Today, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued a ruling overturning the federal portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a discriminatory federal law which prevents same-sex marriage from being recognized by both the federal government and individual states where it’s not legal. They also declined to rule on a case challenging Proposition 8, the discriminatory ballot initiative which banned same-sex marriage in California after 18,000 couples legally married. What does this mean?
I'm sure everyone has been aware, by now, of the major Chik-Fil-A controversy here in the U.S. Basically, the company has very conservative values and donates large sums of marriage to organizations that are anti-LGBT (not just marriage, but anti-LGBT basic civil rights).
This Business Week article is brilliant, as it interviews the Mormon CEO of Marriott, also a very conservative man, who does not let his personal beliefs affect his company's actions.
Washington State became the seventh U.S. state (plus D.C.) to legalize gay marriage on Monday when Governor Gregoire signed the marriage equality bill into law. This is very exciting and you should definitely get your business ready. Opponents of marriage equality still may try to stop it from going into effect on June 7 - so the matter is not yet settled - but this is a huge step forward. Go forth and prosper!
A few weeks ago, the Huffington Post invited me to be a new blogger on their site, which now has a weddings section. I eagerly jumped at the opportunity and my first post appeared today! I wrote about "what's the difference between a straight and a gay wedding?" because I'm literally asked that question all the time.
Check out my thoughts on their site (and please leave a comment at the bottom of the post).
The thing I want to clear up is that Illinois (and Hawaii and Delaware and New Jersey) actually wasn't approved for same-sex marriages. Not at all. They approved civil unions.
Civil unions are great. They are progress towards equal rights and protections for same-sex couples. They have been around since 2000 when Vermont first created the institution of civil unions. The thing about civil unions, though, is that they are a state law, meaning no access to the 1000+ federal benefits (ie. social security) that come with marriage. They are essentially the same thing as statewide domestic partnership coverage, which is what states like California and Washington offer. But they are a made-up term because politicians are afraid of using the term marriage, which many Americans are sensitive about and perceive as a religious institution.
In the UK and Ireland, there is a civil partnership law which offers all the rights of marriage. Civil partnership is different from civil unions in one critical way: it's a federal law with federal rights. That means that it's not a county by county decision over there. Civil partnership is still a made up term because politicians are afraid of using the term marriage - but the rights are federally issued.
Same-sex couples appreciate civil unions. But they also know that they are a cop-out, made-up term and many hold out for the real deal: marriage. So will your business see a spike if you promote your services for couples seeking a civil union? Absolutely. Will the spike be as great as it would be if your state legalized marriage? Absolutely not.
A few things have come up with these guys:
1) They wanted to be married in an Episcopal church. Episcopal churches only marry same-sex couples in one place in the United States, Eastern Massachusetts. So the grooms had to find another officiant.
2) One of the grooms "came out" to his family via his wedding invitation. Some family members had previously not known he was gay.
3) They wanted to run a wedding announcement in the local paper and were denied because the paper doesn't run same-sex wedding announcements.
4) One of the grooms is from Venezuela and can't get a green card through this marriage because of DOMA.
One wedding, four big issues that Kate and her team had to deal with, none of which would ever come up with a straight wedding. So yes, planning a gay wedding is different and if you are a planner (or a venue, or caterer) and want to reach this market, you must be prepared to understand these issues and be your client's advocate.
Have you had any similar experiences when working with same-sex couples?
What does the California's judge's ruling against Proposition 8 mean for your wedding business?
Right now, it doesn't mean anything. To be honest, while this is a big victory, this ruling will be appealed and the case is very likely to end up at the U.S. Supreme Court. A year or two before there's any final decision and even then, marriage equality victory is not guaranteed. This CNN article explains the next steps for Proposition 8.
I'm just being realistic. In the meantime, there are lots of things you can do to prepare your business:
- start volunteering for Equality California or whichever marriage equality organization exists in your state
- neutralize the language on your website, marketing materials and contract materials
- identify images and graphics which are less obviously bride-and-groom for your marketing materials
- familiarize yourself with some gay wedding traditions
- attend one of my upcoming workshops
In the U.S.:
- President Obama issued a mandate which requires hospitals to extend visitation and decision-making rights to the partners of gay men and lesbians. This right is something all straight married couples have, but because of DOMA, has been denied same-sex couples. This mandate is a REALLY big deal!
- Social Security benefits are still not offered to same sex-couples, however, and there was a protest to this effect last week in LA. This kicks off a national campaign challenging this policy.
- A new proposition to overturn Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California (though a ballot initiative), failed to get enough support to appear on the 2010 ballot. Another attempt will be made in 2012 and there's still an active legal challenge to Proposition 8.
- A judge in Argentina has annulled the country's first same-sex marriage, although the grooms promise to appeal the decision. Another same-sex couples in Argentina married this month and their status is now in jeopardy.
- Three same-sex couples in Italy filed a lawsuit to get married which was rejected by a judge this week.
In the U.S.
- New Jersey lawmakers are attempting to stop a court from hearing a case challenging existing civil unions as separate and unequal. That case is the latest attempt to pave the way for gay marriage in New Jersey.
- Iowa's had gay marriage now for one year and the sky has not fallen. As of the end of 2009, 1773 same-sex couples married, with over 1000 from non-Iowa residents. Illinois alone had 172 same-sex couples marry in Iowa, followed by Missouri, Nebraska and Minnesota. Despite opposition by Republican gubernatorial candidates, same-sex marriage appears secure in Iowa for the time being.
- The majority of Californians recently polled now support same-sex marriage. California had gay marriage for six months before its repeal after a ballot initiative in 2008.
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