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Gay weddings not quite a piece of cake

With the newfound business, some in the industry are torn between work ethics and personal beliefs.

June 21, 2008|My-Thuan Tran | Times Staff Writer

Jessica Clark and Natalie Vacha started planning their wedding as soon as the state Supreme Court overturned the ban on gay marriage. The Lancaster couple decided to splurge on a bash for their summer nuptial, complete with handmade bridesmaid dresses from red to purple and a seven-layer rainbow cake.

It was Clark's job to book a florist. She scanned the Lancaster yellow pages and put in an order for bouquets made from rainbow frosted roses. But the florist declined.

Even the local horse-drawn carriage business said no. And Clark also had trouble finding a baker for the rainbow cake. So the couple had to drive two hours to a bakery in Los Angeles for their dream cake.

As the brisk pace of same-sex marriages continues across California, some who make a living off the wedding business -- florists, photographers, bakery owners -- have found themselves conflicted, some elated with the sudden wedding bonanza and others uncertain where to draw the line between newfound business and their personal beliefs.

In the first week gay marriage was legal in California, more than 6,300 marriage licenses were granted throughout the state -- more than double in an average June week, according to a Times survey of all 58 counties. With at least 1,450 licenses issued, Los Angeles exceeded all other counties, followed by San Diego, with 727, and San Francisco, with at least 709. Orange County, with 538 licenses, came in fourth. Most counties still had not finalized their reports.

On Friday, gay rights supporters asked the California Supreme Court to block the ballot initiative that would ban same-sex marriage, arguing that the measure is a "revision" of the state Constitution.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a leading opponent of same-sex marriage, accused gay rights groups of trying to "silence the people's voice." Legal experts said the supporters of same-sex marriage face a difficult task in getting the justices to block a vote on the initiative.

In the meantime, county clerks said they expect above average traffic to remain throughout the summer, and some said they will continue to extend hours as long as the demand is high.

"What we're experiencing now is a huge backlog of people who have wanted to get married for a long time," said Sonoma County Clerk Janice Atkinson.

For some, the rush of business has become a test of sensibilities and business ethics in an industry that has suddenly shifted radically. Some wedding professionals have opted out of same-sex marriages on religious and moral grounds. Others set the bar somewhat differently, electing to take on the work even though it goes against their personal beliefs.

Eric Nelson of Nelson Photography in Lake Forest is a wedding photographer and ordained minister through the Trinity Evangelical Christian Church.

Nelson has already booked a same-sex wedding in July, but his religious beliefs and his business sense took him in two directions.

So he'll only be taking the photos. He will not officiate gay weddings, which he said conflict with his Christian beliefs.

"To me, it's not about being uncomfortable," Nelson said. "It's a choice, like a choice of what clothes to put on in the morning." Photographing a same-sex wedding is not the same as "solemnizing a wedding," he said.

The south Orange County photographer-minister said he would likewise turn down officiating weddings for heterosexual couples who he knew were involved in drugs or crime. "If you come to me and I find out you don't live in the best lifestyle and are not the type of person I would perform a wedding for, I wouldn't do it," he said. "I have a choice."

Others didn't seem torn at all.

The Conference and Visitors Bureau in Newport Beach, normally a staid community with a reputation for leaning to the right, sent out a news release inviting same-sex couples to honeymoon in the city and at the Balboa Bay Club and offering a "romance package" for newlyweds.

An informal survey conducted by the Sacramento-based Assn. for Wedding Professionals International found that most of their California vendors would participate in gay weddings, said Richard Markel, the association's president. Only nine out of 720 respondents said they would refuse, he said.

"Most of the time, you get into this business to do any wedding: straight, gay, interracial, even if there were alien weddings," Markel said.

Several business owners told The Times that because of their personal beliefs they would refuse to be involved in same-sex marriages. But they declined to be identified out of concern that their business would suffer.

Tom Mitchell, a videographer from near Lake Mathews in Riverside County, is also opposed to same-sex marriage. Still, he believes the paying customer is always right.

"I oppose gay marriage, but I'm absolutely in favor of working and making money and paying my mortgage," he said.

Filming a gay marriage, he said, is "just another shoot."

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