Nevada voters did the right thing with their approval of Question 2 on this month’s ballot — and they provided a solid boost to the state’s economy while they made a strong statement about the importance of human rights in the Silver State.
Question 2, you’ll recall, is the one that makes Nevada the first state to remove a ban on same-sex marriages from its state constitution. Well over 60 percent of Nevada voters supported the measure — a level of support that makes a heartening statement about the progress we’ve made in a short time.
The economic implications of the passage of Question 2, while little discussed during the run-up to the election, are likely to ripple across Nevada’s business landscape for years to come.
Growing regional economies, like growing businesses, are those that open and nurture new markets that generate important new revenues. Same-sex weddings already have become a growing market for the Las Vegas economy, and the passage of Question 2 solidifies its role.
A much-quoted statistic estimates that weddings generated $900 million a year in the Las Vegas economy before the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s a number that was kicked around even before 2015 — the year that the U.S. Supreme Court opened the way for same-sex marriages — and the weddings business very well may have topped $1 billion annually in Southern Nevada in recent years.
Same-sex weddings are a powerful addition to weddings sector of our economy.
Marriage is growing far more common in same-sex households. The Census Bureau estimates that 58 percent of same-sex households nationwide are bound together by marriage, and the households that choose marriage are an attractive business market. In fact, their household income of about $107,000 a year is more than 10 percent higher than their peers in opposite-sex married households. Same-sex couples look for exciting locations to celebrate their marriages. A 2018 survey by Community Marketing & Insights, a firm that specializes in LGBTQ research, found that destination weddings in resorts such as Las Vegas account for 18 percent of same-sex ceremonies.
Given their solid incomes and their interest in destination weddings, same-sex couples clearly represent an important business opportunity for Las Vegas.
In fact, it’s already happening.
Timeless Connections Las Vegas Wedding Officiants, an inclusive wedding firm, has seen a 30 percent increase in gay marriages since 2015, and it’s greatly increased its client base as a result.
But Dawn Mickens, the owner and CEO of Timeless Connections, says she and her husband, Darryl, have faced challenges as they built their small business.
“When I launched my wedding officiant business in 2015, I quickly realized that even though same sex marriages were legal, many officiants and ministers were still not open to the idea,” says Dawn. “It became my desire to see that love and marriage is recognized in the gay and lesbian community.”
When Community Marketing & Insights conducted its survey of the attitudes of same-sex couples about marriage, it learned that LGBTQ couples didn’t necessarily expect that wedding vendors themselves would be members of the LGBTQ community. But they expect to work with wedding firms that openly acknowledge their work with same-sex couples. Timeless Connections, for instance, is a strong member of the Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Nevada.
Just as that membership sends a strong signal about the business to potential same-sex wedding clients, Nevada’s passage of Question 2 sends a similarly strong message about the state’s inclusive weddings businesses.
Those statements are more important than you might think.
The Community Marketing & Insights survey found that two out of three same-sex couples worry that religious freedom laws and legal challenges will reverse the right of LGBTQ couples to marry in all 50 states. In fact, half of them expect that some states will begin closing the doors within the next few years, and same-sex marriages again will be legal in some states, illegal in others.
With their approval of Question 2, Nevada’s voters strengthened the state’s brand as a wedding destination for same-sex couples. Voters proactively told LGBTQ couples that Nevada welcomes them and is excited to work with them to create their wedding memories, just as the state’s wedding industry has done for hundreds of thousands of opposite-sex couples for decades.
Weddings support Las Vegas businesses ranging from the largest hotels on the Strip to tiny one-person shops that create cakes and floral arrangements. Question 2 solidifies the financial underpinnings of all those businesses by strengthening the Nevada’s reputation for inclusion.
The voters have created an economic opportunity. Now it’s up to savvy business owners to capitalize on the opportunity we’ve been given.
Tim Haughinberry is chief executive officer of Back Bar USA and the Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Nevada.