Gay wedding business vanishes in California

(Reprinted from the Herald Tribune)

SAN FRANCISCO: A week before Election Day, Christopher Burnett's floral shop filled an order for one of the many same-sex weddings he has worked in the last five months: eight corsages, a dozen boutonnieres and two bouquets for the two brides, each with three dozen roses.

Now, Burnett said, since voter approval Tuesday of Proposition 8, which amended the state's Constitution to recognize marriages only between men and women, that type of business is gone.

"I have done a gay wedding every week," he said. "And so it's very disheartening, because other business is very slow."

Even as opponents of the measure officially conceded defeat on Thursday, California business owners - particularly those in the marriage business - were trying to determine how many wedding cakes would go unsold and how many tuxedos unrented.

Arturo Cobos, a manager at Kard Zone in the city's traditionally gay Castro neighborhood, said he had done "big sales" of same-sex wedding cards and other trinkets since marriages began in June, but had recently stopped stocking new goods.

"We were afraid that they would pass Proposition 8," Cobos said, "and that's exactly what happened."

In Palm Springs, another gay-friendly city, Mayor Steve Pougnet said he had performed 115 same-sex weddings since June, when such ceremonies began, some of which had as many as 180 guests. By contrast, this week the city has canceled eight planned ceremonies.

"That's a huge economic impact, which is gone in these difficult economic times," said Pougnet, who is openly gay and married his partner in September.

Another mayor, Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, was blunt.

"It's a great day for Massachusetts," Newsom said, referring to one of only two remaining states to allow same-sex marriage. The other, Connecticut, legalized such unions in October.

The approval of Proposition 8 comes even as the state is suffering another bout of bad economic news. On Thursday, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who opposed Proposition 8, in part on economic grounds, announced that the state's budget deficit had already swelled to $11.2 billion for the coming year, and he called the Legislature back into session and proposed higher taxes to address the budget problems.

David Paisley, a San Francisco-based marketing executive with a specialty in gay tourism, said California had four of the nation's top 10 destinations for gay travelers: San Francisco, Palm Springs, Los Angeles and San Diego.

Paisley said that it was too early to speculate on the exact economic impact of Proposition 8, but that some public relations damage might have already been done.

"California has always been perceived on the vanguard of gay-friendly destinations," he said. "Well, when a ballot measure passes says it's not, it's terrible publicity for gay and lesbian tourism."

Frank Schubert, the campaign manager for Protect Marriage, the leading group behind Proposition 8, said any potential impact, or the specter of bad press, was overstated.

"This is an issue of restoring the institution of marriage as it always existed," said Schubert, noting that same-sex marriage had only briefly been legal. "I can't imagine that returning to the history of 4,000 years before that is going to cause an economic upheaval."

In June, the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, which studies sexual orientation and the law, estimated that legalizing same-sex ceremonies in the state would result in about $63.8 million in government tax and fee revenue over three years.

Several civil rights and gay rights groups said Thursday that they had asked the State Supreme Court, which legalized same-sex marriage in May, to bar the carrying out of Proposition 8, which went into effect as soon as the result of the referendum was known. San Francisco tourism officials, meanwhile, said they would continue to push the city as a destination for "commitment ceremonies and other celebrations of partnership."

All of which gave a small measure of hope to merchants like Burnett, who said he would miss the extra work. "Unless," he said, "we get gay marriages back."


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