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Gay marriage rulings: California businesses await economic boom

Among beneficiaries in California of the Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage are the wedding industry, travel agents — and divorce lawyers.

June 26, 2013|By Shan Li, Adolfo Flores and Ricardo Lopez
  • Charlie Feder owner of Rossmoor Pastries with wedding cakes celebrating gay marriage.
Charlie Feder owner of Rossmoor Pastries with wedding cakes celebrating… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

On the day the Supreme Court handed two major victories to the gay rights movement, Rossmoor Pastries in Signal Hill put the finishing touches on a wedding cake celebrating gay marriage.

The cake — creamy white topped with two same-sex couples kissing — is the first of many that owner Charles Feder anticipates baking as gay weddings resume in the Golden State. He expects gay wedding celebrations, along with future anniversary fetes and baby showers, to be a boon to his business.

"When gay marriage was allowed previously in California, we did three or four [cakes] a week, about 20 a month," Feder said. "I am expecting that to come back with a fury."

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and denied an appeal to a ruling that struck down Proposition 8, which in 2008 banned gay marriages in California. Economists say those twin decisions could be a boon to both state and federal coffers, and grant new financial benefits to married gay couples.

In California alone, the state's budget could see a gain of $40 million in wedding-related tax revenue over the next three years, according to the Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA Law. The federal government could gain $500 million to $700 million annually in taxes with the influx of newly recognized marriages, the Congressional Budget Office said.

The wedding industry — including travel agencies planning honeymoons and dress shops selling bridal gowns — is poised to hear the "ka-ching" of cash registers as gay marriages resume. Over the next three years, 37,000 same-sex couples are expected to wed in California and could generate $492 million in revenue for the state's business, according to the Williams Institute.

"For the economy as a whole, there should be a boost," said M.V. Lee Badgett, director of the Williams Institute. The court rulings "will really strengthen the economic status of same-sex couples in California, in particular."

Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, which had a "tremendous" boost in business when gay marriage was briefly legal in California, plans to stock up on same-sex wedding invitations featuring, for example, two tuxedos or two bridal gowns together, said operations manager Dolores Bauer.

"It's not just the wedding, but all the other pieces that go with it — the showers, the parties, the rehearsal dinners, the personalized stationery," Bauer said. "The thank-you cards from 'Mr. and Mr.' "

Online travel site Orbitz.com has already expanded its advertising to the gay community and launched a photo contest Wednesday that awards flights to travel destinations that allow same-sex marriage.

"Gays and lesbians are some of our best customers," said Jeff Marsh, the company's director of LGBT marketing. "It's clear that it's a bulls-eye target for travel agencies."

Gay men take 4.7 leisure trips a year, compared with 3 trips for the public at large, Marsh said, citing market research. They also book 16% more paid hotel nights.

As a prime destination for the gay traveler, California is poised to win dollars from gay couples like Joe Wolley and Jim Schmidt.

The pair from Nashville were tentatively planning a fall wedding in San Francisco. But they were ready to cancel — and bring their 40 guests and about $10,000 to New York or Washington, D.C. — if the Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8.

When the ruling was handed down, Schmidt called his fiancé and said, "We're going to San Francisco."

It is not just local businesses that are going to cash in on gay weddings. Lawyers, financial planners and big Wall Street banks are already gearing up to help the newly wed figure out tax, retirement and other issues.

The Supreme Court's DOMA ruling will "only open the door for additional need within the community and potentially exponential additional business" for wealth management, said Wells Fargo Advisors' Kyle Young, who has mostly gay and lesbian clients in New York and Los Angeles.

And perhaps the last beneficiary of new marriages: the divorce attorney.

With a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act struck down, the ruling will make divorces for gay couples much easier and cheaper, said Debra Schoenberg, a family law attorney based in San Francisco.

She anticipates "a flood of new marriages" once the legal dust settles.

And once the honeymoons are over?

"From a divorce lawyer's perspective, I will have more work to do in the coming years," she said.

Times staff writers Andrew Khouri in Los Angeles and Andrew Tangel in New York contributed to this story.

shan.li@latimes.com

adolfo.flores@latimes.com

ricardo.lopez@latimes.com

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