by Kyle Mittan
When Angela Soto and Linda Dols get married Nov. 13, it’ll be their second wedding. The difference will be the state’s recognition of their union.
Soto and Dols are one many couples in the state whose wishes to marry in Arizona were finally met on Oct. 17 when a federal judge ruled the state’s law banning gay marriage was unconstitutional. Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne announced hours later that the state would not appeal.
Soto, who heard the news of the ruling on her way home from work, took a detour to the nearest 99-cent store. She bought a ring and drove to Dols’ office at University of Arizona’s main library.
“I said, ‘Do you want to make this legal,’” Soto said, retelling the experience with cracks in her voice and tears in her eyes. “I didn’t really think about how now we’ve got to have another wedding.”
Soto and Dols considered themselves married after their commitment ceremony on April 8, 2006, but the ruling sparked another marriage proposal and another round of event planning. And that is opening up a whole new niche in the wedding planning industry.
Soto and Dols, who have been together 14 years, held their commitment ceremony at Las Candelas on East Limberlost Road in Tucson. Both wore off-white wedding dresses, and decorated the tables with photos from past weddings from their two families. The guest list included hundreds.
“Even though it wasn’t legal, we felt that it was pretty meaningful,” Soto said.
Soto and Dols are getting married on the 14th anniversary of their first date. Unlike last time, they said they won’t spend thousands of dollars and two years to plan the ceremony. They’ll wear white tuxedos, and the venue will be the brick sidewalk outside Pima County Superior Court at 4 p.m. on a Thursday. Because of the timing, they said they don’t expect many guests, which is just what they wanted.
Since the same-sex marriage ruling, Susan Tomlinson has been revisiting many couples whose unions she officiated years ago. Each of them, she said, included very little planning and happened in a very short amount of time — a trend Tomlinson said came just after the ruling was passed, with many couples interested in having a ceremony to celebrate their legal union, but less interested in the stress that comes with a large event.
“People who have had these relationships for a long, long time are wanting to make them legal,” Tomlinson said.
She added that she expects younger same-sex couples to take the more traditional route and plan an event with a rehearsal, dinner and a venue.
Traditional, yet unique
Theresa Noble, owner of Fresh From the Kitchen catering and Fresh Event Venue in Phoenix, said that since the same-sex ruling, she has seen an increase in wedding planning. She anticipates the trend will continue.
Noble, whose business caters to both same-sex and heterosexual couples, said she has heard stories of some wedding venues that were not as friendly towards same-sex weddings.
“I don’t disapprove in any way,” Noble said. “I just have no bias in that respect.”
Robin Reece, a photographer who co-owns the R2 Studio with her wife, Renee, said the pair has photographed many same-sex weddings regardless of the ruling, though she sees a potential for an increase in work in the future.
Reece said she thinks same-sex couples will lean toward more traditional weddings, as there is no time limit or urgency pressuring them.
Instead, they can “just have a normal wedding and have a great day like everybody else can do,” she said, an attitude that could change the wedding industry.
Reece said one of the reasons she loves photographing same-sex couples is because they don’t gravitate towards everything traditional. They may have a wedding like hetero couples, but they come up with their own unique traditions.
Emotions are also stronger, she said, because they have waited so long to be able to get married.
A greater benefit to the state
Though it cannot be directly attributed to the ruling, statewide agencies have reported a jump in the total number of marriage licenses issued for the month of October. Pima County in October issued more than 100 more marriage licenses than they did for the same period last year. Maricopa County’s rate jumped by more than 500 licenses while Yavapai saw a slight increase by 28 licenses.
When given the opportunity to legally marry, research suggests that same-sex couples’ are more likely to stay together than unmarried couples, and that their rates of break-up are the same as hetero couples.
Michael Rosenfeld, a professor of sociology at Stanford University, recently published a study titled “Couple Longevity in the Era of Same-Sex Marriage in the U.S.,” that concluded the most important thing that increases stability among couples is marriage.
“Married families are more stable and they take care of each other,” Rosenfeld said.
For both hetero and same-sex couples, marriage provides important rights and privileges including health plans, estate rights and hospital visitations. Similarly, if a same-sex couple decides to adopt children, their marriage stability will help their children thrive, he added. This means less children for the state to raise.
“In the past, same sex couples not only couldn’t marry but discrimination against them was really apparent,” Rosenfeld said. “Now we find gay and lesbian couples can carve out a life for themselves that’s as stable as they want it to be.”
As same-sex marriage becomes more widely apparent and accepted among states, Rosenfeld said he anticipates their marriage rates will eventually match those as hetero couples.
“There’s certainly evidence that when the opportunity to get married arrives, people will get married,” he said.
Alison Dorf and Kyle Mittan are reporters with Arizona Sonora News, a service from the University of Arizona. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com