Vickroy: Same-sex marriage law could be boon to wedding vendors
By Donna Vickroy firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @dvickroy January 18, 2013 4:12PM
Aimee Bachmann, owner and designer, holds larkspur at Windy City Flower Girls Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, at 5419 W. 95th St. in Oak Lawn. Local wedding businesses may prosper from passage of the gay marriage law. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 21, 2013 6:16AM
At a Tinley Park wedding show in early January, Creative Cakes bakery raffled off a wedding cake valued at $750.
Jim Hickey and David Blatzheim won.
“It’s a huge savings,” Blatzheim said.
The Evergreen Park couple are in the throes of planning an elaborate ceremony and reception to celebrate their civil union. Some 130 guests will be invited to the Chateau Bu-Sche in Alsip for the October event.
If Illinois’ proposed marriage law passes in the meantime, Blatzheim said, things will continue according to plan, but they may tweak the text on their ceremony programs.
“We’re calling it a wedding, regardless,” Blatzheim said.
There may be a trend in the making.
“It’s coming,” said Cheryl Hooten, an ordained wedding officiant in Saugatuck, Mich. About half of the weddings she officiates are same-sex couples from the Chicago area.
“The same-sex marriage bill is near passing (in Illinois) and when it does, those vendors who aren’t ready will miss out,” she said.
The passage of similar laws in nine other states has opened up a lot of economic opportunity, Hooten said, beginning with the wedding business.
Since Illinois began giving out civil union licenses 18 months ago, more than 3,000 have been issued to same-sex couples in Cook County, said Courtney Greve, a spokeswoman for Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office.
A bill allowing same-sex marriage already passed the Illinois Senate Executive Committee. Advocates say it is only a matter of time before the bill becomes law.
That’s a potential boon for businesses that provide wedding cakes, flowers, entertainment and venues.
“We’d love it,” said Amy Coghill, director of banquets and weddings at Silver Lake Country Club in Orland Park.
“It’s about time,” Coghill said. “And we would love to have another market.”
At Windy City Flower Girls in Oak Lawn, owner Aimee Bachmann said, “There are a lot of gay people in the floral industry. It’s nothing new to us.”
Bachmann said she welcomes the prospect, as stereotypic as it might be, of being able to service a more unconventional, perhaps more creative wedding ceremony and celebration.
“If my gay friends got married right now, their ceremony would be really awesome and over the top,” she said. “Creative people would love the chance to work with those kinds of events.”
The industry trend, even among traditional couples, has been away from tried-and-true ceremonies anyway, Bachmann said.
“A good half of the weddings we service do not take place in a church,” she said.
Marrying someone of a different faith, church restrictions or inconvenient schedules are among the many reasons many decide to exchange vows at city hall, at the hall where they’ll hold their reception or in some other nonreligious location, Bachmann said. And she’s hardly alone in that observation.
Beth Fahey said she also has noticed that about half of the couples for whom her bake shop supplies wedding cakes do not get married in a church.
Fahey, who co-owns Creative Cakes with her sister, Becky Palermo, said they welcome the addition of same-sex couples into the wedding arena.
“We’re definitely hopeful for more tolerance, especially in the Southland, which tends to not be as open as some other communities,” she said.
Fahey and Palermo have a half-sister who is gay, so there has never been an issue with the topic in their minds. But Fahey acknowledges others may not be so open minded.
“I really wonder how people in this business who believe gay marriage is against their religion will be able to reconcile this,” Fahey said.
No doubt, some do that by turning same-sex couples away.
Fahey said, “Gay people have asked, ‘Do you deal with gays?’ because they’ve had bad experiences with other vendors. People have hung up on them.”
Nevertheless, Fahey said, those in the wedding industry in Illinois need to prepare.
“We have to retrain ourselves for the standard interview process, we need to rework the language on contracts,” she said. “No more assuming there’s a bride and a groom. We can’t go on assumptions anymore and we don’t want to. We don’t want to offend anyone.”
Sam Carlson has been servicing same-sex couples’ celebrations since he started in the formalwear business 38 years ago.
The general manager of Black Tie Formalwear, which has 11 locations including one in Oak Lawn, said, “It’s a good thing. The potential is huge.”
Carlson said should the law pass any time soon, the industry might even experience a rush, given how long many same-sex couples have waited for the opportunity.
As exciting as the financial boom may be for wedding vendors, Carlson said, the real plus comes in the recognition, both by society and the legal system, that a couple are committed to each other.
“Things like home ownership and health insurance benefits,” he said. “Those are things that matter more than a wedding celebration.”
Blatzheim said that a civil union ensures rights at the state level but for same-sex couples to enjoy all of the same privileges and responsibilities that traditional couples do, including Social Security and federal tax benefits, a federal law must be passed.
Last week, Hickey, a CT technician at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, and Blatzheim, a radiology student at Joliet Junior College, stopped in at Creative Cakes to design their wedding cake.
The guys, referred to as “groom 1” and “groom 2” in their cake contract, chose a multitiered creation with pillars and lots of swirls.
“It’s going to be great,” Blatzheim said.
Hickey said they are not offended by the current assumptions that every union consists of a bride and a groom.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” Blatzheim said. “Most people are eager to make adjustments in the contracts. Most people have a really good attitude about it.”