DES MOINES — During four years as the only Midwestern state to offer same-sex marriage, Iowa has seen thousands of couples travel to the Hawkeye State for wedding celebrations that have pumped millions of dollars into the state economy.
But Iowa will get some competition in the cake and champagne industry when a Minnesota law legalizing gay marriage goes into effect on Aug. 1. Some Minnesota officials are already rolling out the red carpet for gay couples from other states.
“Weddings are a good business. That's an exciting part of it,” St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said. “We're really seeing this as an opportunity to not only do right by the community, but the economic (benefit as well).”
Coleman, a Democrat, added, “It could be a friendly competition between Minnesota and Iowa, but we're confident St. Paul will do well.”
Just how the shift will affect the Iowa wedding industry is hard to predict. Although the states are similar in many ways, Minneapolis-St. Paul is a metropolitan area that nearly equals Iowa's total population, and the Twin Cities airport offers more frequent and often cheaper flights than Iowa airports.
Those factors might prove attractive to an out-of-state couple looking for a place to wed. Still, Iowa gay rights advocates said there is support in the state for gay couples and ravel to Iowa will continue.
“We're so pleased that Minnesota now has marriage. I think that in terms of revenue, in terms of the number of couples, that's not going to change that much,” said Donna Red Wing, executive director of One Iowa, the state's largest gay advocacy group. “I think people make choices based on lots of things. It seems like everybody has some connection to Iowa.”
A 2009 Iowa Supreme Court ruling legalized gay marriage in the state, making it the third in the nation to do so. In May, Minnesota became the 12th, plus the District of Columbia, to approve same-sex unions.
States that have legalized same-sex marriage, including Iowa, have seen an economic boost from those celebrations. According to a report from the Williams Institute, a LGBT-focused think tank at the University of California, about $12 million was spent on gay weddings and related tourism in Iowa during the first year it was available. An estimated $4.6 million of that was generated by out-of-state couples.
Of the 1,302 same-sex weddings in Iowa in 2011, 955 were couples who lived outside the state, according to state data.
Some Minnesota destinations want in on the action. Tourism websites for Minneapolis and St. Paul offer information on same-sex marriage.
“We're Midwesterners. It's all friendly competition,” said Adam Johnson, vice president of marketing for Visit St Paul.
There is less of a visible public push coming from Iowa tourism groups. No gay marriage information is available on the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau site, though CEO Greg Edwards said the group would consider a change. Edwards said officials had looked at putting marketing dollars into promoting gay marriage, but their research suggested that it wasn't going to be a big enough draw to devote significant resources.
Wedding planner Beau Fodor, who has focused on same-sex unions since 2009, said he thinks Iowa will continue to get wedding tourism.
“I think the demographic that's interested in a heartland- style wedding is going to come to Iowa,” said Fodor, noting that couples get more for their money in Iowa. “We can hold our own, and it's our price point. I can do a $30,000 wedding here that would be $50,000 in Minneapolis.”
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