Francis Lee married a Texas couple at West Seattle’s Seacrest Park on a clear day this June.
Calling himself The Wedding Gentleman, Lee has been officiating weddings in Seattle for more than 10 years, but he still gets choked up when he talks about that day with a sunset backdrop of Elliott Bay.
The couple were fresh off the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport tarmac, three children in tow. They’d traveled to Seattle to do what they couldn’t in Texas.
Under the newly accepted Referendum 74, the two men could finally have a legally recognized wedding in Washington. It was one of Lee’s first same-sex-wedding officiations under the new law. Earlier this month, he officiated his 25th this year.
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Washington’s same-sex-marriage law is approaching its own anniversary in December. As of June 30, the state Department of Health counted 3,748 same-sex marriages. During the law’s first four months, same-sex marriages made up 20 percent of the state’s 11,661 marriages of the same period.
Lee’s gone from about 50 weddings a year to his current 80 and estimates The Wedding Gentleman’s revenue has seen a 30 percent increase as a result.
Like with Lee’s business, Washington’s marriage spike should show up in increased tax revenues.
The Williams Institute at UCLA estimated that if 9,500 in-state same-sex couples marry in Washington in the next three years, they will boost the state’s economy by as much as $88 million and likely generate $8 million in state and local tax revenues.
But that’s just for in-state couples.
When the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was shot down in the federal courts in June, making Washington’s same-sex marriages federally recognized, Matt Landers, of the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA) says out-of-state people like Lee’s Texas family began appearing. The surge spurred the association to start offering its staff as volunteer witnesses to couples from out of town.
After several decades of being together, he says some couples just want a no-fuss way to make it legal. They just need a witness.
“They just come and say ‘Oh, don’t dress up, this is just the formal legality, we’ve already gotten married three different times in three different states in four different countries,’ ” Landers laughed. He’s sat in as a witness for a dozen out-of-towners since the program was launched in February.
Landers says the association has been working with the tourism sector since the law was first passed.
“We’ve done a lot of work with our tourism initiative promoting people coming in from out of state since it is fully legal and recognized by the federal government,” Landers said, speaking of the association’s Travel Gay Seattle Initiative which partners visitors with travel-related services in Seattle.
Seattle’s Edgewater Hotel raked in roughly $80,000 this year from the 15 same-sex weddings it’s hosted so far, according to the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, Sarah Kiepe.
The association also partners with The One Love Seattle, an annual showcase of wedding services catering specifically to same-sex couples.
The showcase began last year as an offshoot project of local wedding planner Jenny Harding, of New Chapter Weddings.
Since 2010, Sarah Qureshi and Bronwen Stevenson have operated Shotgun Ceremonies Wedding Chapel in Pioneer Square, where couples can say “I do” under a bullet shell-studded archway on the fly.
They say same-sex couples now make up roughly 50 percent of their clientele, and the business’s revenue has doubled in the last year.
While they won’t give exact numbers, earlier this year both Qureshi and Stevenson were able to quit the bartending gigs they’ve relied upon since opening the Las Vegas-style wedding service.
Seattle’s courthouse weddings have spiked as well.
“We’ve been down near the courthouse for 10 years and this is the first year we’ve noticed a lot more wedding traffic,” said Cathy Sheehan, owner of Seattle Flowers. This summer, Sheehan had same-sex couples from all over the country turn up in search of quick bouquets or boutonnieres before their afternoon courthouse weddings. It still happens a few times a week.
And while the out-of-state groups may diminish as more states adapt their own marriage laws, Landon’s confident couples will still flock to Washington to tie the knot.
“I suspect the first year there is certainly a long backlog because many of these couples have been waiting 20 or 30 years,” he said. “But we have couples from California and … other places that already have marriage equality and they still do see this as a prime destination for weddings.”
Alisa Reznick: 206-464-2195