Business

NC businesses look to help same-sex couples plan weddings

Decorators Kyle Starr, left, and Leann Gilliam work on birthday cakes Thursday at Edible Art Bakery & Dessert Cafe in Raleigh. Owner Todd Mozingo says he hasn’t yet seen a flood of orders as a result of same-sex marriage now being legal. He says he expects inquiries to rise as court appeals are exhausted.
Decorators Kyle Starr, left, and Leann Gilliam work on birthday cakes Thursday at Edible Art Bakery & Dessert Cafe in Raleigh. Owner Todd Mozingo says he hasn’t yet seen a flood of orders as a result of same-sex marriage now being legal. He says he expects inquiries to rise as court appeals are exhausted. ehyman@newsobserver.com

Like most brides, Kacey Paige is finding all the details of planning a wedding stressful.

“I want it perfect,” said Paige, 24. “I feel like I am just overwhelming myself with it all.”

Unlike most brides, however, Paige is struggling to find decorations that say “Mrs. and Mrs.,” and admits it might be a little awkward, if not a little terrifying, to confess their love in front of their families.

“For us to have been together for so long and to be so open, we are not so open in front of family,” said Paige, who has been dating fiancée Tiffany High, 31, for four years.

Paige and High, both of Raleigh, are among the 9,155 same-sex couples in the state expected to get married in the next three years, pumping an estimated $64.4 million into the state economy, according to the Williams Institute, a national think tank on sexual orientation and gender law and public policy based at University of California, Los Angeles law school.

While the $64.4 million figure only includes direct spending on weddings and lodging, other areas of the state’s economy could see a boost as same-sex couples add spouses to their job benefits packages, consult with attorneys for advice and decide to raise their families in North Carolina instead of moving to another state or country that recognizes their legal partnerships.

A 2009 Williams Institute report estimated that same-sex marriage in Massachusetts led to a $111 million economic infusion in the first five years that such unions were allowed. In the first year that gay marriage was allowed in New York, it boosted New York City’s economy by $259.5 million, according to a 2012 report by NYC & Co.

On Wednesday, High and Paige sat outside at a Starbucks on Capital Boulevard, laying out all their plans to the owners of Durham-based wedding planning company Lez Get Married.

Lia Sanchez and Derek McManaman started Lez Get Married about six months ago. Calls and emails didn’t start coming in until after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to take up appeals challenging lower court rulings overturning gay marriage bans.

“We had three couples make consultation appointments,” Sanchez said, in addition to many email inquiries and new social media contacts and lots of vendors reaching out to discuss partnerships.

The Williams Institute estimates that couples will spend $5,535 per wedding, one-quarter the amount different-sex couples spend on average on arrangements in North Carolina.

Paige, who works at a call center for First Citizens Bank, and High, a senior studying writing at Full Sail University, expect to invite 50 guests and to spend about $4,200 on food, beverages and the venue.

They plan to spend up to $3,000 more on details, such as flowers, a cake, a photographer and a limousine to get them to and from the wedding “with a little bit of class,” Paige said.

Good timing

Paige found Lez Get Married on a list of wedding vendors that Equality NC, a gay rights advocacy group, quickly pulled together so couples could skip the step of feeling a business out to see whether it will provide services to same-sex couples.

It is a good time to be in the wedding business in North Carolina, said Jen Jones, a spokeswoman for Equality NC. The hundreds of couples who have sought same-sex marriage licenses since Oct. 10 will transition into customers seeking services for more formal celebrations, Jones said. Equality NC is no longer adding to their initial list, but vendors that want to provide same-sex services should reach out the organization using social media, Jones said.

In addition to wedding vendors, couples are turning to family, real estate and other attorneys for advice.

Todd Mozingo, 37, owner of Edible Art Bakery & Dessert Café in Raleigh, said the law hasn’t translated into a flood of orders “yet.”

The bakery has received one impromptu order and is getting more and more inquiries on cakes that can range from $50 to $2,500. Mozingo said he expects inquiries to increase over time after state court appeals are exhausted.

In general, Mozingo said, couples have been ordering cakes to celebrate same-sex weddings long before it was legal.

“Just in the last month, I can recall two,” he said.

Noreen Fagan, 52 and Tamara Fetters, 50, both of Ottawa, Canada, visited the state this month planning a June wedding in which they will invite about 150 guests.

Returning home

The couple, who have been together for 17 years and have two boys ages 25 and 22, lived in Carrboro for eight years. They moved to Canada in 2008, which allowed them to immigrate as domestic partners.

The couple recently decided to move their wedding from Canada to a farm in northern Chatham County.

“Most of our friends are here, and we never would have left Carrboro if same-sex partnerships were recognized,” Fagan said. “We are just coming back to a place that we loved being in.”

Back at Starbucks, Sanchez is going down her checklist of wedding to dos. When will Paige and High get their license? What will they wear? What do you want from Lez Get Married?

High and Paige were legally married Thursday morning.

While they will tell people they are married, and apply for related benefits from Paige’s company, they will celebrate the union with family and friends in a ceremony at Caffé Luna the last Sunday in December.

Paige found a $700 wedding dress that she got for $190.

“It’s gorgeous,” she said.

Now, she just has to worry about High, who admits she will probably wait until the last minute to get a suit.

Paige called Lez Get Married because she wants someone to oversee everything the day of the wedding.

“I want her to get herself together, me to get myself together, and us just be able to go,” Paige said.

For years, Sanchez and McManaman, both of Durham, had been on the hunt for a small-business idea.

In December, Sanchez, 24, dropped out of the graduate school chemistry program at Duke University after she realized she hated being in a lab. Then, she started working as a nanny.

‘Aha!’ moment

About six months ago, McManaman, 32, who works in sales for Gatorade, had an “aha” moment while getting ready for work. She ran downstairs to Sanchez and said they should be gay wedding planners.

“I was just like, ‘Oh my God, you are right,’ ” Sanchez said.

They sought trademark protection and created a website and social media accounts. They initially planned to target couples in North Carolina and New Mexico, where Sanchez grew up and same-sex marriage was already legal.

They set up a booth at the annual N.C. Pride Parade and Festival in Durham on Sept. 26.

People loved the idea but said “if only it was legal,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez was on her way out of town Oct. 10, when she learned same-sex couples could get married in the state.

“I was so excited,” Sanchez said. “I just cried.”

Now the couple are not only considering getting married in North Carolina, versus New Mexico, but staying here as well.

Sanchez and McManaman, who got engaged last month, are in the process of adopting McManaman’s 10-year-old niece, who plugged away at her homework during the consultation at Starbucks.

“We can raise a family here,” Sanchez said.

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