Gay-friendly wedding vendors positioned to profit as market develops
Anastasia Wojda knew what she didn't want in a wedding gown: no strapless designs, no ruching, no sparkles.
Things changed in January when Wojda went to Bridal Beginning in Mt. Lebanon, where she bought a blinged-out, strapless gown.
“It's got Swarovski crystals on the bodice. I feel like Liz Taylor in it,” said Wojda, 47, of Green Tree.
A bridal consultant made Wojda feel at ease enough to step out of her fashion comfort zone, and no one in the shop gave a second thought to the fact that Wojda's fiancée is a woman, she said.
“They didn't blink an eye,” said Wojda, who is engaged to be married in May. In fact, none of the vendors made it an issue, although some were more welcoming than others, she said.
Bakeries, caterers, hotels, event planners and other businesses commonly patronized for weddings say they welcome same-sex wedding clientele but haven't noticed a significant increase since Pennsylvania legally recognized same-sex marriage in May 2014. The U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationally in June.
There is big money to be made from weddings, but gay rights advocates and marketing experts say businesses that don't specifically target same-sex couples with marketing won't reap as many benefits as those that do.
“If you're not reaching out to the (gay) community, how do they know they're welcome?” said Christine Bryan, spokeswoman for the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh, a Downtown-based an LGBT advocacy group.
The average cost of a heterosexual wedding was $32,359 in Pittsburgh and $31,213 nationally in 2014, according to The Knot, a New York-based wedding resource. The average cost of a same-sex wedding is $15,992 for men and $13,055 for women.
‘Like any other couple'
Wedding-related businesses marketing themselves as gay-friendly could do so with literature featuring gay couples, advertising on wedding websites as “gay-friendly” vendors, and supporting community events that advocate for gay rights, marketing experts said.
The Downtown-based Omni William Penn Hotel has a wedding brochure geared toward same-sex couples, said Bob Page, director of sales and marketing. The Omni and a sister property, Omni Bedford Springs Resort, shared a sponsorship of the Pittsburgh Pride event last year.
Of the 85 weddings the North Side-based Priory Hospitality Group hosted last year, one was for a same-sex couple, President John Graf said. The group owns the Priory Hotel; the adjacent Grand Hall at the Priory, which is a banquet facility; and Priory Fine Pastries, which sells wedding cakes.
“It's a market that we're actively trying to develop and educate ourselves in,” Graf said.
In the fall, the company's senior catering manager completed an online course with the Chicago-based Gay Wedding Institute, which was founded in 2010 and offers live and webinar courses on how wedding businesses can attract and serve same-sex couples.
“We just wanted to make sure that we were handling our same-sex clients with an appropriate level of sensitivity,” Graf said.
That includes taking care with nomenclature and asking the right questions, such as who proceeds down the aisle first and who stands by the altar, he said.
Several businesses said they aren't marketing specifically to gay couples but get business through word-of-mouth referrals.
“I honestly don't think it's catering to them; I think it's treating them like any other couple. ... Love is love,” said Amanda Byrne, director of special events at Bella Christie & Lil' Z's Sweet Boutique bakery in Aspinwall.
Allison McGeary Florist Inc. in Lawrenceville served two same-sex weddings last year and about five this year, owner Allison McGeary said.
“Most of the couples that we've worked with so far have been couples that have been together for a really long time — 20-plus years. And they've finally able to celebrate in a more official way,” she said.
Although many same-sex couples made a “mad rush” to the altar when the state recognized gay marriage, the Pittsburgh region's population of gay couples is relatively small, said Bryan, of the Delta Foundation.
The Allegheny County Department of Court Records did not start collecting data on the gender of couples applying for marriage licenses until the state changed the terms “bride” and “groom” on the statewide marriage license application in October, Director Kate Barkman said through county spokeswoman Amie Downs.
Of the 4,591 marriage licenses the county issued between Dec. 1 and Aug. 12, 324, or 7.1 percent, were for same-sex couples, Downs said.
Pennsylvania does not have statewide protections against businesses discriminating based on sexual orientation, but Allegheny and Erie counties and 31 cities, including Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, have passed laws, according to the Mazzoni Center, a Philadelphia health care provider that focuses on the gay and transgender communities.
The Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage made clear that federal, state and local governments can't treat same-sex couples differently from opposite-sex couples, but that constitutional ruling does not apply to private businesses, said Molly Tack-Hooper, a staff attorney in the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania's headquarters in Philadelphia.
Marriage equality could come at a price not factored into the wedding cost tally that includes the cake, gown, flowers and other items, Wojda said.
“Our fight is not over. We can get married — whoo-hoo! We can get fired the next day,” she said.
She and fiancée Loni McCartney have encountered vendors that used the words “bride” and “groom” while trying to court their business, McCartney said.
None of the vendors at a bridal show they attended in March at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, mentioned same-sex couples, she said.
“No literature, nothing. ... I think it's important for businesses, if they want that business, to put it out there that they're gay-friendly,” McCartney said.
Tory N. Parrish is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5662 or email@example.com.