By Meg O’Neil
A bill that would allow same-sex marriages in Rhode Island has received support from Discover Newport, the county’s main tourism and hospitality board, representing Aquidneck Island, Jamestown, Bristol, Warren, Tiverton, Little Compton, and Barrington.
Discover Newport President and CEO Evan Smith said the organization is hopeful that the legislation will pass, as he believes it would cause a “significant increase” in business across the nine towns.
On Jan. 24, the bill was passed by the House of Representatives, 51-19. It now faces a more divided Senate Judiciary Committee, chosen by Senate President and Newporter Teresa Paiva-Weed, an opponent of same-sex marriage.
Smith said that he has not directly reached out to Paiva-Weed to express the board’s support of the legislation, but the hospitality industry is “100 percent” behind the bill.
“We see that there’s a trend across the United States and the world for how destinations are positioning themselves to attract the very lucrative gay and lesbian market,” Smith said. “When you look at demographic surveys, gay and lesbian travelers are seeking a place that is full of museums, art, food, and culture … and Newport is very consistent in those offerings,” Smith said. “It’s a weird oxymoron to say that you’re welcome to visit us, but you can’t get married here.”
If the marriage bill is passed, Smith said it could create a huge boost in the local wedding market in terms of lodging, florists, transportation, etc. “Their market share is going to go way up,” he said. “There seems to be a lot of hope and excitement around this.” (In 2011, civil unions between gay and lesbian couples became legal in Rhode Island, but since then, only five civil unions have been performed in Newport.)
Several area wedding industry vendors have also indicated their support of the legislation.
Mark Gervais, the general manager of the Hotel Viking, said if the legislation were to pass, the hotel could expect to see the yearly number of weddings and receptions it hosts double. The Viking currently hosts roughly 70 wedding receptions a year.
“We’re the only state in New England that doesn’t allow same sex weddings, so Rhode Islanders are leaving the state to have marriages performed elsewhere,” Gervais said.
John Karchner, General Manager of the Hyatt Regency hotel also says he supports the legislation. “We have hosted several same-sex wedding celebrations over the past few years, and we are looking forward to the possibility of being able to share our beautiful location and venue to all who are looking to legally marry.”