6 Months of Gay Marriage: Seattle Welcomes its Summer of Love

In 1967, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood was the epicenter of the Summer of Love. As the Scott McKenzie song implored, thousands of hippies - with flowers in their hair - converged on the city, looking for a stake in the counterculture phenomenon that helped define a generation.

In 2013, Washington, and more specifically Seattle and King County, are in the midst of a Summer of Love of a different kind. Six months after Washington passed Referendum 74 – making same-sex marriage legal in our state – the wedding bells just keep ringing: In King County, roughly 52 percent more marriage licenses were issued between December 2012 and March 2013 compared to the same period the previous year, according to the county.

For Seattle’s Shotgun Ceremonies – a Pioneer Square chapel that specializes in fast and unique hitches – that increase has come almost exclusively in the form of gay marriages.

“It’s been fabulous. We’ve probably over doubled our business,” says Shotgun Ceremonies co-owner Browen Stevenson, who opened the 800 square-foot chapel three years ago along with business partner Sara Qureshi. “It’s been extremely helpful.”

Other counties haven’t seen the same spike. In Pierce County, for instance – which rejected R-74 by a slim margin of just under 3,000 votes -- 2,292 marriage licenses were issued between Dec. 6 and May 9. Of those, according to the Pierce County Auditor’s Office, only 275 were same-sex couples. In Thurston County, where R-74 was approved by 15,000 votes, the results have been similar: 717 marriage licenses were issued between Dec. 2012 and April 2013, as compared to 559 over the same period the previous year. (The Thurston County Auditor’s Office could not provide information on how many of the marriage licenses went to same-sex couples.) In Snohomish County, where R-74 was approved by almost 20,000 votes, there were 1,468 marriage licenses issued between Dec. 2012 and April 2013, as compared to 1,192 over the same period the previous year. (Again, numbers for how many were issued to same-sex couples could not be provided.)

Meanwhile, east of the mountains in Adams County – which by percentage rejected R-74 by the largest margin – according to the Adams County Auditor’s Office there has been exactly one same-sex marriage.

Back in Seattle, Stevenson says Shotgun Ceremonies performs 20 to 40 marriages a month, and since R-74 became law at least half have been of the same-sex variety. Prior to same-sex marriage becoming legal in Washington Shotgun Ceremonies presided over plenty of civil unions, according to Stevenson, but since December 2012 the same-sex marriage business has been booming.

In part, the brisk business at Shotgun Ceremonies has been aided by some shrewd marketing. To celebrate the historic change in Washington’s marriage laws, last December Stevenson and Quereshi offered a week of free same-sex marriages. But according to the entrepreneurs, that decision had far less to do with boosting business as it did with simply doing the right thing for people who had long deserved the right to get hitched.

“We wanted this so badly for everyone. [A week of free same-sex marriages] was the only way we could think of. We wanted to reverse all the negativity in the wedding industry,” says Stevenson of the decision. “It’s hard for me to hear people ask if we do gay weddings. … There are a lot of officiants that still wont do same-sex marriages. It’s sad. It’s like, ‘Of course we do that!’

While Washington is one of 12 states that have legalized same-sex marriage (a hopefully growing list), Stevenson says many Shotgun Ceremonies customers venture to Seattle to tie the knot from somewhere else in the country. She estimates that about one-third of the Shotgun Ceremonies clientele is made up of “out of towners.”

“Hopefully, America will evolve a little bit and move on and see how wonderful [same-sex marriages] are,” says Stevenson.

Truer words have never been spoken.

Until then, however, we can celebrate the Summer of Love in Seattle.

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