» Same-Sex Marriage Momentum: Do The Latest Legal Wins Impact You?

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.

This article was updated on Thursday, July 24 at 11:30am.

Since the fall of DOMA (the ‘Defense of Marriage Act’) in June 2013, the pace of marriage equality updates have quickened, with constitutional bans falling in state after state in ways that have outpaced my wildest dreams.

These days, I find myself updating my same-sex marriage ‘legal landscape’ presentations daily and, on some days, hourly! In the past few months, I’ve started presentations with one count for marriage equality states only to find that the number of states recognizing same-sex marriage (or bans overturned) has increased by the time I’m done speaking.

And, case in point, not long after this piece was first published, Colorado’s ban on same-sex marriage was overturned by a Federal judge, meaning that gay marriage recognition in Colorado is now on stay through August 25, until the legal process can move the case to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals (which, as noted below, has already upheld state decisions to overturn marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma).

Same-Sex Marriage Momentum: Do The Latest Legal Wins Impact You?Even with these many advancements, the current total of states recognizing marriage equality remains relatively stable at 19 states plus the District of Columbia. (Learn more about specific states below.)

The bigger story for 2014 is actually embedded in the number of states (14) that have overturned constitutional bans on marriage, leaving the legal recognition of same-sex marriage on stay, pending appeal. Or, in layperson’s and grossly oversimplified terms: various judges have overturned bans on marriage equality, but, in most cases, local jurisdictions have been unable to issue marriage licenses until the cases make their way through the appeals process – from state court to federal court to the Circuit Court of Appeals and, ultimately, to the Supreme Court – leaving most of the states in marriage limbo. For now.

As of this writing, seventeen (18!) consecutive federal courts have ruled in favor of marriage equality; thus, the legal groundswell, which is not without a minority voice of protest, clearly favors marriage equality.

If we, today, added to our count of marriage equality states (19 + DC), the states where bans have been overturned but are pending appeal, we would be celebrating marriage equality in thirty-three (33) states and the District of Columbia (source: Human Rights Campaign)!

The states currently in marriage limbo are:  Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. Couples in Ohio and Tennessee have also benefited from favorable rulings where the out-of-state marriages of several couples were recognized by the courts.

Regionally speaking (as far as the U.S. is concerned), here are a few tips to consider:

If you work with couples in one of the 19 marriage equality states (or the District of Columbia), it remains ever-so-true that you need to take your services beyond gay-friendly if you want to be competitive. This is especially true in markets where marriage equality has been around for a fair share of years. It is essential that you update the language on your website, marketing materials, vendor listings, and contracts to be inclusive of all brides and grooms. In your markets, same-sex couples have choice so you need to showcase your industry skill set and gay wedding competence. Also be sure to request Reviews from past same-sex couples to get their valuable feedback on your services and show other couples searching for their wedding day team that you have experience in serving all kinds of couples and happy past clients!

Did you know? According to our recent survey of recently wed same-sex couples, 46% of couples wed in their home state and 65% of couples ventured to the closest state that recognized marriage equality. Learn more in this infographic about the changing landscape of same-sex wedding planning!

If you work with couples in the southeast, you are probably aware that advocacy groups have stepped up their educational efforts to shed more light on the conversation of why marriage matters. Additionally, a judge from Monroe County in Florida (yes, in the Keys) recently found the state’s marriage ban to be unconstitutional. Couples in your region may be looking to access federal marriage equality and will pursue a legal elopement (Washington, DC is a big draw for these couples, but Florida will quickly lead the way should the appeals process be successful there), but are likely to have a reception and/or spiritual ceremony at home. You have an opportunity to adjust your language, contracts, packages and marketing materials to let them know that you are available to provide services to same-sex couples, while also setting yourself up to be prepared for the eventuality of marriage equality.

If you work with couples in the midwest, chances are that your couples are choosing legal elopements in nearby states like Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota or perhaps picking destinations like New York City, the District of Columbia or San Francisco. Updating your marketing & contract materials, while also developing fluency in what’s involved for a couple who will make a trip (by car or plane) for a marriage license and then to return home to celebrate will serve you well. Additionally, those of you in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky should be prepared to serve those couples who will want to legally marry at home once the appeals process is complete and marriage equality is a reality.

Learn more about same-sex marriage in Illinois and the Midwest at WeddingWire World Chicago on August 11, 2014.

If you work with couples in the southwest, you may have noticed that couples are traveling to New Mexico or Southern California or have otherwise begun making plans for Utah, Colorado and Nevada as possible future marriage destinations for legal elopements.  My advice (see above) for wedding professionals in the southeast and midwest applies for those in the southwest: be mindful of how, why and where couples might travel to get legally married and be sensitive to those specific needs.

Looking for more information? Consider joining me at WeddingWire World in Houston, Texas on October 20, 2014!

Marriage Highlights

In the past few months, the biggest stories have included:

  • The last state in the northeast to recognize marriage equality and most recent to join the count of marriage equality states, Pennsylvania overturned its marriage ban in May and began to recognize marriage equality without pursuing a lengthy appeals process.
  • Florida became the first southeastern state to recognize marriage equality when a judge in Monroe County ruled that the state ban is unconstitutional. Though it seemed as if couples could begin to apply immediately for marriage licenses, a stay was issued and applications in the Florida Keys were put on hold.
  • Colorado is also on its way to upgrading its partnership recognition from Civil Unions to full marriage, but a stay has also been issued to put a hold on marriage applications through the appeals process.
  • In big victories for the LGBT community, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld the lower court rulings in Oklahoma and Utah, paving what seems to be an inevitable path to the Supreme Court. The question here is whether or not the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will choose to hear these cases (and other similar cases) in the 2014-2015 term. If SCOTUS does elect to hear these cases, we could be looking at full marriage equality in the United States or recognition in every state where bans have been overturned as early as June of 2015.

I am excited to see the marriage equality advancements we will have in 2014 and beyond and continue to encourage LGBTQ-friendly Wedding Pros to get listed on the GayWeddings.com directory to reach same-sex couples, and to join in the Wed We Can movement towards marriage equality this year!