» Will Gay Marriage Be Legal In Your Market This Year?

This post was written by WeddingWire Education Expert Kathryn Hamm, Publisher of GayWeddings.com, the leading online resource dedicated to serving same-sex couples since 1999. Kathryn is also co-author of the groundbreaking book, The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Wedding Photography. Follow her on Twitter @madebykathryn.

I’ve talked in the past about the evolving legal landscape for partnership recognition for same-sex couples and how Wedding Pros should make some conscious decisions about their marketing materials and the audience to whom they wish to speak, if they haven’t already done so.

Specifically, I’ve spoken to vendors in the jurisdictions where gay marriage is now legal (Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, & Washington, DC) and to those Pros where civil unions are recognized (Delaware, Rhode Island, Illinois, & Hawaii).

Today, I invite Wedding Pros based in California, Washington, Maine, Maryland and Minnesota to listen closely (but welcome all Pros to eavesdrop on our conversation!). There are several legal thresholds waiting to be crossed this fall and the outcomes may impact your business. It also bears mentioning that, in 4 of these 5 states, your actions can also have an impact the outcomes.

CALIFORNIA.  From a market perspective, we may see the biggest shift in the state of California, which legalized marriage briefly in 2008, before a ballot measure, Proposition 8,  invalidated same-sex marriage. The 18,000 couples who did get legally married in that brief window continue to enjoy equal partnership recognition, but same-sex couples have not been able to legally marry in California since Proposition 8 was enacted.

The nationally recognized court case challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8, Hollingsworth v. Perry (commonly known as ‘Prop 8’), has wound its way through the State Supreme Court of California and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and now awaits its fate on the steps of the United States Supreme Court. Though early analysis suggested that a victory in the Supreme Court could mean gay marriage recognition across the U.S., the current narrow interpretation of the case, as established through the Appeals process, means that the outcome is relevant only to the state of California.

On September 25, the Supreme Court will announce the list of cases it plans to hear in 2012-2013. If Hollingsworth v. Perry is accepted (or ‘granted cert’) by the Court, the fate of Prop 8 won’t be known until the spring of 2013. If, however, on October 1, the Supreme Court includes Hollingsworth v. Perry on the list of cases it will not hear this session, then Proposition 8 would be found to be unconstitutional and marriage would once again be available to gay and lesbian couples in California. And, experts suggest that marriage equality would be reinstated in California within a few days’ time.

So, Pros, take note: California is a large market and can move the needle as significantly as New York did in 2011.  If the Supreme Court doesn’t accept the case and gay marriage becomes legal again in early October 2012, will you be ready?

MINNESOTA. In Minnesota, the state legislature voted in 2011 to add a ballot measure which would amend its constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is not currently recognized in Minnesota, but even so, this constitutional amendment would be a significant set-back for same-sex couples. Regardless of the result, same-sex couples will continue to have wedding ceremonies (even without the legal recognition), but will likely make choices to marry legally elsewhere and consider living in jurisdictions where partnership recognition is possible. In the spirit of “live & let live,” Wedding Pros and other allies who do not agree with this constitutional ban can vote ‘No’ in November and have an impact on the outcome.

MAINE, MARYLAND & WASHINGTON STATE. If enacting marriage equality in New York in 2011 offered a game-changing boost of momentum for advocates of marriage equality, then surely the ballot initiatives pending in Maine, Maryland & Washington this November are the measures by which we’ll understand just how much the attitudes of voters in America have changed.

Unlike the ballot measure in Minnesota, the question at hand is whether or not voters will choose to support marriage equality. The state legislatures in both Maryland and Washington have already legalized marriage equality; it is now up to the voters to uphold the laws as passed by their representatives. In Maine, voters can make history by being the first state to proactively enact marriage equality at the ballot box (rather than via the courts or state lawmakers).

The enactment of marriage equality in any one of these states – let alone all three – will allow thousands of same-sex couples to marry and will also signify an important shift in popular opinion, setting the stage for states like Illinois, Rhode Island, Hawaii and Delaware to consider upgrading their civil unions to civil marriage.  Wedding Pros can choose to play a role in this outcome with the lever they pull on Election Day, and should otherwise take steps to re-evaluate their marketing materials and outreach in the event that marriage does become legal this fall in accordance with the wishes of voters.

For more on recent developments in the legal landscape, please visit HRC’s Infographic, 2012: The Year of Marriage, and its Marriage Center. For more information on the equally significant “DOMA” cases, which have the potential to impact the recognition of marriage equality at the federal level and are pending review in the Supreme Court this session, please read the Season Preview: Lesbian & Gay Rights at the Supreme Court.