Gay couples in Tennessee must marry outside the state — and take their spending power with them 

California Dreaming

California Dreaming

Last summer, when Joe Woolley proposed to Jim Schmidt, his partner of 12 years, they had a lot of things to consider in planning their wedding.

"It took us a year to decide what we were doing, and we went back and forth," Woolley says. "Big wedding, small wedding ... we went through a lot of options, and we had started down the path of doing a big reception here, renting the bridge and inviting 200 to 300 people."

And if you ask anyone who's planned a wedding, they'll tell you that this is where things start to get really complicated.

"Then we started to see the money go up and started to argue on some things, so we both realized that getting married was the important part," Woolley says. "That's when we decided to go small."

But for Schmidt, a lobbyist, and Woolley, who works in higher education, it wasn't just a matter of big versus small weddings. It also involved choosing a location in which they could be legally united. In the U.S., that's one of 19 states, including California. Schmidt says San Francisco was an ideal place for a small destination wedding, as he has family ties to the city and Woolley's family is from the West Coast.

"We always wanted to do it in City Hall, which is a beautiful building, and we've had other friends who've done it there," Schmidt says. "We're keeping it a small ceremony, just four friends and some of our family."

Though gay marriage still isn't legally recognized in Tennessee, Schmidt and Woolley will receive the same federal benefits as any married couple, including the right to file income taxes together (as Tennessee does not have state income tax). While Schmidt acknowledges that we're at the mercy of the federal court appeals process, he thinks gay marriage will be legal in Tennessee within the next couple of years.

"I mean, we're at 19 states now, and counting," Schmidt says. "One of those cases somewhere is going to make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and that's probably the one that breaks down the barrier."

But in the meantime, the loss of potential wedding revenue to the state of Tennessee is staggering. According to Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, it's difficult to quantify the exact number of same-sex couples from Tennessee who have married in other states and jurisdictions, but there are ways to estimate the economic impact of passing gay marriage.

"Marriage licenses are $100 unless you've had premarital counseling," Sanders says. "So it's a revenue proposition for state and local government in Tennessee."

Additionally, Sanders cites several studies conducted by UCLA's Williams Institute that estimate the economic boost of marriage for same-sex couples in multiple states. According to U.S. Census information from 2010, Tennessee is home to 10,898 same-sex couples living together. While we can't surmise how many of these couples are entertaining the idea of marriage, we do know from theknot.com's Real Weddings Study of 13,000 participating brides and grooms that the average American wedding cost nearly $30,000 in 2013. That's the kind of math Tennessee legislators should be able to compute.

For Schmidt and Woolley — who were to be married this week in the rotunda of the San Francisco City Hall in front of the Harvey Milk sculpture — they do plan to celebrate with a reception in Nashville upon their return. But they look forward to the day when gay couples won't have to flee the state to tie the knot.

"We've had a lot of friends who have gone everywhere from New York to San Francisco," Schmidt says.

"We've also had a lot of friends go to Washington, D.C., to get married on the steps of the Capitol or somewhere on the mall," Woolley continues. "Since last year, we weren't the only ones that said, 'Wow, the world is changing, so let's make this official.' "

Email editor@nashvillescene.com.

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