Florida, Sidelined As States Embrace Marriage Equality, Seeks Honeymooners

January 2, 2014
BuzzFeed

Written By: Mark Joyella, BuzzFeed Contributor

In a state known for its splashy White Parties and a Key West New Year’s Eve that features the ceremonial lowering of a drag queen named Sushi in a giant red pump, nobody figured Utah would get marriage equality first. “Utah was a huge surprise,” said Mikael Audebert, president of MBA Orlando, Central Florida’s LGBT chamber of commerce. “Florida is still an unknown.”

Orlando’s LGBT chamber of commerce hopes honeymooners will help bring business—and equality—to the Sunshine State.

There are, of course, two Floridas. There’s the one that’s known for South Beach and Wilton Manors, and that’s the state Nate Silver projects will, by 2016, hit 53-percent of voters supporting a same sex marriage ballot initiative.

Then there’s the other Florida. This is the Florida that looks much more like Alabama and Georgia, and as Miami New Times’ Kyle Munzenrieder notes, it’s the place where any marriage equality initiative would fail with just 53 percent:
“You need 60 percent to pass a constitutional amendment in Florida, which means the state could still be at least a decade away from seeing marriage equality.”

And yet, Florida activists who’ve watched the dominoes fall from Vermont to Hawaii don’t see themselves sitting on the sidelines. “I’m proud of where our country is headed, and I’m proud to be a part of this,” said Andrew Springer, founder of Orlando’s Wedding Alliance, a nonprofit created three years ago to support marriage equality—and to serve couples who want to hold commitment ceremonies in Florida. For Springer, it’s inevitable that his event space near Orlando’s picturesque Lake Eola will move beyond commitment ceremonies and host weddings fully recognized by the law. “I can’t tell you how excited I’ll be when Florida is one of them.”

When might that be? The group Equality Florida has set a goal: three years. “In the fight for LGBT equality, Florida leads among Southern states and has become the new frontline,” says Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida, the largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s LGBT community. “The next three years are primed for huge breakthroughs in this battleground state that will ripple nationwide.”

In the meantime, people like Mikael Audebert are following the money—by one estimate, 154 million dollars that Central Florida alone will lose over the next three years by failing to pass equality. A financial analysis drafted for Equality Florida concludes:

In addition to the immediate loss of economical impact for businesses directly or indirectly involved in the wedding industry, Florida stands to lose on tourism. LGBT individuals for the vast majority tend to support States and countries that have LGBT friendly policies towards their citizens. While Orlando is currently the second tourist destination in the US (after Las Vegas), it is number 9 and 10 respectively among Gays and Lesbians.

Last but not least, it has been determined and proven through several interviews and studies that Orlando and Florida in general are and remain at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting qualified workforce. As more and more States move towards marriage equality, employers will continue to struggle transferring or bringing highly qualified LGBT employees who would end up losing their rights by moving to our State.

In the next 12 months, an estimated 50,000 same sex couples will get married in one of the 16 States that have enacted The Freedom to Marry legislation. That is an estimated $150 million spent on honeymoons over the next 12 months. According to the latest U.S. census, there are over 620,000 LGBT couples living under the same roof in the United States
alone. As an international destination, Orlando also has, in the coming years, the opportunity to promote itself as a honeymoon destination for LGBT people living in any of the 17 countries that have enacted Freedom to Marry legislations. One of these countries, Brazil, currently represents the largest contingent of tourists in Orlando.

In January, his group will launch an LGBT marketing effort aimed at luring same sex newlyweds to Central Florida. “why not bring individuals that are able to get married in all 18 states in the US right now to Florida for a honeymoon,” asks Audebert. “The message won’t be any different than it is when it comes to targeting other groups. It’s going to be Orlando makes a very good honeymoon destination. Come and give us a try.”

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