Page last updated at 11:52 GMT, Tuesday, 14 February 2006

Wedding industry in the pink

By Clare Matheson
BBC News business reporter

Gay wedding in Belfast
Up to 22,000 gay and lesbian couples could be 'married' by 2010
As the three-month anniversary of "gay weddings" approaches, retailers and wedding companies could be congratulating themselves on their swelling coffers.

With an estimated 121 civil partnership ceremonies taking place each day, one survey suggests the pink wedding industry could be worth as much as 600m by 2010.

For Pink Products, which offers gay and lesbian wedding products and services, January was the busiest month in the group's three-year history.

"The business has been growing at 60% a month, I'll be taking more staff on in March to cope with demand," founder Ben Spence says.

"Last year, most people were having a ceremony and then going off for dinner, nothing lavish. This year the majority of weddings are planned for the middle or end of the year with around 15,000 to 20,000 being spent."

That compares with estimates ranging from an average of between 11,000 and 16,500 for a heterosexual marriage from various wedding publications.

Big spenders

Getting on the "pink bus" early in the game could prove to be a smart move, the homosexual community has huge spending power with an estimated 70bn earned and spent in the UK last year by the country's three million-strong homosexual community.

Asda civil celebration card
Even Asda has tried to jump on the pink bandwagon

Big names like Barclays, BT and HMV have already been trying to lure in gay customers with adverts in the pink press - only too well aware of the huge spending power of the community.

A recent survey for Gay Times and Diva magazine, carried out by Out Now Consulting, found that the average gay man earns up to 9,000 more than his straight counterpart.

Add to this the fact that most gay couples have no children, and it means they have plenty of cash to splash around.

Lesbians also earn up to 4,000 more than their straight counterparts, the poll of 1,118 readers of Diva and Gay Times found.

Wider market

But not only do gay men and women have more disposable cash, the gay wedding market is less restricted to a certain age groups like the heterosexual thirty-somethings, says Modern Commitments creative director Richard Jones.

"The gay wedding market goes right through from people in their 20s to, well, I know of one 90s couple," Mr Jones says.

"The middle spread is 30s to 60s who are earning well. There's the potential to have a lot of money to spend - particularly at the affluent yuppie end of the market."

Of the several hundred gay weddings Mr Jones is organising, taking him through to 2008, the most expensive is nudging the 50,000 mark - and he warns that figure could rise even further as the big day nears.

Lesbian civil partnership
The business has been growing at 60% a month, I'll be taking more staff on in March to cope with demand
Ben Spence, Pink Products

The government estimates that 22,000 partnership ceremonies will take place over the next five years, while Out Now estimates that as many as 275,000 could be held in that time.

So its no surprise that companies are vying for a slice of the market.

Absolutely Pink, which makes stationery solely for civil partnerships, has seen business soar 50% in recent months.

Not only has the advent of the Civil Partnership Ceremony sparked a whole cottage industry of gay-friendly businesses, but big High Street names are getting in on the act.

Department store John Lewis recently revealed the volume of same-sex couples signing up for its gift list service has surged by 238% since the first civil partnerships took place in December.

Selfridges and Harrods also offer a similar service.

Meanwhile, Clintons Cards and Asda are trying to muscle in on the card market with their own take on congratulatory Mr & Mr cards.

Even Superdrug has launched its own "Darling, Dearest, Queerest" range of goodies including soaps and embroidered towels.

Growth industry

Gay wedding celebrations in Germany
Party spending is where the business is going to come - a party to celebrate the long term commitment
Richard Jones, Modern Commitments

And as Valentine's Day comes into view the market is hotting up again says Mr Spence.

"The average spend is anything from 5 on certain products up to 2,000 to 3,000, it depends on the wedding. At the moment we're selling invites, favours save the day cards - things you need beforehand, demand is rising," says Pink Pound's Mr Spence.

He expects his firm to rake in at least 500,000 during 2006.

Meanwhile, Modern Commitments has gone from one London office in 2004 to 18 affiliates offering a network of gay wedding advice and services across the country.

The current trend is for older homosexual couples to have a partnership service and then mark it with a small meal or "do".

But as time goes on couples are expected to spend more as they offer a twist on the average straight-style reception - such as having drag artists rather than toastmasters overseeing events.

"This year, the figures for a gay wedding are beginning to be more like the figures for the heterosexual wedding industry," Mr Spence added.

Changing tastes

Mr Jones says that people who decided to get "married" on or after 21 December last year were doing it mainly to protect their partner financially and legally.

"People have been fighting for it (legal recognition of gay relationships) for a long time - 60,70,80-year-olds will have the ceremony, but without the razzamatazz."

Civil Partnership celebration in Leeds
Gay couples are expected to celebrate their union with a 'twist'

But as homosexual weddings increasingly become part of everyday life spending should rise - couples are already planning lavish bashes at country manors and swanky hotels.

"Party spending is where the business is going to come - a party to celebrate the long term commitment," Mr Jones adds.

And the spending doesn't just stop at the big day. Modern Commitments will soon be launching its own gay-friendly travel firm - specialising, of course, in honeymoons.

And don't forget it isn't just the groom and groom - or brides - who'll be forking out for the wedding.

According to a survey by Morgan Stanley, the average wedding guest last year spent a grand total of 300 on gifts, outfits, travel and accommodation.

But prospective gay wedding guests could also be spending more - especially with John Lewis revealing that couples are adding Le Creuset cookware, juicers and Game Boy Advance gadgets to their wish list.

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