Hundreds Expected at Gay Wedding Expo in Utah

by Brady McCombs

Associated Press

Sunday March 6, 2016

Hundreds Expected at Gay Wedding Expo in Utah

Hundreds of people are expected Sunday at a wedding expo in Salt Lake City aimed at connecting same-sex couples with businesses who will work their weddings in a state where florists, bakers and photographers have a legal right to refuse to serve a gay couple and commonly do.

Utah is one of 29 states where it is legal for businesses to refuse services to same-sex couples, according to the Human Rights Campaign. A proposal to change that law died last week in the Utah's Republican-controlled legislation.

About 40 LGBT-friendly businesses, including photographers, bartenders, bakers and wedding venue representatives will be at the expo to let the region's gay and lesbian community know that they're open to gay weddings, said Michael Aaron, the show organizer and publisher of QSalt Lake, a magazine that caters to the LGBT community.

"It's about supporting those who want to participate in your wedding and leaving the other ones alone," Aaron said. "If they don't want to do it, they're not going to do a great job for you anyway."

The Salt Lake City event will be the first of its kind since gay marriage became legal in Utah in 2013, Aaron said. About 300 people attended the first one in 2012, he said.

The increasing number of wedding expos is reflective of the number of same-sex couples that are marrying with gay marriage legal across the country and of corporate America's expanding embrace of the LGBT market, said Beck Bailey of the Human Rights Campaign.

The LGBT population has an estimated buying power of $884 billion annually, according to a report from Witeck Communications and the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

Same-sex weddings have been happening at a brisk pace over the last three years as judges declared gay marriage legal in a number of states, including Utah in December 2013, and finally the U.S. Surpreme Court in the summer of 2015.

As of last fall, an estimated 486,000 same-sex couples were married - more than double the figure in 2013, according to the Williams Institute, a LGBT-issues think tank based at UCLA's School of Law. That figure represents 45 percent of all same-sex couples.

Though no hard figures exist yet for how big the wedding industry has become, the Wlliams Institute estimated in 2014 that making gay marriage legal across the country could generate a total of $2.6 billion across the country within the first three years.

Gay wedding expos, which have been around for more than a decade, attract couples who don't want to experience the heartache and anger that come when florists or cake bakers refuse to do business with them, said Bailey, an executive in the organization's workplace equality program.

"One of the things these expos are about is the loyalty of LGBT people to vendors that want to be there," Bailey said. "Voting with the dollar, if you will."

The Salt Lake City expo marks another step into the public sphere for an LGBT community in Utah that was relegated to the shadows, due in large part to a conservative culture rooted in a Mormon faith that teaches its members that acting on homosexual attraction is a sin.

The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still opposes gay marriage and recently drew the ire of gay rights advocates for banning baptisms for children living with gay parents.

But the religion has made strides in recent years to become more accepting of gays and lesbians.

Church leaders made a national appeal last year for a "balanced approach" in the clash between gay rights and religious freedom, even criticizing Kentucky clerk Kim Davis for refusing to license gay marriages. With church support, Utah passed a state law that protects gay and transgender people from housing and employment discrimination, while also protecting the rights of religious groups and individuals.

Last November, Salt Lake City elected its first openly gay mayor: Jackie Biskupski.

"It's a different time, especially in Salt Lake City, where you do see people walking arm-in-arm whereas before you didn't 10 years ago," Aaron said. "To me, it gives me a nice, warm feeling especially to see younger people participate that way in society."

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