Michael Watts darted from his home in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood on June 24 to the nearby Stonewall Inn, birthplace of the gay-rights movement, to celebrate New York’s legalization of gay marriage. The next day, he tripled the advertising budget of his catering business.
“Congratulations New York! It’s time to start planning,” read the ads that Watts, 39, placed in three gay-oriented publications for Cocktail Caterers, the company he founded in 2005 with his domestic partner, Kurt Kretzschmar. Their decision paid off: The company has received 10 inquiries to feed nuptial guests in the past 10 days, up from three in all of 2010, Watts said in an interview.
Watts is one of dozens of gay business leaders hoping to capitalize on the emerging market for same-sex weddings in New York state, which begin July 24, said Justin Nelson, president of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Gay couples are turning first to their peers in the hunt for florists, event planners and caterers, he said.
“I call them the ‘ma and ma’ and the ‘pa and pa’ shops,” Nelson said in a telephone interview from Washington. “From the standpoint of solidarity, we’ve been through the fire together and we want to be supportive of those who have been in the trenches with us.”
New York is the sixth and most populous U.S. state to grant same-sex couples the right to wed, a move championed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The victory for gay-rights advocates more than doubled the number of Americans free to marry either gender to 35 million.
New York stands to reap $310 million in revenue in the next three years from license fees, taxes and tourism, according to a May report from the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of four state senators.
Cocktail Caterers is one of only 231 businesses in the U.S. and 48 in New York to be certified as at least 51 percent owned and operated by a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community by the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Certification provides a competitive advantage and ensures clients they won’t be discriminated against or judged, Watts said.
In June 1969 a police raid on the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York’s Greenwich Village resulted in a spontaneous revolt. Gay men and lesbians threw beer cans and other projectiles at officers, who responded with beatings and arrests. The next week 1,000 protesters returned to the site, and a movement was born.
“Being gay this time around has worked to our advantage,” Watts said.
The not-for-profit chamber is the largest LGBT business development and economic advocacy organization in the world, with more than 29,000 members, 130 corporate partners and 62 local, state and international affiliate chambers. Richard Oceguera, the New York chapter’s president, said a brainstorming session planned for next month will help members in the wedding industry to benefit from the boom in gay vows.
Couples in New York City eager to take advantage of the new law as soon as it takes effect will find clerks’ offices in the five boroughs open for extended hours the week beginning Sunday, July 24. Officials will wed on the first day a record 764 couples chosen through a lottery. The previous record was set on Valentine’s Day in 2003, when 621 couples were married.
Not Enough Time
Bernadette Smith, 34, who says she became the first gay-wedding planner in the country in 2004 after Massachusetts legalized the practice, said 2012 will be a bigger year for her business because there’s not enough time to plan a gala this year.
“Couples who have been waiting a long time are not going to just throw something together, especially since the law feels fairly secure,” said Smith, who is moving her wife, son and company, 14 Stories, to New York from Boston in September.
Inquiries have increased 300 percent since New York’s law passed, said Smith, who organizes about 50 weddings per year and unveiled a $3,800 elopement package to New York City this month. Small venues such as restaurants, boutique hotels and vacation properties are likely to prosper from the initial wave of ceremonies, she said.
Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as does the District of Columbia, according to the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign. New York and Maryland recognize such marriages from other jurisdictions. New York, the nation’s third most-populous state, has 19.4 million residents.
The websites www.lesbianweddingvideo.com and www.queerweddingvideo.net are among Internet domains Lesli Klainberg spent $500 registering in the past two weeks for her nascent business. She’s begun recruiting cameramen, editors, an investor and a website designer for the new venture, which will build upon Orchard Films, the documentary production company she runs out of a loft office in Brooklyn.
Klainberg, 47, said she and her partner of 19 years, Jane Wheeler, haven’t decided whether they’ll have a ceremony of their own to document.
“Our kids think of us as married, and we think of ourselves as emotionally married, so we haven’t been waiting for this -- we went on with our lives,” she said. “Still, it’s hard to express what it means to all of a sudden have rights.”