Area businesses try to capitalize on gay marriage

BY EMILY MELVOLD | JUNE 11, 2009 7:33 AM

A local tourism group wants to hear more of the statement, “I now pronounce you partners for life.”

That’s why the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau has established a committee to help advertise the area as a great place for same-sex couples to get married.

The group encourages local retailers and businesses involved in the wedding industry — along with gay and lesbian activists in the community — to band together to offer all-inclusive packages to attract same-sex couples, the committee’s chairman and local jewelry-store owner Mark Ginsberg said.

Joshua Schamberger, the president of the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau emphasized the ripple effect inviting same-sex couples to the area holds for the community.

“They don’t just spend money at the hotel or one place, but throughout the city, the shopping centers, filling their gas at the local stations, and eating in restaurants,” Schamberger said.

But he said they won’t know statistical information on the matter until eight months after the calendar year when the bureau does its assessments.

The committee is also compiling a list of businesses that welcome same-sex couples, along with rules and laws in Iowa on same-sex marriage.

“We are here to provide human beings with information needed to have a pleasant visit in Iowa City,” Schamberger said.

Ginsberg, the owner of MC Ginsberg Jewelers, said a package will include a three-day and two-night stay at a hotel, rings, cake, attire, and other typical reception and ceremony services.

Several business, including Ginsberg’s, have seen an increase in sales since the court’s decision.

Local hotels have same-sex wedding event bookings, and several busloads of people from the south have traveled to Iowa City to get married already, he said.

Since the first same-sex marriage licenses were issued April 27, Johnson County has issued 257 marriage licenses. Of the 209 on file, 79 are same-sex couples.

Even though Schamberger has seen mostly support for the initiative, he said he has received a handful of e-mails from people opposed to the marketing campaign, calling it “prostitution.”

John Harper, a former UI professor and ordained minister through the Episcopalian church who has conducted ceremonies for same-sex couples, said he thinks the community should be accommodating, but the out-of-staters shouldn’t expect Iowans to be overly adaptive.

“I do think it’s unrealistic for couples outside Iowa City to come and expect on-the-spot service,” he said.

Ginsberg said he had offered his business to all sexual orientations before the court ruling.

“It’s not much different than planning any other wedding,” he said. “It’s just about saying to people that they are welcome here.”

Other places in Iowa are working on projects similar to the bureau’s. My Iowa Gay Wedding, a company in Des Moines, specializes in same-sex wedding planning.

Still, the committee thinks people will come to Iowa City over other locations.

“Iowa City is different than other places because of the diversity that already exists here,” Ginsberg said. “Our goal is to raise visibility of Iowa City, Coralville, and Johnson County overall. We want a lead position.”

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