BALTIMORE - Same-sex marriage is now legal in 17 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. That's good news for gay and lesbian couples, who are now happily planning their weddings, and for the photographers, caterers, entertainers and other vendors in the wedding industry who are happy to help them celebrate the event. As it grows, expositions targeting this new market are becoming more popular.
Love was in the air at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Wedding Expo, in Baltimore, Maryland, where more than 30 vendors showcased everything from dresses to wine to wedding cakes.
Long-time couple Michael Sofield and Jamie Barnes came from New Jersey. They plan to tie the knot in Maryland in May.
“I think it’s great that now we have this opportunity and it’s great to see so many vendors here who support the community,” said Sofield.
Marianne Puechl and her same-sex partner began organizing these expos in 2003 - before same-sex marriage was legal anywhere in the country. She said it’s often awkward for gays and lesbians to attend wedding expos geared toward heterosexuals and where vendors may not be gay-friendly.
“They’re just immediately understood to be the brides or the grooms and they go from there and they launch directly into the joy and the excitement of planning their day,” explained Puechl.
Cristina Dimperio, from Maryland, is getting married next year. Dimperio said she liked going to an event where she was comfortable.
“It’s definitely a good thing. We’ve been trying to do this for a long time and now that we can actually do it, it feels great,” she said.
Her mother, Catia Dimperio is excited for Cristina and her daughter's girlfriend of six years.
“She’s 26 and we’re all ready for her to get married," she said.
Wayne Schwandt came to offer his services as a wedding officiate. The married gay pastor serves a Maryland church with a primarily gay congregation. Schwandt said he helps fills a void because many clergy won’t marry same-sex couples.
“I have been trying to focus more on marriage ceremonies for couples who are seeking to find an open and affirming pastor, which is still a rather rare breed in this country,” said Schwandt.
Stunning wedding dresses and jewelry and a model who showed them off also highlighted the event. Bridal salon owner Betsy Robinson has been selling more wedding gowns to lesbian brides.
“It used to be that even if they were shopping with the mother, the mom wouldn’t say my daughter is marrying another woman, whereas today that’s very, very common,” said Robinson.
Joseph Smith and his husband have a wedding invitation business. Smith said a lot of vendors are not sure how to interact with the gay and lesbian community.
“Because we’re part of it, people feel more comfortable working with us," he explained.
Expo organizer Marianne Puechl said the events that have the highest attendance are not in states that allow same-sex marriage. She observes that, even without a marriage license, many couples have commitment ceremonies to celebrate their love.