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Wedding planners in Maryland await calls from same-sex couples

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The marriage proposal in August from his longtime partner was a surprise for Harford County resident Stephen Formwalt.

Tuesday's affirmation of the law giving gay Marylanders the right to marry was just the icing on the wedding cake.

"Unbelievable," Mr. Formwalt said. "I still kind of have to pinch myself."

Earlier this week, voters added the Free State to the growing list of states allowing people of any sexual orientation to marry who they want. As a gay man and the creative mind behind Simply Grand Florals and Event Designs, Mr. Formwalt — and a number of wedding vendors and state number crunchers — expect Question 6's approval to more than give equal rights to same-sex couples.

The numerous locations and accommodations the state can offer couples planning to get married could mean "Maryland becomes Marry-land," said state Sen. Jamin B. "Jamie" Raskin, a Democrat from Montgomery County.

"We're seeing marriage equality as an economic stimulus measure," Mr. Raskin said. "We're talking about hotels, motels, caterers, restaurants, bars, bed and breakfasts, and all of the other wedding planning and event planning industries."

Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, signed the bill permitting gay marriage earlier this year, but social conservatives led by the Maryland Marriage Alliance petitioned it to the ballot. Because the law was upheld by voters, same-sex marriage becomes legal Jan. 1.

While the issue was debated in Annapolis last year, Mr. Raskin presented a 2007 study by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, looking at the potential impact to state revenues if same-sex marriage were allowed in Maryland. At the time, it was estimated the state would collect an additional $3.2 million annually.

"Presumably that's gone up," Mr. Raskin said of the added revenue. "And presuming there's pent-up demand for same-sex marriage, that should open the flood gates for some spending."

A study released earlier this year by New York City's marketing outlet and the city clerk's office showed that only one year after New York state approved gay marriage in 2011, New York City had raked in nearly $300 million.

Kim Frum, a spokeswoman for state Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot did not have estimates for the fiscal impact from Question 6. Echoing Mr. Raskin's expectations, she said that "there's going to have to be some positive effect."

"You figure there's going to be more people now who are actually able to get married," Ms. Frum said. "So it's safe to assume there's probably going to be some kind of benefit, even if it's small."

From his perspective, Mr. Formwalt said he expects the Maryland wedding industry to remain stable until January, though he's already seen a growing number of websites dealing specifically with gay wedding services.

He said at this point in the season, people are waiting for the new year to begin making plans, or going online to start getting their vendors priced.

"November to December are usually pretty slower," Mr. Formwalt said. "But I'm expecting it to be a little busier [next year]. I had a couple calls from gay couples last month. One couple wanted to get married in 2013, and a bride called for 2014."

For his own wedding, Mr. Formwalt said he and his partner had decided to marry on his parents' anniversary in June, regardless of how Question 6 fared at the polls.

"We decided if it didn't pass, we would just do a commitment ceremony," he said, adding that the two men would have videotaped the marriage in the District and played it at their reception in Maryland.

Within the Maryland wedding market, other vendors are also anticipating an influx in business.

Annie Applegarth, who works at Cloisters Castle in Lutherville, Md., and as an officiant for weddings and commitment ceremonies, said the medieval-style castle is already booking gay weddings for next September and October.

"It was done under the complete optimism that the law would pass," Ms. Applegarth said.

Ms. Applegarth said she was happy to hear the news that people can celebrate their marriage "openly, joyously and legally," and she is even offering to officially marry couples for whom she performed commitment ceremonies.

John Zito, president of the Maryland Wedding Professionals Association, said he also expected an uptick in wedding business, but likely not an onslaught.

"I think everyone is looking forward to it," Mr. Zito said. "We're looking forward to doing a few more weddings."

And while he doesn't think same-sex marriage could propel the industry in Maryland to where it once was — he's seen a 30 percent drop in business in recent years — at the very least there could be "a steady increase."

"I'm hoping business picks up," he said.

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