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Las Vegas sees growing business in same-sex weddings

Jose Alonzo picked quite a time to enter the wedding business.

In 2014, about a year after he joined the Chapel of the Flowers on Las Vegas Boulevard, Clark County started issuing licenses to same-sex couples. Eight months after that, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all states must recognize gay marriages.

In December 2015, Alonzo himself finally tied the knot with the man who makes him laugh and joins him on picnics.

Total Marriage License

“He has the biggest heart of gold,” Alonzo said of his husband, Kai Rose, who also works at the chapel.

Alonzo and his husband were one of 393 same-sex couples who received a marriage license from Clark County that month, and one of 6,037 couples who were issued a license regardless of sexual orientation.

In the last four years, Las Vegas has become one of the top destinations for same-sex couples to say, “I do.”

“Vegas offers everything from ordinary to extraordinary, as far as wedding options go,” said Lisa Sheldon, co-founder of the Nashville, Tennessee-based Destination Wedding & Honeymoon Specialists Association. “You can have quiet, simple, subtle, or all the glitz and glamour.”

Other top wedding destinations for same-sex couples are Hawaii, New York, Boston and San Francisco, she said.

Statewide anti-discrimination protections and gay-friendly conventions like the annual ClexaCon, which is focused on the representation of LGBTQ women and characters in media, have helped give Las Vegas a reputation as welcoming. Hotel-casinos and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority have included couples of varying makeup in wedding-focused advertising.

“Cities like Las Vegas have become go-to destinations for same-sex weddings by proactively working to be inclusive and inviting of the community,” National LGBT Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President Jonathan Lovitz said.

Acceptance grew in ’90s

Las Vegas’ reputation as gay-friendly started in the 1990s, when the state decriminalized sodomy, local historian Dennis McBride said.

During the decade, unofficial commitment ceremonies among gay couples began. Luxor held such ceremonies as early as 2000, an MGM spokeswoman said.

In 2002, Nevada passed its own version of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited federal benefits for same-sex couples.

same sex state

But in 2009, the state legalized domestic partnerships among same-sex couples, giving the couples most of the rights married couples of the opposite sex received.

“At one time, you couldn’t find a hotel on the Strip willing to host a fundraiser for AIDS,” McBride said. “Now they fall all over themselves to cater to our community.”

McBride, 63, has only recently felt comfortable speaking openly about his own sexuality at work, he said.

“We’re accepted, just like we’re another aspect of the community,” he said.

An evolution

Local wedding planner Jose Alonzo sees signs of his community’s growing acceptance in the U.S.

During a recent trip to his former high school in Idaho Falls, Idaho, Alonzo saw teen boys holding hands in the halls. In September, his hometown hosted its fifth annual gay pride parade.

His parents discovered his sexuality over 10 years ago and continue to be part of his life and have embraced his husband.

And at work, where his company offers a variety of packages for same-sex couples, gay marriage has grown from niche to part of the industry.

“It’s awesome to see the evolution,” he said.

Contact Wade Tyler Millward at (702) 383-4602 or wmillward @reviewjournal.com. Follow @wademillward on Twitter

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