PARIS -- On April 23, the French government passed a bill allowing homosexual couples the right to marry and adopt, as dress-wearing grooms and rainbow flags descended on the Marais, Paris's historic gay district. Following months of heated protests from both sides, France would become the ninth European country to legalize same-sex marriages.
Just days after, drag queen threads and cocktails were replaced by tuxedos and canapés as the city welcomed the first gay marriage expo, G-Day. Wedding planners, photographers, and consultants were all on hand to help couples navigate the uncharted waters of holding a proper wedding in France. One company, Primeday, is looking to be the first to provide A-Z assistance for newly engaged couples -- and they aren't stopping in France.
Event planning for gay civil unions (called the PACS, in France) has been around since lesbian and gay couples could acknowledge their partnerships with the PACS in 1999. But with marriage now legal, few services are in place to cater to this market that has enormous spending potential.
The wedding expo, held the Saturday after the bill was passed, was oriented primarily toward male couples. Photographers, event planners and clothing retailers were among the 40 vendors that catered to over 400 visitors, according to organizer Claire Jollain. The companies represented a mix of businesses that cater to uniquely gay clientele, but also many that are simply gay-friendly, transposing traditional marriage norms to same-sex ceremonies. Primeday, however, was one of the few to begin rethinking all of the previously unconsidered details for same-sex couples tying the knot.
Primeday's founder and CEO spoke to SmartPlanet about the company and its aims. He asked to speak anonymously because of current legal issues. He actually quit his job in 2012 when the new president in France was elected on a platform that included legalization of gay marriage. He chose to focus on a new website that would offer these soon-to-be newlyweds planning and advice specific to their needs.
Launched in March 2013, just as the law was passing through the French legislature, Primeday quickly became a reference for gay couples looking to marry. The site offers a team of six wedding planners for the big day, lawyers who can deal with all legal questions, and even partnerships with hotels worldwide to help plan the honeymoon. The site also allows users to create a personalized wedding registry through Facebook and a new online boutique provides any and all accessory or attire that may be needed. "We are the only business in France and Europe to offer an entirely integrated offer to couples of the same sex," the founder said.
Why, though, do gay and lesbian couples need specific attention now that they have the same rights as heterosexual couples in France? Primeday's founder explained that certain French wedding traditions, like having a ceremony in a Catholic church, simply won't fly for many gay couples -- or the churches. With no default location, Primeday's wedding planners will help rethink the backdrop without religion, but that extends beyond the no-frills civil service at the mayor's office. "Couples need us to help them rethink marriage that is uniquely civil and symbolic," he said.
And this new market isn't short on spending power while rethinking the concept of a wedding. Primeday's founder, a graduate of the HEC business school in Paris, has crunched some numbers, and based off the spending patterns in places like the Netherlands and Belgium after same-sex marriage was legalized, there is money to be made. Gay couples will tend to spend more, up to 15,000 euros per wedding, as opposed to around 10,000 euros for heterosexual couples.
Clients that have contacted him have requests that have already exceeded 20,000 euros, and he predicts around 6,700 couples will tie the knot annual during the two first years of legality, at which point the surge of "catch-up" weddings will slow, but not stagnate.
Though Primeday is starting out in France, its founder is looking overseas to continue his fledgling business. He and his team are translating the site into other languages, hoping to enter the North American market. "The business won't be profitable if we focused just in Europe," he said, "and we will be ready the day that California legalizes gay marriage." (After a lengthy legal battle that culminated last week at the Supreme Court, same-sex marriage is legal (again) in California.)
Nearly one month after the bill's passage, and just days after President Hollande signed it into law, the first same-sex couple married in Montpelier on May 29th. Already on June 22, the second LGBT marriage expo took place. France is the 13th country to legalize same-sex marriage, with parts of Mexico and the U.S. also recognizing such unions.