Gay marriage tourism not on Utah’s radar
A handful of same-sex couples from out of state have been married in Utah since a federal judge struck down the state’s ban on gay marriage.
But, unlike several other states where gay marriage is legal, Utah has no coordinated tourism marketing strategy to entice same-sex couples to travel here for weddings.
Instead, county officials in Utah say they have been serving a trickle of couples traveling in from neighboring states to wed, as well as a few farther-flung couples who already had planned trips here not knowing that Judge Robert Shelby on Dec. 20 would order clerks to begin granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples. County clerks have reported license requests by couples from Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Florida and Maryland. At least two couples from the United Kingdom also have married here, one in Summit County and one in Washington County.
Coral and Misty Moser, of Pocatello, Idaho, planned their wedding in less than a week and married at the Salt Lake County clerk’s office Dec. 27.
“We’ve been together for seven years,” said Coral Moser, 33. “We were really ready to take that step together.”
The couple already was making wedding plans, as they are expecting a baby. Coral is 17 weeks pregnant, and they already had begun the legal process for Misty to adopt the baby boy when he is born in June.
“We had planned this spring to go to California or Washington [to marry],” Coral said. When Utah began issuing licenses to same-sex couples, the Mosers drove to Salt Lake City for a small ceremony with their parents and a few other relatives and friends.
The Mosers plan to have a wedding reception and baby party later this summer in Idaho. But in Utah’s hospitality and wedding industry, there is some hope that out-of-state couples will throw destination weddings here.
“It would be lovely,” said Kristin Spear, wedding planner and owner of Soirée Productions. “I would love to see some marketing.”
As same-sex marriages begin in other states, wedding tourism initiatives have become common. In the days after New Mexico’s top court overturned its gay marriage ban Dec. 19, Taos officials began planning ad campaigns and gay and lesbian wedding expos to draw out-of-state business. Illinois, which legalized gay marriage one month before Utah, has an entire section of its state tourism website devoted to LGBT travel topped with wedding information. Hawaii, which authorized same-sex marriage Dec. 2, is capitalizing on its existing role as a wedding destination and anticipates up to $69 million a year in new revenue due to same-sex weddings.
Utah’s tourism and wedding industries so far have not organized any effort to market to out-of-state couples while the state appeals Shelby’s ruling, said Jay Kinghorn, spokesman for the Utah Office of Tourism. Traditionally, he said, the state office has left destination wedding promotion to local tourism bureaus.
In Salt Lake County, destination weddings have not occupied a significant niche in the tourism industry, said Shawn Stinson, spokesman for Visit Salt Lake. But in Park City, Spear said the bulk of her business comes from out-of-staters; before Shelby’s ruling, she had coordinated four commitment ceremonies and receptions for California couples who celebrated in Utah after marrying in their home state.
Since the ruling, Spear has not had any inquiries from gay couples outside Utah, but she noted that for large weddings, most couples do not begin planning until well after the holidays. Also, she noted, there likely is reluctance for out-of-towners to plan a large event here while the state’s appeal is pending.
Park City Visitor’s Bureau president Bill Malone said there has been no targeted tourism marketing for same-sex couples, but “it’s probably something we’re going to talk about soon.” Roxie Sherwin, director of the St. George Tourism Office likewise said there is no plan presently to redirect funds toward the same-sex wedding market.
Spear said she is hopeful same-sex couples will see Utah’s value as a wedding destination, but she is not anticipating statewide support.
“I can’t imagine our state would ever market such a thing,” she said. “The people in charge of our state are not pleased with what has happened.”