“It’s just getting started, everybody is out running around and cheering,” said Judy Lewis, who runs a wedding services website from her home in Woodstock. “Once they stop cheering they’re going to come back to their apartments and start making phone calls.”
Hard data on the economic impact of same-sex marriage is slim; it was only in 2004 that Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to allow same-sex couples to wed. But a 2007 study carried out by the office of then-New York City comptroller William C. Thompson made some projections. The study, entitled “Love Counts: The Economic Benefits of Marriage Equality for New York,” estimated statewide net economic benefit of $184 million from weddings alone in the first three years after the legalization of same-sex marriage. The study took into account revenues from wedding-related businesses, fees for marriage applications, hotel and sales taxes and other sources. (The study also factored in increased costs to businesses which did not previously offer domestic-partner benefits and would now be required to provide health coverage to the spouses of employees in same-sex marriages).
For Lewis, whose website, hudsonvalleyweddings.com, connects wedding-related businesses with clients, the gay-marriage boost began almost immediately. Two days after the historic bill was signed into law, she reported already fielding phone calls from potential advertisers who had decided to put more money into marketing based on the anticipated influx of new business. The legislation was welcome news to an industry that has been squeezed by a recession that has forced many people to scale back or postpone wedding plans, she said.
“We all felt that it was going to happen, we just didn’t know when,” she said of same-sex marriage. “And the fact that it’s happening in this down economy is just perfect.”
Events planner Mary Beth Halpin of Red Hook said that it remained to be seen whether gay couples would turn out in droves to take advantage of the new law. Many people in long-term relationships had already celebrated domestic partnerships or legal marriages in other states, she said. But she expected at least a temporary spike from same-sex couples seeking to tie the knot.
“In the heterosexual community you have waves of engagement and marriage that are pretty regular,” said Halpin. “But at this point, because gays and lesbians have not been allowed to be married legally, you have this pent-up demand.”
At the Emerson, a luxury resort and spa in Shandaken which has played host to Hudson Valley regulars Bill and Hillary Clinton, marketing staff were wasting no time reaching out to harness that demand. Public relations director Tamara Murray said just days after the legislation’s approval, Emerson staff were already working social media sites and planning ad campaigns on gay-themed websites to promote their all-inclusive “elopement package” to same-sex couples.
“We just started working on this with our marketing and social media team,” said Murray. “This is a perfect place to come up and get married and we think a lot of people are going to take advantage of it.”
Gay Wedding Chapel
For Kingston’s Paul Joffe, the passage of marriage-equality legislation represents the fulfillment, just in the nick of time, of a business plan he came up with six years ago when he came to Ulster County looking for a farm, and ended up buying a church. Joffe, ordained a minister in the Universal Life Church on the strength of a mailed-in check for $25, bought a vacant former Methodist church on Wurts Street back in 2005 in hopes that New York would quickly follow the example of Massachusetts and become the second state to legalize gay marriage. Over the years, Joffe poured money into restoring the once-dilapidated church while waiting for the day when the state would open the door for his proposed “Gay Wedding Chapel.”
“I really thought it was going to happen soon, but it never did,” said Joffe, who came to Albany for the tense final hours prior to the state senate vote in order to record the historic scene and hand out business cards. “They kept getting close, but it never happened. At this point I was ready to sell because I thought it would never happen.”
Since the bill passed, Joffe said that he had already received inquires at his website, gayweddingchapelny.com, from couples from out of state. He’s also committed to hosting weddings for friends locally.
“I think for the first week or so people can just come and get married there, and it won’t cost them anything,” said Joffe. “After that, once things normalize, it will be just like any other wedding chapel.”++
Ralph Goneau wants to be the first
Ralph Goneau, Woodstock Democratic Committee member and former owner of Woodstock Hardware, was pleased as punch when I spoke with him Wednesday morning, June 29.
“I proposed this morning and I got an acceptance,” the 79-year old says. “I had been working on it and I got inklings of the fact that there would be a strong possibility that this would be the outcome…”
Later, he added that you sense these things after living with your partner for as long as he and his groom-to-be have been — 41 years.
Earlier, months ago, Goneau contacted Town Clerk Jackie Earley to ensure that he and his 87 year old partner Dick be the first to get certificates from the Town of Woodstock when the state officially allows same sex marriage next month. He said that he checked back with Earley over the weekend to make sure the plan was still on. It was.
As for a ceremony, Goneau said that he and Dick weren’t going to do a civil ceremony of any kind, but were talking to local ministers who would handle the services in an ecumenical fashion. As for place, he added that they were in discussion with a local church, in private hands, that was setting itself up just for such purposes.
Then he started remembering. And putting the historical nature of the Friday June 24 legislative action, and gubernatorally-signed action, into proper perspective.
“I honestly never expected to see this gay marriage bill pass in my lifetime,” he said.
Goneau talked about moving to Woodstock after coming to visit friends one weekend in the early 1970s. At the time he was living in Brooklyn Heights…and tired of having to socialize in bars. Living in New York as a gay person at the time, he recalls, “was not the safest atmosphere.”
“I had a dream of meeting someone, buying a house, and settling down,” he adds. “It was amazing for me to come to a town, Woodstock, where there was a gay population that had houses, and socialized in their homes. There were couples cooking dinners, mowing laws…I was totally drawn to it.”
After finding a place in his new community, whose Maverick roots he chuckles at (“Have you seen any of the photos of their parties? Do I have to spell things out for you?”), Goneau says he soon met his soon-to-be-partner at the Town House, Woodstock’s gay bar of the time (located where Cucina now is, in what would later become Deanie’s, Margaret’s, Legends, etc.).
“It was really something to see couples in such a place,” he said, after sidetracking into some memories of the oddness of pre-Stonewall cruising practices. “I met Dick, we dated some, and then 41 years ago on Palm Sunday, we talked about agreeing to be a couple from there forward…”
We talk about how the riots that followed the attempted busting of a dive Greenwich Village gay bar in 1969 spurred greater awareness of same-sex issues. Some people started “outing” their sexuality early on, others took a time to reveal who they were. Goneau mentions how he never really cared what people thought…but then mentions a time, early on in his ownership of Woodstock Hardware, where an overheard comment about his store being owned “by faggots” scared and hurt him. As well as how Dick, working on a television crew in the City, was similarly hurt and frightened when Dan Rather jokingly “outed” him during a shoot there.
He speaks about growing up Catholic, where one was sinful from the first moment a kid started masturbating. But also counters any worries regarding possible rescinding of same sex marriage rights by noting that judging marriage “as if the only component that mattered in a relationship were sex” felt short-sighted.
“What about all the rest of it,” he said.
Goneau pointed out how some gay couples he’s known locally for a quarter century or more pooh-poohed the idea of last week’s marriage law. “Anything but marriage,” he recalled them repeating.
“I said the issue had to do with civil rights,” he adds. “But I don’t feel at risk at this point. I’m relying on God to help out in the situation and not have us endure any more pain at this point. At least in this respect.”
Finally, I ask Goneau, who believes that the new same sex marriage laws will be a boon to the local economy, if he ever made wedding plans, over the years.
“Nope,” he replies. “Just my talk with Jackie.”
He pauses. I hear his partner in the background. The two exchange the half-verbal communications of a longstanding couple.
“It’s an early Fourth of July,” Ralph Goneau says. ++