Here come the brides
As the same-sex marriage postal vote continues and campaigns on both sides simmer, Letea Cavander takes a look at the effects legalisation would have on the wedding industry
THE legalisation of same-sex marriage could bring a boost of up to $5 million a year to a tourism destination battered by Cyclone Debbie. The Whitsundays in north Queensland hosts more than 1000 weddings each year.
Tourism Whitsundays’ sales and marketing manager Tash Wheeler said although it was difficult to put a precise dollar figure on the economic increase, the tourism body would expect the region to host same-sex weddings if the law was changed.
“It is a significant industry for the region at an estimated $100 million contribution to the local economy each year, so even a modest increase in weddings of, say, 5% would make a difference of $5 million a year,” Ms Wheeler said.
“We should add that, historically, many commitment ceremonies between same-sex couples have taken place in the Whitsundays over the years, so we would envisage that at least some of those would translate into weddings moving forward if the law is changed.”
The north Queensland region continues its recovery from the cyclone that smashed the east coast of Australia in March this year, and also caused widespread flooding in northern New South Wales.
Dubbed the “wedding heart of Australia” after the much-photographed Hardy Reef, Ms Wheeler said the Whitsundays did not just provide stunning photo locations for brides and their grooms.
“We also get a lot of couples taking their honeymoon in the Whitsundays, whether that’s staying on following their Whitsundays wedding or flying in following their wedding elsewhere,” she said.
“A lot of couples extend their wedding day into what we in the Whitsundays call the ‘wedding week’, taking tours and trips with their wedding party both before and after the big day.”
There is no doubt legalisation of same-sex marriage would bring an economic boost to the Aussie wedding industry.
Social researcher Mark McCrindle crunched a few numbers for Weekend.
Mr McCrindle said the latest data available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed 113,595 marriages took place in Australia every year.
According to the latest available Census figures, gay couples make up just under 1% of all couples nationally.
If same-sex marriage was legalised, and based on the assumption that gay couples wed at the same rate as heterosexual couples, it would mean 1056 more weddings each year in Australia.
“For the first years, if same-sex marriage became legalised, the number of marriages would be heightened because of pent-up demand,” Mr McCrindle said.
So the number of same-sex weddings could be three to five times the average.
This might mean up to an extra 5000 weddings a year nationwide, at first.
Further south from the island life in the Whitsundays, Julie-Ann Brown, who has been a wedding planner on the Sunshine Coast for 20 years, said the local wedding industry had been growing for decades.
She would welcome a “yes” decision and the business it could bring.
“We’re lucky enough on the Sunshine Coast, by the Attorney-General’s own statistics, that we hold 9.87% of weddings in Australia,” Ms Brown said.
“We obviously do an amazing job. Coupled with amazing weather, restaurants and venues, it is appealing to any couples, gay or straight.”
Ms Brown, who holds more than 200 weddings a year, has already arranged a few commitment ceremonies for gay couples.
Ms Brown’s biggest concern about an influx of business from allowing same-sex marriage was that goods and services would be imported from outside the region.
“I would hope people would stay local and not bring services in from further afield,” she said.
Ms Brown said weddings had changed a lot over the years and had become less formal.
Couples, too, were often buying homes or having children before getting hitched, which changed the nature and budget of ceremonies.
The average cost of an Australian wedding is a surprisingly hard figure to pinpoint.
The headline-grabbing Bride to Be Cost of Love 2015 survey put it at about $65,000, whereas the Australian Securities and Investment Commission’s 2014 figures put the average at $36,200. By taking a middle-of-the-road approach, and assuming a wedding cost an average of $45,000, the injection into the industry from allowing same-sex marriage would be
about $450 million a year.
Fellow Sunshine Coast wedding planner Jacqueline Eddison said it was time for a change, and that an increasing number of couples were already showing their support for same-sex marriage during their own ceremonies.
“In the past two years a lot of brides and grooms would like the celebrants to announce that the couple would like to acknowledge that same-sex marriage should be legalised,” she said.
Of course, not everyone is pleased with the idea of legalisation.
Coalition for Marriage spokeswoman Monica Doumit said in an email response that the redefinition of marriage had consequences for all Australians.
“In countries where same-sex marriage has been legalised, there have been implications for education, freedom of speech and freedom of religion,” she said.
However, she did not answer a question on exactly how legalising same-sex marriage would affect religious freedom in Australia.
Ms Doumit also said changes to marriage law in other countries had meant the introduction of radical LGBTIQ sex and gender education programs in schools.
“People have been kicked out of university courses, or denied employment or professional registration for expressing a view on marriage, and businesses have been fined for seeking to hold to a traditional view of marriage,” she said.
“This vote is a referendum on radical LGBTIQ sex and gender education in schools, on free speech and freedom of religion.”
She did not, however, reply to a follow-up question that many would argue the current postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage is a vote on a civil right only, and not other issues.
Legalising same-sex marriage could mean a boost of up to $5 million to the Cyclone Debbie-ravaged Whitsundays and, right, wedding planner Julie-Ann Brown, pictured with one of her brides in Noosa, welcomes the legalisation of same-sex marriage and the boost it would bring to the Sunshine Coast wedding industry.
◗ A Coalition for Marriage spokeswoman says the redefinition of marriage has consequences for all Australians.