If you legalize it, they will come.
That’s at least the hope of Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who’s rolling out a unique tourism pitch that aims to cash in on his state’s newly enacted marriage equality legislation. The “Marry Me in Minneapolis” campaign kicked off on Thursday in a predominantly gay neighborhood in Chicago, Ill., where LGBT advocates have struggled to get marriage equality passed through the state Legislature. After that, Rybak will take his campaign to Colorado and Wisconsin, two other states that currently limit marriage to unions between one man and one woman.
While Rybak has seen firsthand the emotional value in being able to at last marry the person you love (he conducted the state’s first gay weddings back in August,) his motivations now for advertising Minnesota’s marriage laws are both sentimental and economic.
“I hope the day comes very soon that all Illinoisans can marry the person that they love, and I strongly encourage the Legislature and [Illinois] Gov. Quinn to pass marriage equality as soon as possible,” the mayor said at a press conference Thursday. “But until that day comes, I’m here to steal their business.”
Rybak estimated in a telephone interview with the Associated Press that even as few as 20 weddings would figure “tens of thousands of dollars, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars.” His press secretary, Andy Holmaas, agreed that the pitch could translate into big money for the city.
“The mayor’s really proud of Minneapolis,” said Holmaas to MSNBC Thursday. “We’d be thrilled to be a destination wedding city for all loving couples. So until the Legislatures in these states change the laws, we’re wide open.”
So far, Holmaas said the reaction to the campaign has been “extremely positive,” particularly from florists and event space owners who have already seen their businesses improve in the month since gay couples began marrying. The U.S. wedding industry in 2012 raked in nearly $55 billion dollars, according to The Wedding Report, and that was before gay couples could marry in California, Maryland, Delaware, Rhode Island, or Minnesota. (Gay couples could marry in Maine in 2012, but just barely, as that state’s marriage equality legislation went into effect on Dec. 29.)
A recent Forbes analysis estimated that if the laws were changed everywhere, gay couples currently living together would collectively spend $16.8 billion over several years to get married. And in Minnesota, a study by the Williams Institute found that extending marriage rights to same-sex couples would grow the state’s wedding and tourism business by $42 million.
“It’s obviously significant,” said Bernadette Coveney Smith, founder and president of 14 Stories and the Gay Wedding Institute, of the economic impact that comes with legalizing marriage equality. “New York City alone benefited by $259 million in one year” after the state passed the Marriage Equality Act in 2011.
“I’m sure that Minneapolis is going to benefit,” she said.