Wedding Season in High Gear in San Francisco
Ryan Wilson, executive director of South Carolina Equality, and his partner of five years, Shehan Welihindha, were among the first to wed in Baltimore as soon as Maryland began marrying same-sex couples January 1.
Shortly after the Supreme Court’s June 26 historic rulings on DOMA and Prop 8, Wilson, who grew up in Baltimore, and Welihindha were in the Bay Area to celebrate their nuptials.
"This is our honeymoon trip. We came to San Francisco for Pride and then are going to Napa," said Wilson, who had raced over to City Hall Friday afternoon, June 28, to witness the first same-sex marriages to take place in San Francisco.
City officials hope to see many more same-sex couples honeymooning and marrying in San Francisco now that the 2008 voter-passed ban against same-sex marriages, known as Proposition 8, has been struck down.
Days before the first couples had said, "I do," Mayor Ed Lee was already promoting San Francisco as the same-sex marriage capital of the West.
"I think people now feel more relaxed because there is no rush to do anything," said Lee in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling striking down Prop 8. "They can take the time to plan their wedding and put in a request to book City Hall or any great place in San Francisco to hold their ceremony with their partners."
Similar to straight couples that wed or honeymoon in the city, LGBT couples can come to dine at the city’s "best restaurants and take in San Francisco’s iconic sights," said Lee. "This is what ordinarily happens in San Francisco. Now it is for everybody."
Joe D’Alessandro, the openly gay president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association, was also quick to promote the city as a "beloved" wedding and honeymoon destination for same-sex couples.
"San Francisco looks forward to hosting weddings and celebrations for all loving couples. There is no city more romantic than ours," stated D’Alessandro.
Within minutes of the court rulings striking down Prop 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the city’s travel bureau had invited back those LGBT couples whose marriages in the city in 2004 were later annulled by the state’s Supreme Court.
"We hope some of those couples who were married here in 2004 will come back soon for their 10th anniversary and we look forward to welcoming many more," D’Alessandro stated.
Several California cities are trying to establish themselves as same-sex wedding destinations. The Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism last week launched a new website to promote itself as a unique wedding location.
"Palm Springs has long been a romantic destination for couples looking for the perfect wedding and honeymoon," stated Mary Jo Ginther, director of the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism. "With sunny, blue skies, a gorgeous mountain backdrop, there is no better place to celebrate in California."
With the federal government expected to recognize the weddings of same-sex couples that live in the 37 states that still ban such marriages, the 13 states and the District of Columbia that do offer gay nuptials are all competing to attract LGBT couples. Officials in Provincetown are promoting the gay resort at the tip of Cape Cod in Massachusetts as "America’s first destination for gay and lesbian marriages."
Numerous businesses are also looking to establish themselves as leaders in the gay wedding market. The San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group, LLC, already known as a leader in the LGBT travel market, is uniquely positioned to work with LGBT couples planning to wed.
It has properties in six states - California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and Washington - and the District of Columbia where LGBT couples can marry. In California, Kimpton has hotels in San Francisco, Cupertino, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego, and La Jolla.
"We’re very happy that the right to choose who you marry belongs to everyone in California," Mike DeFrino, the company’s COO, told the B.A.R. in an emailed response to questions. "We were among a broad-based coalition of American businesses that signed on to briefs filed with the Supreme Court, urging it to strike down both Prop 8 and DOMA."
Kimpton already is offering "Queerly Beloved" wedding packages at its Sir Francis Drake property near San Francisco’s Union Square for couples who book their weddings by October 31. At its Prescott Hotel also near Union Square, LGBT couples that book their wedding by August 31 will receive a complementary reception room rental and honeymoon suite.
"Assisting with LGBT weddings and commitment ceremonies is not new for us. We have great expertise in small to mid-size, intimate weddings and our packages have always been inclusive of gay and lesbian couples," wrote DeFrino. "Our staff will even help make marriage license arrangements for guests out of town and can act as witnesses."
At Taste Catering and Event Planning, a San Francisco-based company whose president is an out lesbian, wedding designer Hayley Seed had already received five inquiries from same-sex couples looking to marry by last Thursday.
It was "more than we have had all year," said Seed, a straight woman who was hired in 2010 to ramp up Taste’s wedding business.
The company now has five event designers, four of whom are gay, plus its executive designer, Billy Cook, an out gay man. Couples should plan to spend at least $225 per person if they hire Taste, which can plan an intimate ceremony for just a few guests to more lavish affairs.
"I am hopeful this will bring more business to the wedding industry and mean more business for all the local vendors here," said Seed, who oversaw a lesbian couple’s wedding last fall. "San Francisco is a destination wedding spot already. We work with a ton of brides and grooms who don’t live in San Francisco or California and choose the city as their destination. I think the same-sex marriages are going to dovetail on that and make the pool of brides and grooms bigger."
One piece of advice for those thinking of marrying by the bay, start booking venues now. Most of the prime wedding spots book up at least a year in advance, especially during the better weather months of September and May.
San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department takes reservations 12 months in advance for such popular wedding sites as the Shakespeare Garden in Golden Gate Park or the Trocadero Clubhouse in Stern Grove.
"We really haven’t seen any same-sex weddings in the last several years. When the state did allow it back in 2008, we did a few but it was so quick," said Dana Ketcham, director of permits and reservations for the department. "We are ready and excited to have more weddings because we love weddings."
For a list of available city-owned wedding sites, visit http://sfrecpark.org/permits-and-reservations/weddings.