to open the doors and embrace everyone.”

Same-sex marriage ceremonies would come at an otherwise dour time for the wedding business. Marriage licenses issued in Clark County are down 21 percent from 2007, and Schiller’s sales have dropped 20 percent this quarter.

“The last place people are spending their money now is on vacations and big weddings,” she said. “But generally speaking, gay couples do tend to have more disposable income and are higher up on the earning bracket. They have the dollars, and if they could spend it on weddings, I think they would love it.”

For Angie Kelly, owner of Peachy Keen Unions, a Las Vegas-based wedding officiant service that bills itself as a provider of “ceremonies for unique and eclectic couples,” the anticipated boost in revenue would be less important than the level playing field that would come with the legalization of gay marriage. She’s one of the few officiants in town who openly advertises as serving LGBT couples, and she acknowledged that she may be losing business by doing so.

“I think officiants have a tricky spot with same-sex marriages. If you advertise to same-sex marriages, there’s a chance you’re losing your highly religious couples, as well. It doesn’t matter to me, but it is a risk that I take,” she said of the 200 ceremonies she performs per year, a handful of which are for same-sex couples. She explained that while many other ministers and officiants won’t advertise to same-sex couples, they may still perform commitment ceremonies if asked. “I think there will be a big sense of relief that they can just breathe easy and serve this market. A lot of us are gunning for it be legalized.”

For other local businesses, welcoming gay marriage is a natural next step in their marketing efforts to the LGBT community. Caesars Entertainment is one of a number of resort companies already offering commitment ceremony packages at its properties, including planning services, floral design, photo shoots and commitment certificates. The company has helped attract such popular LGBT events as Dinah Vegas, or Girl Bar Dinah Shore Weekend, an offshoot of the long-running Dinah Shore Weekend in Palm Springs, Calif., and is among the businesses that signed an amicus brief on Feb. 27 urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and recognize gay marriages.

MGM Resorts International, which in 2004 became the first company in the gaming and hospitality industry to offer health benefits to gay employees' partners, similarly anticipates gay marriage in Nevada with open arms.

“Legalization in Nevada would be a significant step forward in leveling the playing field, as we’d be in a better position to compete with destinations where same-sex marriage is legal,” said Alan Feldman, MGM Resorts senior vice president of public affairs.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which launched its LGBT marketing campaign in the mid-2000s, declined to comment for this story.

Although many local businesses are primed to take advantage of the potential revenue boost, others, including Las Vegas’ numerous faith-based chapels, do not serve same-sex couples for religious reasons. They say that probably won’t change, even if the law does.

“I have gay people who work for me and I love them dearly and I have nothing against them. But we’re a Bible-based chapel, and we go according to the word of God and what he says in his word,” said Charolette Richards, the Christian owner of the Little White Wedding Chapel, which does not offer commitment ceremonies for gay couples. “If the law changed, I’m not saying that I would or that I wouldn’t either, but it’s against my religion. I’d have to pray hard to find what God would have me to do.”

Chapels that cater to same-sex couples say that just means more business for them — but that any economic gains are ancillary to the reason many of them began serving the LGBT community in the first place.

Just two doors up from the Little White Wedding Chapel is the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel, which performs more than 5,000 weddings, vow renewals and commitment ceremonies each year, and is perhaps known best for its campy, Elvis-emblazoned neon sign beckoning visitors on the north end of the Strip. The chapel’s owners are gay, and they also operate under the name of Gay Chapel of Las Vegas. As one of the first wedding chapels in Las Vegas to cater to gay couples — it began performing commitment ceremonies more than 15 years ago — being able to perform legal marriages for the LGBT community is a long time coming.

“For us it’s a big deal. It would not only be a chance for us to provide more weddings and beautiful ceremonies, but also a chance for customers who are gay to have the same legal rights,” said Brian Mills, the chapel’s general manager and an Elvis wedding performer. “This being Vegas, all of us who work here are performers and have friends and people we know who would be affected by the social impact. And it’s about that more than anything.”

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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  1. So, how much has Nevada lost because of the "libertarian" state's excursion into discrimination? Probably a few hundred millions of dollars of revenue over the years. No wonder there is complete silence from our rulers. You know what they are really hoping for.

  2. Comment removed by moderator. Inappropriate

  3. We stand to gain a lot of money from the marriage industry if we legalize gay marriage. We also stand to garner lots of money if we legalize prostitution here. We also stand to garner lots of money if we legalize marijuana here.......time to decide which things we can live with and modify especially when it profits the state which so badly needs money.

  4. Comment removed by moderator. Inappropriate

  5. It always amazed me that the argument against same-sex marriage in Nevada was "the sanctity of marriage." This state is reknowned for quickie marriages and quickie divorces. Drive-thru wedding chapels with Elvis as the officiator! At the time we passed our constitutional amendment, we were host to "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-millionaire," a game show, where the prize was a husband! It was always so disingenuous.

    It's long past time we realize that civil marriage isn't "sanctified." That's holy matrimony, and churches will remain free to bar whomever they wish from getting married.

  6. Who cares about the money? It's totally wrong that we don't allow gay marriage. No one gets harmed, and it doesn't affect any one else. NOT allowing it does more harm in civil matters ranging from physical protection when Domestic Violence laws can be enacted, to divorce proceedings when community property needs to be divided up.

    If two men or women wish to become married, good for them. It doesn't invalidate my marriage to my wife, our parents marriages, or even our eventual kid's marriages. It has 0 impact whatsoever. Besides, who are any of us to tell someone who they can and cannot fall in love with?

    If marriage in it's legal sense is being legally defined based upon religious doctrines, then that is a clear violation of church and state. What needs to happen is to either write a new law defining the union as a monogamous relation between two consenting adults of legal age that purges all connections to religion and spirituality... or we go for a full separation of church and state and abolish the term "marriage" all together from all legal definitions, and only allow "Civil Unions" between everyone, including heterosexual couples. No more marriage licensees, only Civil Union licenses. Divorce Courts shall be explicit to the dissolution of Civil Unions between ALL couples.

    Lots of people fear Shari'ah Law and want it prevented from being enacted at all. Fine. Then we need to be fair and limit Christian Law and definitions as well. We can't have one and not the other.

  7. Comment removed by moderator. Personal Attack

  8. HKGuy prostitution is only legal in certain counties in Nevada. So much for you submitting Ms. Ashley's ignorance. She's right, you're wrong.

  9. HKGuy,

    Prostitution is not legal in Clark County (Las Vegas) or in Reno.

    I believe that is what she is talking about. There has been talk over the years of setting up districts in Vegas but it has never got to the legal point.

    I don't feel she made an ignorant statement this time around. You are just reading into it things you may not know about.

  10. The money the County would take in at $60 per license wouldn't hurt either.

  11. Let's just face some facts. Gay marriage is faux marriage. Its playing house. Sure, we will smile at you, sure we will pretend to accept you, but don't expect not to be discriminated against.. just silently.

  12. All right, TalkingMan, tell me how my 5-year marriage (legal in California) to a man I've been with for 15 years is just "playing house," and not a real marriage. My married life differs in no significant way from those of my straight married friends. What is the difference, and why should we be silently discriminated against by the likes of you?

  13. "Gay marriage is faux marriage. Its playing house."
    --------------

    Actually i think marriage is just a legal business partnership between 2 adults, so if gays want to give marriage/divorce cash to the Nevada businesses that do both? I think real Nevada businessmen/women will welcome them with open arms..

  14. HK Guy as far as I know Coyote Ranch is a master planned community bordering Linclon County. Since you know so much about Nevada please tell me where this ranch is located. Can't find it on google search.

  15. A different perspective. I'm gay and Robert and I have been together 19 years and were legally wed in Canada 9 years ago. We say NO! NO! NO! To my friends who have changed their minds on this issue we can't thank you enough. We are heartened to see how many Nevadans have thought this through in a critical wayand have seen that our marriage has not affected yours and that all citizens gay and straight should be treated equally under the law.
    Maybe the great "defenders of marriage" like Senator Ensign and Governor Gibbons helped you to change your mind to believe that civil marriage should be considered a right for gay couples after all. Which brings me to the point. NOBODY'S CIVIL RIGHTS SHOULD BE PUT UP FOR A VOTE! THAT'S WHY THEY ARE CALLED RIGHTS! These votes never should have happened to begin with. We trust the courts. We believe in the justice system. And we believe that marriage equality will one day be law. But a resounding NO for asking people to judge me again with the hateful lawn signs and misleading commercials appropriate for a five year old let alone a critically thinking adult. It's demeaning, it's hurtful, and frankly Robert and I have seen and had enough ignorance and stupidity thrown at us over this issue to last us the rest of our natural lives. Nevada did a dumb thing. Twice. No more, thank you.

  16. "That shift, in Nevada and nationwide, is being noticed by wedding industry professionals like Quackenboss, who is among local business owners positioning themselves for the opportunities that will come with legal gay marriage in the Wedding Capital of the World."

    Don't look for it any time soon. Our Constitution must be changed first.

    "Let's just face some facts. Gay marriage is faux marriage. Its playing house."

    Talking -- got news for you. ALL marriage is just fake playing house.

    "Actually i think marriage is just a legal business partnership between 2 adults....."

    Markey -- actually it's legally defined as a civil contract between two adults, depending on the particular state.

    It seems the popular view is "allowing" gay marriage. This is completely incompatible with this nation's fundamental principles of equality, and the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That the state requires licensing of consenting adults who wish to formalize a lifetime commitment with each other is absolutely incompatible with those principles. Whether the marriage be between homosexuals or more than two partners has never been a legitimate area of state authority.

    "We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force." - Ayn Rand (1905-1982)