Same-sex couples planning for their wedding don’t want their excitement pierced by the pain of being rejected by a venue, florist or photographer, all who have a legal right in Utah to refuse to serve a gay couple.
That’s why hundreds of people will come to Pierpont Place in downtown Salt Lake City the first Sunday of April for the 2017 Utah Gay & Lesbian Wedding Expo. The expo, produced by QSaltLake and UtahGayWeddings.com will help connect couples with businesses who want to make it known they’re open to doing same-sex weddings.
Last year, a string quartet played on one side of the exhibit hall and pop music on the other side, and gay and lesbian couples chatted with businesses showing off fancy wedding cakes, fun photo booths and elaborate floral arrangements.
Karl Jennings and Chris Marrano were looking for a cake baker and photographer for their June 2016 wedding. A straight friend helped them make wedding plans by calling ahead to businesses to make sure they’ll do a gay wedding. The expo helped them finish their plans.
“We know that whoever is here isn’t going to turn us away because we’re gay,” Jennings told the Associated Press. “It’s very relaxing and makes you want to give people business here. I want support people who want to support us.”
Utah is one of 29 states where it is legal for businesses to refuse services to same-sex couples, according to the Human Rights Campaign. A proposal to change that law died last year in the Utah’s Republican-controlled legislature. There are no estimates of how often it happens, but most gay couples know somebody who has been rejected.
This will be the third expo. The first was held before same-sex marriage was even legal in the state. At that time, it was common for people to travel to a state to marry, and return to celebrate with family and friends.
For wedding-related businesses, gay marriages represent a growth market. Gaining a toehold requires spreading the word you’re open to LGBT weddings — and not just doing it for the money, said Annie Munk, who along with her wife Nicole Broberg rents photo booths for weddings.
“Couples need to feel comfortable with the person they’re working with and know that’s not going to be any judgment, or awkwardness or whispering behind the counter,” said Munk, owner of Utah Party Pix.
As of last June, Gallup reported nearly a million Americans were in same-sex marriages. Also last June, the Williams Institute released a report saying weddings by same-sex couples generated an estimated $1.58 billion boost to the national economy, and $102 million in state and local sales tax revenue in the first year of marriage equality.
The LGBT population has an estimated buying power of $884 billion annually, according to a report from Witeck Communications and the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
The rise of gay wedding expos, which have been around for more than a decade, is reflective of corporate America’s expanding embrace of the LGBT market, said Beck Bailey of the Human Rights Campaign.
U.S. News & World Report last year reported, “The Salt Lake City expo marked another step into the public sphere for an LGBT community in Utah that was relegated to the shadows, due in large part to a conservative culture rooted in a Mormon faith that teaches its members that acting on homosexual attraction is a sin.”
“Having an event like this out in the open shows how much we’ve changed,” said Sophia Hawes-Tingey, a transgender advocate representing the Utah Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. “Six years ago, there would have been a lot of public complaints. I haven’t heard one at all this time.”
Utah Gay & Lesbian Wedding Expo
Sunday, April 2, Noon to 5pm
163 W Pierpont Ave, Salt Lake City
For more information on attending, exhibiting or sponsoring the event, go to UtahGayWeddingExpo.com