Niagara Gazette

June 29, 2013

High court ruling seen as boon to the Falls wedding chapels

The Associated Press
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The calls started coming in to Shanie McCowen's wedding planning business as soon as the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages were entitled to federal recognition.

"I've booked four weddings in the past 24 hours," said McCowen, who started her company, Rainbow Bells, in the city when gay marriage became legal in New York in 2011. "I was up all night. It's insane."

The high court's ruling Wednesday striking down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act doesn't mean that same-sex couples will be able to marry in states that haven't legalized gay marriage, but those who travel to wed in a state that has approved gay marriage, like New York, will be eligible for some benefits such as the ability to sponsor a spouse for citizenship.

Wedding planners and others say they expect an increase in weddings in New York following the court's action, both among couples who live in the state and tourists.

Sally Fedell, owner of The Falls Wedding Chapel in the Falls, said gay couples from conservative states have already been traveling to Niagara to marry at her chapel and she expects to see an increase now.

"They always say, 'My state will be the last state to legalize it,'" Fedell said. "So I do think we're going to feel an impact and we're trying to get the word out there and let couples know that we're open and affirming for gay marriage."

McCowen said that before the ruling, some potential clients said, 'Why bother? We're not going to be recognized when we get home anyway. We'll just stay in our domestic partnership."

She said the ruling "definitely encouraged people to reconsider and think about it and pull the trigger."

New York is one of 13 states plus the District of Columbia that has acted to legalize same-sex marriage. Nathan Schaefer, executive director of the gay-rights group Empire State Pride Agenda, said New York has hosted 12,000 same-sex weddings in the two years since such unions became legal and he expects an increase after the DOMA ruling.

Several couples waiting to marry at the city clerk's office in Manhattan on Friday said the Supreme Court's decision had spurred them to act.

Daisy Berks, 38, of Brooklyn, was eight months pregnant as she wed partner Stephanie Boyd, 30.

"Before the DOMA decision, we felt chained to New York, and now we feel like we can do anything," Berks said. "This is about solidifying our family as a unit."