Same-sex couples eagerly await Jan. 1 -- Gazette.Net


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When same-sex marriages become legal in Maryland on Jan. 1, Ruth Seigel and Nina Nethery of Silver Spring plan to be among the first lesbian couples to marry.

They have their ceremony planned for midnight, Dec. 31, at Black Walnut Point Inn in Talbot County.

“We picked it sight unseen because they were having a group wedding January 1,” Seigel said.

Both women said getting married with other same-sex couples at a weekend-long event will make their wedding more fun, as they aren’t inviting friends or relatives to this ceremony.

“We will have a ceremony in the spring for family and friends,” Nethery said.

The women have been together as a couple for 15 years, Seigel said, and have participated in several commitment ceremonies.

“Marriage wasn’t important for us until we got interested in this history-making event,” Nethery said. “We already considered ourselves married. I wanted to stand up and be counted. As soon as marriage was passed in Maryland I got a rush because suddenly our relationship was legalized. I walked taller.”

Bob Zuber and Tracey Staples, owners of the Black Walnut Point Inn, have been together for six-and-a-half years. They plan to be married at sunset Dec. 31 by a friend who is licensed to perform marriages, who will sign their license after midnight when it is legal, Zuber said.

“Tracy and I were the second same-sex couple to apply for a marriage license in Talbot County!” Zuber wrote on the Inn’s website. “To celebrate, we are offering a free wedding ceremony for same-sex couples January 1, 2013 at 1 p.m.”

Couples like Seigel and Nethery who don’t want to wait until midday can marry in a just-after-midnight ceremony, Zuber said. There is one other couple planning to do that, Staples said. Six so far have signed up for the group wedding at 1 p.m.

“We are going to do it like back in Queen Elizabeth’s time and have a two-day fete,” Zuber said.

In November, Maryland voters upheld the law legalizing same-sex marriage that was passed during this year’s regular General Assembly session.

Counties were allowed to begin issuing marriage licenses for same-sex weddings on Dec. 6, although they were not required to do so.

Montgomery County went with the early date, and by Dec. 19 issued 31 licenses for same-sex marriages, Circuit Court Clerk Loretta Knight said, adding that the norm for issuing licenses is between 25 and 30 applications per day.

“So it is not a huge number,” she said.

Four couples have scheduled weddings at the courthouse Jan. 2, the first day it is open after the new year begins.

Knight said the ceremony has been changed for same-sex couples by taking out references to “husband and wife” and replacing them with the word “spouse.”

The economy

As more states legalize same-sex marriages, new businesses and economic opportunities open up.

Michael Jamrock runs the website EnGAYged Weddings.com, specializing in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender wedding planning, from his home in Florida.

Several Maryland wedding vendors are listed on the site.

“Whenever a state becomes legal, it’s absolute chaos,” Jamrock said. “Businesses want to get listed on the website and things start to book up.”

Locally, wedding planner Norma Smith, who runs Be Me Announcements in Silver Spring, and is listed on ENGAYgedWeddings.com, said she is working with two same-sex couples looking to schedule their nuptials. One couple wants to get married in May, the other is planning on July, she said. One of the couples is celebrating a relationship that’s lasted 30 years.

Smith said the couples were set in their wedding style.

“They both said they wanted [something] a little more traditional, which is funny because they’re both nontraditional couples,” Smith said.

One of the couples, two men from Rockville, assembled a bridal party of about 10 people, including bridesmaids and groomsmen. It is a large group, Smith said, but the couple was willing to make some changes to other parts of the ceremony to reduce costs.

“They seem pretty grounded in reality, as far as the budget goes,” she said. “A lot of my brides [in heterosexual couples] aren’t doing that.”

Smith’s party planning business incorporates vendors who provide photographers, tailors, decorators and caterers. Smith said she asks her vendors if they have any reservations about working with a same-sex couple.

“The reaction I’ve gotten from all my regular vendors is, ‘We have no problem with that,’” she said.

She and the vendors “treat them no differently than anyone else that comes in,” she said.

Don Luther, co-owner of The Cakery at King Farm in Rockville, said orders for same-sex wedding cakes already have started to come in.

“There are about nine cakes right now that are scheduled for the new year,” he said.

Over the past year, Luther estimates that about 25 of the 250 wedding cakes The Cakery made were for same-sex commitment ceremonies, although he hopes that number will go up now that same-sex marriage is legal in Maryland.

“I think there will be an increase in wedding cakes, which will give us an advantage,” he said.

Weddings make up more than half of The Cakery’s business.

While traditional wedding cake toppers — small models of the couple — have fallen out of style in the past few years, Luther said finding same-sex cake toppers if a couple wants one won’t be a problem.

Legalities

Being legally married in Maryland, where they live and work, does not mean all the rights of same-sex married couples will be theirs, Seigel and Netherly said.

“We have rights in the state, but not federally,” Seigel said, noting that she and Netherly will not be able to share Social Security benefits.

Taxes, too, will be problematic, as the federal government has not legalized same-sex marriage.

Maryland Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot noted in a Dec. 19 press release that same-sex couples will be able to file their state taxes jointly for 2013, although some legislative hurdles will have to be cleared first.

“The quickest way is for the legislature to change state law in this upcoming [General Assembly] session,” said Joe Shapiro, spokesman for Franchot’s office. “We are also, in the comptroller’s office, doing a review to see if we can do it through regulatory changes.”

Until the federal government recognizes same-sex marriages, Shapiro said, same-sex couples cannot file their federal taxes jointly.

Staff Writer Elizabeth Waibel contributed to this story.

scarignan@gazette.net, pmcewan@gazette.net, ewaibel@gazette.net