Businesses catering to same-sex couples

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

When states around the country began legalizing same-sex marriage, longtime couple Julie Rogers and Jennifer Butka of Livonia decided to be patient.

“We always said we’d wait for Michigan,” said Rogers. “But so many things started to change, so we went to Illinois and got married there.”

But the courthouse wedding with few family members and friends present was not the wedding of their dreams. So on Saturday, a year after their official marriage, they are holding a traditional wedding at their church and a reception afterward for 185 guests.

They said they had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

Julie Rogers, left, and Jen Butka of Livonia got married last year in Illinois but are having a reception Saturday for 185 guests.

“I don’t think we realized all the work it would entail,” said Rogers.

Luckily, her best friend, Amanda Laidlaw, runs a wedding planning company, With A Little Help, which works with LGBT clients and helps them find vendors and venues that will cater to all individuals.

“One place rejected us right at the beginning,” said Butka.

“It’s been a learning curve for them and for us,” added Rogers.

In the wake of the historic Supreme Court decision on marriage equality, there has been a major shift in the sense of security couples feel, as well as a shift for businesses that are owned by or serve same-sex couples, says Sam McClure, senior vice president of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

“Equal access to marriage equality has been looming over the LGBT community for so many years,” said McClure. “Having this decision made allows people to shift to other priorities.”

One of those priorities is getting federal protection against discrimination. The issue has gotten attention in the weeks since the decision as some businesses across the country refuse to serve same-sex couples.

“When you see this trend where people are exerting where they shouldn’t have to do business with one particular set of people for a reason that leans on a religious belief, well we’ve seen this before, it’s not just the LGBT community,” said McClure. “We have to continue to be a strong voice that this is a country where everyone has a chance to participate fully.”

An abundance of options

Laidlaw, who runs her Plymouth-based wedding planning company alongside her sister, Mallory Carmack, sees the High Court ruling as an opportunity to grow her business. They are organizing the Aug. 22 wedding ceremony for April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, the Hazel Park couple whose lawsuit challenging Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban led to the ruling.

Laidlaw said they hope to see more same-sex couples who are looking for help in planning their weddings now that the legality issue is no longer a question.

“We’ve had a little bit more interest, but some of it is couples who didn’t really think about their weddings for their whole lives,” said Laidlaw. “People have options now and a lot of people we know are just stymied looking at those options.”

When Mike Green quit his job at Ford Motor Co. to open a bakery, Crust, in Fenton, alongside partner Mark Hamel, he never thought he’d see the day where they could marry and fully build their lives together.

“This ruling validates my family. It says, ‘We’re different, but let’s value the differences between each other,’ ” said Green, who married Hamel in a ceremony in Boston six years ago.

And from a business perspective, “we feel when you are open for business, you’re open for business,” he said. “If you want to have the public’s business, you have to serve them all.”

Not everyone feels that way. According to an Associated Press-GfK poll conducted July 9-13, 59 percent of respondents said wedding-related businesses with religious objections should be allowed to refuse service to gay and lesbian couples.

Also, 46 percent said businesses in general should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples, while 51 percent said that should not be allowed.

For some business owners, treating all customers equally is a nonissue.

When Amanda Cover and her sister Amy Pruder opened Bombshell Bridal Boutique in St. Clair Shores, they made it clear their mission was to help all women who want a wedding dress.

The shop specializes in plus-size wedding dresses, and Cover says serving the LGBT community “is the decent thing to do, and lines up with our core values.”

“We’re about making women who are, more often than not, marginalized, feel beautiful,” said Cover. “We want all these ladies to come here, regardless of sexual orientation or size. It doesn’t matter to us.”

One of those couples was Jenay Kightlinger and Lisa Bishop from Redford Township. When they were planning their marriage ceremony for last August, they worried about whether they would be able to find businesses willing to provide for a same-sex couple. But they decided they wouldn’t hide their relationship.

“That was the first thing out of my mouth when I called anywhere,” said Kightlinger, who is not technically married to Bishop just yet. “We had heard that people would go and put in a reservation and the minute they found out it was for a same-sex wedding or ceremony, the venue would say they were overbooked or something else had come up.”

Excitement followed ruling

Cover says she has seen interest perk up since the Supreme Court decision, because now same-sex couples can plan their weddings just like any other couple.

“It is pretty soon to tell, but we have had a few girls in who were waiting for that to happen before they started looking at things,” she said. “It has made a difference. But we’re more excited to see going forward how it’s going to change things.”

Brooke Todoroff, who is the general manager for Farina’s catering in Berkley, says there is an air of excitement following the Supreme Court ruling, but no bookings yet.

“We’ve definitely seen some interest. I’ve had a lot of people receiving information beforehand. They are now calling back now that (same-sex marriage) is legal,” said Todoroff. She said she received 24 calls in the first 10 days following the ruling.

Sadie Quagliotto of Tux on Nine in Ferndale says while her business has not seen a mad dash for wedding bookings, there has been an increase in inquiries.

“They want to plan it out and have a dream wedding just like anybody else,” said Quagliotto. “You will see an uptick (in the numbers of same-sex weddings) in the next month.”

Everton Swearing, left, and Arthur White got their wedding cake from Sweet Dreams bakery in Warren. They were married last Saturday.

While Samir Daher, owner of Sweet Dreams cake shop in Warren, has always made wedding or commitment ceremony cakes for same-sex couples, he says the Supreme Court ruling has given people more confidence when they come into the business.

“Before only one person would come and order the wedding cake,” he said. “Now we’re seeing them coming together and ordering together.”

Daher was part of Arthur White’s and Everton Swearing’s special day. The couple, together for 28 years, married last Saturday at a ceremony at the Detroit Opera House with a Sweet Dreams cake.

“We were waiting for it to be legal across the country,” said an elated White. “I didn’t think it would come this quickly.”

Staff Writer Oralandar Brand-Williams contributed.