PORTLAND, Maine — Kandis Stanley married her girlfriend Jen Gibson at Portland City Hall this week. Moments after the couple from Louisiana said, “I do,” they drove to Portland Head Light for nuptial photos.
With Maine’s oldest lighthouse as a backdrop, a lonesome foghorn sounding and cold winds whipping off the Atlantic, the two were frigid, underdressed — and beaming.
“We wouldn’t have done this anywhere else,” said Stanley, 33.
The couple could not marry in their home state, where same-sex marriage is illegal, but could have chosen 16 other places to tie the knot. Even during a brutal winter, Maine won out.
“The only other northeastern place we considered was New York City, but [we] ultimately went for Portland for the scenery and the downtown area,” said Stanley, a nurse.
Before boarding a flight back to New Orleans, the couple shelled out $1,500 for a photographer, hotel, meals, car rental and souvenirs like T-shirts and mugs from Becky’s Diner.
“We tried to mainly spend our money at locally owned businesses because we know from our own experiences how much that helps families and keeps the money in the local economy,” said Stanley.
Welcome to the gay wedding economy.
As the second season for same-sex weddings ramps up in the state, fiscal forecasts look strong.
Gay weddings are projected to add an estimated $7.9 million annually to state coffers, according to a report by the Williams Institute at UCLA. The 2009 study also estimated a likely $60 million boost in new spending on weddings and tourism.
Businesses like GayweddingsinMaine.com are ready.
The year-old online wedding directory has 450 vendors — from ministers to lighting companies to photographers — targeting this new slice of the wedding industry. Some are gay owned, all are gay-friendly.
“A lot of the vendors are proud of the fact that they are gay. Being gay for many years was not in vogue. It was something that people were afraid or ashamed of,” said Sid Tripp, who launched the site, produced by his Portland-based marketing company, Proactive Resources Design.
So far, the site has received 4 million page views. In a few weeks, it will relaunch as a full-service resource for gay weddings in Maine, offering travel tips, adoption advice and vignettes on couples who have wed in the state. At a recent networking event, Tripp held at the Cumberland Club, 70 to 80 vendors from Maine communities such as Naples, Mexico and Bar Harbor gathered.
“Love is love. We want to capture all types,” said Tricia Jamiol, a Windham photographer who last year launched a wedding-focused business with her partner, Christina Fay.
Shooting Stanley and Gibson’s ceremony this week, Jamiol was struck by Portland’s warm welcome to the out-of-towners. Though the couple, holding hands and iPhones in the city clerk’s office, were nervous, their experience could not have been more positive.
“I’m happy that couples are finding Maine and coming in from other states. It’s good for the economy,” said Jamiol. “People are recognizing how beautiful Maine is on the outside,” she said. And once they get here they are “accepted with open arms.”
Such tolerance is crucial to the new “I do” economy.
As anti-gay sentiment flares up in Arizona, Maine has more of an advantage than ever to seize gay destination weddings, according to Tripp.
“In the rest of the country, there is a big battle brewing with people who don’t want to deal with gay couples. When people go on this site, they know that these business are 100 percent gay friendly,” he said.
Florist Dan Kennedy, who owns three Portland flower companies, including Harmon’s & Barton’s on Congress Street, anticipates strong growth in his sector.
So far this year, he has eight gay weddings booked, while last March he had one.
Though gay couples typically spend less on weddings than their hetero counterparts, “it has opened up a whole new avenue and client base. It was something that wasn’t celebrated before, and it was being done behind closed doors,” said Kennedy. “Now people are more public.”
As same-sex marriages enter the mainstream economy, couples are ready to splash out.
“It’s not so new that it scares people,” said Kennedy, recalling last year’s tepid start. “They understand it more.”
And couples are willing to pay for it.
“Our limos, florists, restaurants, hotels are all profiting,” said Connie Mills of All in One Weddings in Brunswick. “Our bakeries love us.”
Mills, who for 10 years has booked, planned and officiated ceremonies up and down the coast, is excited for this new revenue stream. Last year, 18 percent of her business came from same-sex marriages.
She has wedded couples from Georgia, Florida, London and Spain. Factoring in travel, resort stays and honeymoons, a typical gay destination wedding can top $15,000.
“The out-of-state couples bring in the most money,” she said.
Last year, Maine played host to 1,689 same-sex weddings according to the state’s office of Data, Research and Vital Statistics. Tripp suspects that number to double or even triple “just from what I’m hearing from my vendors.”
Though all parts of New England have approved gay weddings, Maine is top of mind, say those in the industry. Factors include reasonable prices, a variety of locations to wed — from the mountains to the coast to the lakes — and an attitude of acceptance.
The fact that Rep. Mike Michaud, the likely 2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Maine, is gay also is a factor in couples choosing a destination to wed, according to Tripp.
“We have a gubernatorial candidate that feels comfortable saying ‘I’m running for governor, and by the way, I’m gay.’ That is a cue to all of the people that may be looking at Maine to get married,” said Tripp. “This is a very valuable industry to cater to.”
And Tripp, who devoted a year of time, energy and funneled $100,000 for his new site, is putting his money where his mouth is.
To be “marketing Maine gay weddings into the rest of the country is a worthwhile investment,” he said. “This is only going to grow. My company is betting on that.”