For five years the Pride gift shop in the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center has carried same-gender couple cake toppers for wedding cakes. Some of that merchandise has been on the shelves the whole five years. That all changed on Monday morning, October 6, 2014, when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the Oklahoma marriage equality lawsuit and similar lawsuits from other states. The Oklahoma case was on appeal from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Colorado, which had upheld U.S. District Judge Terence Kern’s January 14, 2014, decision striking down Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage. The minute the announcement was made that marriage licenses could be issued to same-sex couples at court clerk’s offices across the state, the phone calls started coming in on the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center’s LGBT helpline requesting cake toppers for gay weddings and officiants to perform the ceremonies.
Within 24 hours, hundreds of same-sex couples had been issued marriage licenses across the state, and the next wave of phone calls that came into the LGBT helpline was from newly married same-sex couples wanting to know if and when tag agencies and the Department of Motor Vehicles would be allowing name changes on Oklahoma driver’s licenses. The helpline went from an average of 126 phone calls every day to an average of 300 phone calls a day.
Things have settled down, and now the volume of calls is hovering around 200 calls a day, with a sizable portion being questions about officiants, venues for weddings, gay-friendly caterers, florists, jewelers, photographers, bakeries and honeymoon sites. No one wants to do business with a bigot. Just like any other couple getting married, same-sex couples want to spend their money for their special day with supportive and welcoming businesses.
At the time of this writing, the staff of Oklahomans for Equality have made contact with more than 32 court clerk’s offices across Oklahoma, assessing the volume of same-sex couples getting marriage licenses and confirming welcoming and inclusive officiants and locations. With around 2,300 same-sex marriage licenses already issued in those 32 counties, it is safe to say marriage equality possibly will have a recognizable economic impact over the next few months. If those 2,300 couples have spent around $300 each for the marriage licenses, officiant fees and some less-expensive wedding rings, that already comes in at close to $700,000 in less than 3 months for Oklahoma.
Last spring, before marriage equality had descended on Oklahoma, a prominent business owner who employs around 150 people and her female partner decided they wanted to get married after 23 years together. She sent me a wedding invitation and let me know that as a business owner she was very dismayed that she was spending money in a state other than her own. She confided that the wedding had cost her $88,000. Last month, my partner and I attended a wedding reception of a male couple who had married in New York last summer but whose marriage was now legally recognized in Oklahoma. I was told by the mother of one of the grooms that the couple had spent $54,000 on their special night.
Marriage Equality is here and now the law of the land in Oklahoma, and business leaders could expect it to generate in excess of $3 million over the next three years if each couple spent only $300 on the most basic wedding ceremony with the most affordable rings money can buy. A recent Williams Institute Study* estimates a windfall of over $20 million for the Oklahoma economy and almost $1.8 million in tax revenue alone. The study also predicts hundreds of new jobs in the wedding industry and lots of tourism dollars for family coming from out of state to celebrate the weddings of their Oklahoma gay relatives. I am inclined to predict a smaller financial impact because same-sex couples are still dealing with job security and income fall-out from the economic downturn in 2008. However, I would also recommend you might want to invest in some wedding industry businesses, because I forecast that business is going to be very good for the next several years.
Written by: Toby Jenkins, Executive Director, Oklahomans for Equality and the Dennis R Neill Equality Center
Oklahomans for Equality (OkEq) seeks equal rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) individuals and families through advocacy, education, programs, alliances, and the operation of the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center.