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Wedding suppliers, couples prepare for big gay wedding bonanza

Two men hug, laugh and drink champagne on their wedding day while friends throw confetti.
Businesses, couples and families are hopeful that same-sex weddings will soon be allowed in Australia.

Getty Image: monkeybusinessimages

The result of the same-sex marriage survey won't be known for two weeks, but around Australia, some businesses, couples and families are quietly hoping a huge season of same-sex weddings is just around the corner.

While a successful "yes" campaign is by no means a forgone conclusion, ANZ senior economist Cherelle Murphy estimates a change to marriage legislation could inject over $650 million into the economy.

Ms Murphy based her report, released in September, on a combination of ABS data (there are just under 47,000 same-sex couples living together in Australia) and a survey from the United States, which found 61 per cent of cohabiting same-sex couples sought to get married after the law changed in America.

The vast majority of this expenditure is expected to benefit the wedding industry, which is already considered one of Australia's strongest retail spaces.

Making plans

Kelly Mackenzie, a 28-year-old Melbournite, says the postal survey marked a shift in her and her fiancee Kirsty's plans.

"We were going to get married any way … pop over to New Zealand and get the actual certificate signed there. So when the survey was announced we thought, 'This changes things, it could be legal,'" she says.

The couple, both blonde women in their late twenties, smile while holding hands and sitting in the afternoon sun.
Kelly Mackenzie and her fiancee Kirsty are planning to get married in 2018.

Supplied: Fern & Stone Photography

The couple has been together for more than five years and proposed to one another before the postal survey was announced.

With their ceremony slated for early January 2018, regardless of the poll result, Ms Mackenzie says the experience of planning the big day has been overwhelmingly positive.

Ms Mackenzie's ceremony is set to incorporate quite a few of the traditional trappings.

"I think it'll look pretty similar to a lot of weddings. We're both wearing white, we're going to walk down the aisle with our parents, we've got a big cake, we're going to have a big dancefloor," she says.

"Particularly for my grandma or Kirsty's grandma, we've got to make it seem as 'normal' as possible, in order for them to see our relationship as the valid thing that it is — equal with our other cousins."

But she's quick to point out the ceremony won't, and can't, be traditional at its core.

"I think one of the great things about lesbian relationships is that you can kind of throw some of those patriarchal elements of the wedding out the window," she says.

"I feel really lucky in that sense — we can just make up our own rules."

The importance of a word

Some in the "no" campaign have argued that civil unions are equivalent to marriage and so no legal change is needed.

But many in the wedding industry believe that the words "wedding" and "marriage" actually change people's spending habits.

A black and white close up of the couple looking deeply into one another's eyes and smiling.
Kelly and Kirsty held their engagement party before the postal survey was announced.

Supplied: Fern & Stone Photography

Graham Monro, a wedding photographer who's been in the business for over 25 years, has noticed a difference between the weddings and the civil unions he's shot.

"I haven't done an official count … I reckon we've shot about 2,000 weddings, but only 18 or 20 same-sex civil unions," he says.

"I suppose the civil ceremonies we've done have been not as lavish as the heterosexual weddings, though they vary a lot too."

The trend for same-sex couples to go overseas to marry seems to underline that interpretation.

"As a result, I haven't really chased the same-sex marriage market … I felt it really hasn't existed here".

Mr Monro believes a "yes" vote would be a boon to him and his colleagues, and also make same-sex couples more inclined to fork out.

"I would definitely think if the 'yes' vote gets through that it'll be great for the wedding industry and that there would be a lot more effort put into same-sex ceremonies as celebrations," he says.

How would the industry change?

Ms Mackenzie says while she and her fiancee have found the planning stages of their wedding pleasant on a personal level, the industry will have adjusting to do if the "yes" campaign succeeds.

"I was really challenged by heteronormativity of the whole wedding industry. Its so big, its expensive, its so idealised," she says.

A close up of the couples hands, prominently displaying their engagement rings.
Like many same-sex couples, Kelly and Kirsty considered holding the ceremony overseas.

Supplied: Fern & Stone Photography

"You go in into a wedding dress shop and they ask, 'What's his name?' You're looking on the internet for inspiration and it's all just pictures of men and women, there's no one that really looks like me.

"I hadn't really considered getting married to a woman all throughout my childhood … I didn't really know how to visualise it."

But the prospect of her own nuptials has given Ms Mackenzie a new perspective.

"But we keep on coming back to that idea of committing to each other and to bringing out the best in each other for the rest of our lives, in front of our friends and family."