State’s same-sex couples can wed as early as Dec. 9

Helen Lally returned from an East Coast business trip late Thursday night to find flowers and a note on a table in her Edmonds home.

“Will you marry me?” read the card from her longtime partner, Laura Jaurequi.

The answer never was in doubt. But getting married has never been possible in their 16 years together. With the passage of Referendum 74, they can now set a date for a wedding. And they have: September 2013.

“It’s a great feeling,” Jaurequi said, noting the two did hold a commitment ceremony in 2000. “This one’s for real. We’ll have a big wedding. We’ll have a big party. We’ll spend some money.”

Though Jaurequi and Lally are waiting, the first marriages of gay and lesbian couples will take place less than a month from now.

Secretary of State Sam Reed plans to certify results for the ballot measure on Dec. 5, and marriage licenses can be issued the next day. State law imposes a three-day waiting period, meaning weddings can be scheduled as soon as Dec. 9.

“On that day you may be hearing wedding bells all over the state,” said Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel, who is bracing for a rush of people obtaining licenses.

Stuart Wilber and John Breitweiser of Seattle, who are friends of Jaurequi and Lally, are among those intending to get hitched Dec. 9.

For them, it’s near perfect timing, coming just a day after they mark their 35th anniversary.

“We’re not doing it because it’s the first chance to do it, though we’ve been waiting 35 years,” said Wilber, 74, of Seattle. “The date is very significant for us.”

Gig Harbor residents Wes Friedman and Dave Arterburn intend to exchange vows around 9 a.m. that day. They want to be among Washington’s first married couples of the same sex.

“It is historic. We wanted to do it,” Friedman said.

Gay and lesbian couples aren’t alone in celebrating the new law. For those working in the wedding industry, this should bring a windfall of new business.

“You can feel the buzz,” said Frank Harlan of Seattle, an officiant of weddings and commitment ceremonies. “Everybody is trying to capture the gay customer. For some vendors it will be a boon. Some of those caterers will kick ass.”

An estimated $700 million is spent annually on weddings in Washington, of which $380 million is in the Seattle area, according to data compiled by Seattle Bride magazine.

That figure will almost certainly climb as the thousands of those with registered domestic partnerships in this state marry.

Wedding planner Wendy Wojcik of Mukilteo predicted vendors will begin reaping financial rewards next year.

December is traditionally a time for marriage proposals and engagements, said Wojcik, founder of Weddings with Wendy. Come January, gay and lesbian couples will start putting together the ceremony and celebration of their dreams, she said.

“After the first of the year we’re going to be very busy,” she said. “(Gay couples) have waited this long, they’re going to do it right. All the venues will be filled up and we’ll be busy for the next five years.”

Hotels and venue operators are already marketing special offers to same-sex couples. For example, the Edgewater Hotel in Seattle announced a “Plunge with Pride” package that includes a room for the event and overnight accommodations.

Ali Brownrigg, editor of Seattle Bride magazine, doesn’t foresee a huge economic spurt partly because Washington’s wedding industry has long embraced same-sex couples and civil ceremonies.

“Now that gay marriage is legal, I expect there to be a small bump in same-sex-specific outreach from these vendors,” she said in an email. “But I suspect, because many of these businesses already support and work with same sex couples, that they’ll just continue doing what they’re doing.”

That’s how Judy Tallant of Monroe sees it for her business, Tallant House Fine Sweets &Other Eats.

“I have been contacted quite often over the last few years to do gay weddings,” she wrote in an email, “so the new law didn’t change anything for me at this point, in my observation.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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