Maine's Tourism & Wedding Industries Predict Economic Boon
Thursday, November 15, 2012 5:32 AM
Maine, Maryland and Washington state made history on election day when gay marriage received the stamp of approval from the people with over 50 percent of the popular vote in each state. That brings to nine the number of states that legally sanction marriage between members of the same sex.
In Maine, 53 percent of the electorate voted to legalize gay marriage, reversing the 2009 referendum that banned it after Maine's Legislature had passed a gay marriage bill and Governor Baldacci had signed it into law earlier that year.
Maine's new law legalizing gay marriage will go into effect 30 days after Governor LePage and the Maine secretary of state officially certify the November 6 election results.
It should be in effect by January 1, according to those in the tourism industry.
Gay marriage more accepted in U.S. and Europe
The flip-flopping in Maine may be over. Nationwide, gay marriage is no longer the taboo it once was even four short years ago.
The nationwide trend has increasingly been to "live and let live" when it comes to gay marriage, with public acceptance of legalizing same-sex marriage rising 17 percent nationally over the past eight years, according to a Pew Research Center report released in July 2012. Approval rates rose among Independents, Republicans and Democrats, according to the study. Meanwhile, across the puddle, France is on the way to approving a same-sex marriage law, with a draft approved in the cabinet the same week as the U.S. elections, and the Spanish court upheld Spain's gay marriage law November 6.
Back in the U.S., however, the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act still stands, regardless of actions at the state level. That means that married gay couples will have the same legal rights in the nine states that have marriage equality laws but not in those that don't, and they have no protection under federal law, which will not recognize the validity of same-sex marriages performed in states or other countries where it is legal.
The U.S. Supreme Court and the Defense of Marriage Act
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide whether they will hear four cases testing the Defense of Marriage Act later this month and two more cases regarding gay marriage and benefits to domestic partners in California and Arizona. Analysts are not placing bets, at this point, on whether the court will be compelled to take another look at the Defense of Marriage Act, given the recent trends towards acceptance of same-sex unions and the fact that the Northeast now mostly has legalized same-sex marriage, or whether to let it continue to play itself out at the state level.
Wedding planners say it's an economic boon
Melanie Brooks, the editor of Real Maine Weddings, which has a circulation of 25,000 for the magazine, was enthusiastic about the new law.
"I think this is going to be awesome for the wedding business," said Brooks, who said interest has been growing even before the November 6 election. Since the election, she says new advertisers have approached her, including pastors and reverends who want to advertise their availability to unite same-sex couples.
She also plans an editorial feature about same-sex weddings in an upcoming issue.
"People like to get married in Maine, anyway," said Brooks. "Now, people can legally get married, and I?think they will. I?think this will be a great boon to the economy."
Brooks pointed to market research on weddings in Maine from a trade organization that tracks the economic impact, by state. Maine had just under 10,000 weddings in 2011 that were tracked by the research. On average, the cost of a wedding was $23,000 and, when additional lodging, travel, dining, and other purchases and services were factored in, $224 million was spent on wedding-related expenses in 2011, according to The Wedding Report, Inc.
"And that is only going to go up," said Brooks.
Greg Dugal, executive director of the Maine Innkeepers Association, said weddings are a huge part of the hotel business in Maine.
"Canadians and weddings saved the industry in Maine in 2009," said Dugal, referring to the economic recession that deflated spending nationwide. "The Canadians didn't get hit as hard as everyone else, and people still get married, no matter what."
The change in the law is likely to increase business, he said.
"You know those ads showing a hotel couple getting sued in Vermont because they wouldn't have a lesbian couple married at thier hotel? Well, this vote didn't change that in Maine," said Dugal. "It's already illegal to discriminate. You can't discriminate against someone who wants to stay in your hotel."Estimated economic impacts on state revenue
A UCLA School of Law/Williams Institute economic impact study estimates that approximately half of the same-sex couples who live in Maine, or about 2,300 couples, will get married in Maine in the first three years after it becomes legal to do so. The study estimates almost 16,000 out-of-state couples will travel to Maine to marry over the same time frame. Combined, that is an estimated 6,100 same-sex couples marrying in Maine per year.
Same-sex couples marrying in Maine would boost the state's revenue by $7.9 million a year, according to the researchers, who based their estimates on income tax revenues rising when couples file joint returns, sales tax rising due to wedding-related expenses, increased revenue from wedding licenses and a noticeable drop in public assistance expenses. On the negative column is a drop in estate tax revenue and real estate transfer taxes.
The research, which was conducted in 2009, found little impact, positive or negative, on the cost of state employee retirement benefits.
Multiplying the average cost of a Maine wedding ($23,000) by the estimated 6,100 same-sex couples that could marry in Maine the first year after gay marriage becomes legal yields a potential $140 million worth of extra business for Maine in 2013.
A large resort and a small inn predict more business
"Weddings are a big part of our business," said Connie Russell, general manager of the Samoset Resort in Rockport.
The average wedding at the Samoset involves 150 guests, and the resort offers full packages, including golf, rehearsal dinners, champagne breakfasts and more.
Russell expects the number of weddings to grow under the new law.
"We've already held ceremonies for same-sex couples," he said. "We haven't had any new requests this week, that I know of."
"The destination wedding is coming back, though," said Russell. "The more the merrier."
Vaughn Stinson, executive director of the Maine Tourism Association, agreed.
"I've been watching this evolve for a long time," said Stinson, referring to the same-sex marriage issue and how acceptance of equality has been growing.
"The economic impact of the new law is positive on the state of Maine," he said.
In Hallowell, Scott Cowger and Vincent Hannan, an openly gay couple who have eight guest rooms at the Maple Hill Farm Inn and Conference Center, said they have had three serious inquiries about booking gay weddings since the election last Tuesday.
Cowger estimates that the typical wedding they host has 100 people and costs around $10,000, but they have hosted weddings for as few as four people and as many as 300 in the summer.
"Right now, we do about 20 weddings a year," said Cowger. "We expect that we will no longer have gaps in our wedding schedule. There are a lot of people who have been waiting to get married, and I think we will see a lot of them in the next year or two."
The Camden Harbour Inn, a high-end establishment overlooking Camden harbor, is now offering a "Maine Is for ALL! Lovers" wedding package, starting at $15,960, based on double occupancy for 40 guests, with the inn making a donation to the Human Rights Campaign on behalf of the happy couple.
The package includes the usual amenities, champagne breakfast, four-course sit-down dinner, a cocktail reception, a toast and a rainbow wedding cake.