The Empire State Strikes Back

New York’s decision to allow gay marriage was a great stride for equality—one that could cost Massachusetts millions in lost tourism.

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Illustration by Daniel Stolle / Anna Goodson Management

New York legalizes gay marriage, becoming the sixth state to do so, and once again the world does not end. What may well have ended, though, is our state’s lock on the tourism boom that comes with it.

Since 2008, when Massachusetts made it legal for nonresident gay couples to wed, we have been the prime destination for same-sex weddings. A 2008 study out of UCLA (requested by the Massachusetts legislature) projected that allowing out-of-staters to tie the knot here would generate $37 million for the state’s economy each year.

But now New York is aggressively going after that business with promotions such as the ambitious “NYC I Do” ad campaign. In the next three years, gay and lesbian couples crossing into the Empire State to get hitched will create $131 million in revenue, according to a study by the New York Senate Independent Democratic Conference.

The Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism insists that it’s not worried. “With all due respect,” says executive director Betsy Wall, “whatever business they have, it doesn’t really hurt us.”

That sounds an awful lot like denial to some. Consider Bernadette Coveney Smith, who began her Boston wedding-planning company, 14 Stories, as the country’s first specializing in gay weddings. Smith says business in Massachusetts is already suffering because people in the LGBT community have been anticipating New York’s embrace for some time. Sales of one of her popular offerings, the elopement package, are down by 50 percent in Massachusetts. She recently opened an office in New York City.

Jennifer Cox, the owner of Boston’s Esq.Events Wedding Coordination, is also concerned. “There’s no question that the wedding industry in Massachusetts will see a decrease in out-of-town couples,” she says.

Still, she’s not about to just concede customers to our neighbors to the south. “Not to combine feuds,” she says, citing one uniquely Boston wedding site, “but New York does not have venues like Fenway Park.”