May 16, 2013 at 3:09 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Businesses look to cash in on Del. marriage law
Rehoboth Beach, Flair!, Chris Beagle, Eric Engelhart, gay news, Washington Blade

Rehoboth Beach residents Chris Beagle and Eric Engelhart, owners of event planning company Flair!, on the beach last September following their civil union. (Photo courtesy of the couple)

Rehoboth Beach business owners are preparing for an expected increase in wedding-related business once Delaware’s same-sex marriage law takes effect on July 1.

CAMP Rehoboth Executive Director Steve Elkins told the Washington Blade his organization’s wedding space is already booked into next year. He also noted the latest issue of CAMP Rehoboth’s newsletter has full-page ads from local jewelers that “are all about wedding rings.”

“People are looking for the opportunities,” Elkins said.

Chris Beagle, a Realtor who co-owns the event planning company Flair! with his partner of more than 23 years, Eric Engelhart, noted he saw an increase in inquiries from gay and lesbian couples in the months after Delaware’s civil unions bill took effect in January 2012. He told the Blade he expects the same interest in weddings once the state’s same-sex marriage law takes effect.

“I suspect we will see more in the next few months,” Beagle said. “I’m certain there is a segment of the population that feels more strongly about marriage than a civil union.”

Gov. Jack Markell on May 7 signed his state’s same-sex marriage bill into law after the state Senate approved it by a 12-9 vote margin.

Gays and lesbians can currently marry in neighboring Maryland and eight other states and in D.C.

Same-sex marriage laws in Minnesota and Rhode Island will take effect on Aug. 1 after Govs. Mark Dayton and Lincoln Chafee signed their respective state’s bills into law. The Illinois House of Representatives in the coming weeks is expected to consider a measure that would allow nuptials for gays and lesbians in the Land of Lincoln.

Same-sex marriage opponents continue to highlight several cases of business owners who have faced lawsuits because they refused to provide services to same-sex couples who seek to tie the knot. These include Barronelle Stutzman, a Richland, Wash., florist whom state Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued last month after she would not sell flowers to a gay couple for their wedding.

The Alliance Defending Freedom continues to represent Elaine Huguenin, a New Mexico photographer against whom a lesbian couple filed a complaint with the state’s Human Rights Commission after she refused to photograph their commitment ceremony based on what she described as her religious beliefs. The Arizona-based organization also defended owners of the Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville, Vt., whom two New York women sued after they refused to host their wedding reception.

The innkeepers last August paid $10,000 to the Vermont Human Rights Commission and placed $20,000 in a charitable trust to settle the couple’s lawsuit.

The Williams Institute said after Markell signed his state’s same-sex marriage bill into law that nuptials for gays and lesbians could generate an additional $7 million for Delaware’s economy. It added same-sex marriage could generate an estimated 36 jobs in the state.

“Those states that have approved same-sex marriage are already seeing positive economic benefits,” Williams Institute Research Director M.V. Lee Badgett said. “As Delaware becomes the 11th state to extend marriage to same-sex couples, they will begin to see the economic benefits that other states are experiencing.”

Carol Everhart, president of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce, said she has not seen an increase in wedding-related inquiries since Markell signed the same-sex marriage bill, but stressed it is “possible.”

Beagle noted the growing momentum in support of nuptials for gays and lesbians across the country has become increasingly difficult for wedding-related businesses to ignore.

“Three states have passed it in 10 days,” he said. “I think forward-thinking businesses are seeing it as an opportunity.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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