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Same-Sex Marriage Anniversary An Economic Boost For Washington

New Chapter Weddings/Malcolm Smith
Kevin Fullen and Myke Smith, of Renton, were customers of wedding planner Jenny Harding. In the last year she has seen a boom in same-sex marriages.

Before gay marriage was legalized in Washington state, wedding planner Jenny Harding organized about two same-sex weddings a year.

Last year? Sixteen. Three were out of state, from California, Oregon and Vermont (where same-sex marriage is also legal).

These couples are spending big bucks in Washington, Harding said. “The average wedding budget is $35,000 to $40,000. That’s a lot of money being pumped into not just the wedding industry here but also the hotels, the restaurants.”

Gay marriage has been legal in Washington state for a year, since Dec. 6, 2012. Licenses were handed out that day, but marriages didn’t take place until three days later – after the required waiting period.

Now gay weddings make up 17 percent of all weddings in Washington state. In Clark County, across the border from Oregon where gay marriage is not legal, a third of the couples applying for licenses are gay.

Harding started her wedding planning business New Chapter Weddings in 2004 and is the founder of One Love Seattle, a wedding showcase event that features gay couples heavily on its website.

“As a lesbian myself – and now I’m in the midst of actually planning my own wedding with my partner – we want to be treated just like the next couple, straight or gay,” Harding said.

Some of the weddings she plans go all the way up to $100,000. Plus, when it’s a destination wedding to Seattle, that’s even the happy couple paying for a hotel room, not to mention every single one of the guests who are part of their big day.

One thing she said these weddings are not? Alternative.

Harding said nothing about the ceremony or event sets gay weddings apart from straight weddings. She said some couples, straight or gay, will toss a bouquet and dance the first dance – and some won’t.

“Each wedding is unique to each couple and that’s what should be celebrated,” she said.

Harding said she found her work last summer especially fulfilling.

“I found myself crying at more weddings this year than past years,” she said. “These couples waited 22 years, 19 years, 11 years to be married. That type of commitment and strength those couples had. It really came through in the wedding and celebration.”