Marriage equality opens a burgeoning market for businesses anxious to help couples plan for their special day


Texas marriage equality plaintiffs Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes plan to attend the Marriage Party and Expo at the Hilton Anatole Hotel on Aug. 2. The judge who heard their lawsuit in 2014 declared the Texas marriage law unconstitutional, but not until the Obergefell decision in June did they gain the right to marry. The couple is planning a November wedding. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)


DAVID TAFFET  |  Senior Staff Writer

During the first day of marriage equality in Texas, the clerk in Travis County issued twice as many licenses as much larger Dallas County. Still, that wasn’t surprising — since a wedding must take place within 90 days of obtaining a license, the more casual Austin residents were more likely to opt for a quick ceremony. But Dallas’ LGBT community organizes and plans way more — instant wedding isn’t the Dallas way.

Most gays and lesbians never gave a wedding day of their own a second thought — especially in Texas, where red state bona fides seemed destined to make same-sex unions more ceremonial than legal. But while news about same-sex weddings has been accompanied by a parade of homophobic florists, bigoted cake bakers and biased photographers (not to mention one pizza place in rural Indiana), those vocal minorities are ignoring a huge and anxious new market. And countless pro-marriage-equality companies are more than happy to show you how much they care.

One way to begin the planning process is at The Wedding Party and Expo. More than 90 exhibitors — many straight-but-not-narrow — are anxious to get a piece of the lucrative same-sex wedding business, and ply their wares and help couples plan their special day.

Wedding planner Marion Adele Marshall welcomes the idea of consulting with any couple whose commitment to each inspires them to tie the knot. “All I see are two people who want to get married,” she says.

expo-ArtUnfortunately, that’s not what all vendors see. Marshall says bakers are in the news because they feel like they’re being discriminated against. She wonders why anyone would want to do business with those bakers. Find a cake baker who’s happy you’re getting married and wants to bake you the best cake possible.

Find a photographer who’s going to enjoy spending the day with you and your guests. An uncomfortable photographer is going to do a poor job, she warns.
For years, couples have been leaving the state for Vermont, Massachusetts or Canada that have the longest history of marriage equality. Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau President Phillip Jones says that, said for the first time couples, are coming to red state central to get wed.

“Dallas is a gay friendly wedding destination,” he said and couples are coming for that “Texas mystique. We’re positioning Dallas as a great wedding destination.”

Jones says the CVB has been hearing from people from around the world thinking of Dallas for their wedding since the marriage equality decision.

“We’re a three hour flight from either coast,” he says. “We have great hotels — five-star properties that could be $800 in New York or California for $300. The best shopping. Great activities. Churches that welcome.”

He called the Arboretum or Klyde Warren Park great backdrops and said a reception in the Arts District is something that didn’t exist five years ago.

Plenty of local vendors embrace the gay market, and are happy to help out. Melissa Miller with G Texas Catering represents several venues in The Cedars has lots of advice for a couple beginning the planning process.

The number attendees is one of the biggest decisions in planning a wedding, Miller says. The guest list directly affects the budget; having more than 200 people begins to limit the choice of venues. “Have an idea what’s important to you and how you want to spend your money,” Miller says.

If food is most important, start with the caterer, she suggests. If atmosphere is most important, begin with the venue. If it’s venue, Miller has some interesting options. Most people wouldn’t think of Gilley’s as a great venue for a gay event, but Gilley’s wants to get into the same-sex wedding business. To prove their cred in the community, Miller points out that Gilley’s hosted Be An Angel for Legacy Counseling Center, the Miss Gay USA pageant and the Purple Party.

Southside on Lamar offers a number of interesting options from a rooftop venue for up to 200 guests with a panoramic view of downtown to an underground space that offers an industrial urban setting.

“There’s also an art gallery that’s lovely for a ceremony,” Miller says.

When talking to venues, she recommends, find out what’s included in your quote. One location might seem like a bargain, but could end up costing twice as much as another similar space.

The more expensive venue might include the tables and chairs, linens, glasses and china and even the bar service. The cheaper spot may be just for the location and the caterer would have to bring everything else in.

“Those things add up,” she says, and the higher priced venue may actually be the greater value.

Marshall counsels to “talk to someone before you spend money.” Before making any recommendations, Marshall asks a lot of questions. She wants to know who the couple is and what they really want. When talking to vendors, couples can’t be shy.

Marshall said people usually contract with her eight months to a year before their event, but she’s put together a wedding in 30 days.

“Unless they want something super particular, we might get a great deal at the last minute,” she says.

For those on a budget, a morning wedding can just the thing. Marshall said breakfast is much cheaper to cater and venues are less likely to be booked so the rental rate will be lower.

She warns couples to be careful what they put on social media. If the guest list is going to be limited, don’t broadcast all the details and invite people to get angry they weren’t invited.

“You wanted to get married so long, it should be about the two of you being happy shared by the people who supported you all along,” she says.

Dallas Voices’ Wedding Party & EXPO takes place Aug. 2 at the Hilton Anatole.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 31, 2015.