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

Life & Style Weekend - - READ -

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.

PHOTO: THINKSTOCK AND CON­TRIB­UTED

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.

PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

A Coali­tion for Mar­riage spokes­woman says the re­def­i­ni­tion of mar­riage has con­se­quences for all Aus­tralians.

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