Same sex marriage ban is costing Australia tourism dollars

My Facebook feed these past months has been full of happy Australian couples celebrating marriages in the United Kingdom and the US, taking advantage of the northern summer. One of the brides wore a kilt.

Most of these weddings were same-sex marriages. Perhaps it's not so unusual these days with bans on such marriages being lifted in 21 countries, including New Zealand, Ireland and Brazil. 

But the plethora of big gay weddings among my Facebook friends is indicative of one thing – Australian gay couples still have to go overseas to get married.  Straight couples don't need to go through the logistics of organising a wedding overseas. If they do, it's by choice. They can always get married at home, with as many family members and friends as they like witnessing.  

The deputy mayor of Auburn in Sydney recently disrupted a whole suburb with his lavish wedding, but partners who have been together for a quarter of a century can't hold a simple legal ceremony in their  backyards.

I'm not alone in thinking this discrimination is a disgrace. A Galaxy poll has shown 81 per cent of young Australians support marriage equality, with 64 per cent of the general population supporting it and 75 per cent thinking it inevitable. Inevitable or not, plebiscite or not, it's not soon enough for LGBT couples who live in Australia and wish to marry. As it stands, they now have to become inventive with solutions and it is overseas destinations and accommodation options that are reaping the benefits.    

Brett and Stuart Baillie-Galvin, who live in Sydney, held their recent wedding in a Scottish castle. (Stuart is Scottish; Brett from New Zealand.) There were 100 guests, of whom about 70 came from outside Britain. The photos on Facebook of Stuart in a kilt and Brett in a tux, surrounded by friends and family in the environs of a stately castle were full of joy and love. "We wanted to give our friends an amazing experience," Brett says, but "we didn't have the option of our adopted country, sadly." 

When Melbourne-born David Glover married Swede Anders Sjöstedt in an Episcopal church in Manhattan, David's grandfather, who was 92, had to give his speech via Skype. The reception, full of Aussies and Swedes, was held at David and Anders' Hamptons house. "I made the point of mentioning in my speech that what we were celebrating would not have been possible in Australia," David says.

Chris Bromley, an Australian living in London, and his British partner, Adam Crick, were married in New York City at City Hall. "What made it special was that there were a number of LGBT couples getting married that day too," Chris says. "It really felt like we were doing something significant that we couldn't do at the time in the UK (and would still not be able to do in Australia.)"

David Bristow and Geoff Holland, who have been together 30 years, were travelling to the US on business, married in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Friends came from Toronto to witness the ceremony and the photos were posted on Facebook so that family could view the happy event. 

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Every time I see one of these weddings on Facebook I wonder how much our laws regarding same sex marriage are costing our tourism industry in the revenue that weddings engender. 

For each wedding that's potentially 100 or more people we're not catering to, many of whom might be staying in Australian accommodation, eating in local restaurants, supporting local jobs. 

From a tourism point of view, the rainbow dollar is sought-after. After its recent plebiscite, Ireland began an "Ireland says I do" campaign, targeting same-sex couples and promoting those Irish locations that could provide romantic backdrops to ceremonies, such as Kinnitty Castle in County Offaly.

Across our pond, New Zealand has gone all out to capture the gay wedding market, with a flurry of new businesses created to cater for these weddings. In a clever piece of publicity, an Australian gay couple married on the runway during New Zealand Fashion Week in Auckland. 

In June, a Fairfax Media story estimated that same sex weddings would give a $1.2 billion boost to our economy, complementing the government's small business agenda.  Heterosexual marriages were worth over $7 billion last year. No wonder New Zealand is keen to take advantage of Australia's slowness to enter the 21st century.

If legalising same-sex marriage is indeed inevitable here, then let's get a move on, shall we? Make it easier and less expensive for couples to marry with their families and loved ones around them. 

Not only will we have more rainbows, but tourism will get a huge boost as well.

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