Windfall on way in gay marriage

ADAM ROBERTS
Last updated 13:00 18/04/2013

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Same-sex marriage could mean big business for wedding celebrants, with several in the Nelson region saying they are ready to help gay couples get hitched.

Last night Labour MP Louisa Wall's marriage equality bill passed its third reading 77 votes to 44 in front of a packed Parliamentary gallery.

According to a survey run by Australian same-sex marriage group Australian Marriage Equality, more than 1000 Australian couples have already indicated they would make a trip to New Zealand to tie the knot.

Kaiteriteri celebrant Terri Everett, who runs wedding business The Dream Maker, said the bill had the potential to bring same-sex couples from overseas here to tie the knot.

She already had a same-sex wedding organised for February, between two men from Scotland.

The couple got engaged in the Abel Tasman National Park a decade ago and now would be coming back for their wedding. They had emailed her last night to express their joy at the bill going through.

"They are a couple that have been together a long time . . . if that doesn't prove [they] have a solid relationship then what does?"

She expected a boom in bookings thanks to the bill, particularly from Australia, where a similar bill was voted down last year.

Couples needed to be in the country for three days before they could marry, and many used the wedding as a holiday, so she anticipated gay couples coming to Nelson to marry would contribute a significant amount to the local economy.

She was aware that holding same-sex marriages may put off others from booking with her, but said she was not worried about losing those customers. "I don't know if I want that business.

"There are people who are worried about the negative side of it, I have made that choice."

She said she was a Christian, and guessed many same-sex couples were too.

"People are realising they need to be with the times, or be in the minority."

Richmond celebrant Lester Oakes said he would have to wait and see how the bill affected business, but his hunch was that a higher number of same-sex couples would choose to marry than those who opted to get civil unions when that bill was introduced.

He had been in Wellington last night, and although he had not seen the debate he said the atmosphere was exciting, with the bill the talk of the city.

He would "absolutely" act as a celebrant for same-sex weddings.

"Your job as an independent celebrant is to offer those services for anyone who wants them."

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He also dismissed the prospect of a backlash from those opposed to same-sex weddings.

"Quite frankly, it doesn't concern me. It's plain and simple to me, it's about people who want to commit to each other in a way that formalises their relationship."

Celebrant and wedding organiser Angel Pearson, who runs wedding business The Wedding Whisperer, said for her the same-sex marriage was a civil rights issue, and she was thrilled the bill had passed.

A passionate member of her church, she knew others inside the church had standards they wanted to keep but she did not believe those should apply to those outside the church.

Her personal opinion did not come into her wedding services, she said.

It would be interesting to see how the introduction of the bill impacted on her industry but she expected little change until the bill became law.

"Up until last night it wasn't an option, so why would you be planning your marriage if you didn't think you were going to be able to have one?"

She dealt reasonably frequently with gay couples, and it was nice that they now had the option of going for a marriage ceremony.

"There are couples who passionately want to get married, but I think for a lot of couples the civil union bill did tick a lot of boxes in terms of legal protections."

She had not decided whether she would personally act as celebrant in weddings for same-sex couples, and this was something she would think about over the next few months, she said.

Nelson couple Shawn and Carter Stormann have been together for more than 12 years and their relationship has civil union status.

Shawn Stormann said they both changed their surnames to his step-father's during a ceremony in Massachusetts in the United States 10 years ago, so they could share the same one.

"It [same-sex marriage] wasn't legal in the States, but it was legal in the town. At the time it was the closest thing that we could do," he said.

"I think equality is equality. You don't think about equality until you get backed up against the wall. That's when you realise that despite having a loving and committed relationship, there are obstacles if it's not legal."

Mr Stormann said the new law was "a fantastic step", and he and Carter would "possibly" get married.

He had a sister in the United States who would love to visit them in Nelson, and a wedding invitation would be hard to refuse.

- The Nelson Mail

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