Many same-sex Bay Area couples planning their marriages are finding a wedding industry in tumult, as businesses built on the tradition of marriage between one man and one woman are forced to confront a new landscape.

While some businesses have embraced gay weddings, others still cling to marriage rituals that exclude same-sex couples, often turning what is expected to be an enjoyable experience into a frustrating and at times painful one.

"Every form you fill out, it says 'bride and groom.' But not every bride has a groom," said Lena Brancatelli, 32, of San Jose, who will marry her partner of nine years in September. "The wedding industry is very much heterocentric. It doesn't include same-sex couples."

Samples of cake flavors are tried by Pablo Presti and David Mohr as they shop for a wedding cake at Aki’s Bakery in San Jose on July 23, 2013.
Samples of cake flavors are tried by Pablo Presti and David Mohr as they shop for a wedding cake at Aki's Bakery in San Jose on July 23, 2013. (Gary Reyes/Staff)

The U.S. Supreme Court decision last month that effectively overturned California's same-sex marriage ban opened the door for thousands of people to enjoy the wedding planning rituals that have long been reserved for heterosexual couples. But the ruling has exposed a sharp divide in the industry that, except for a brief period in California's history, has adhered to the carefully scripted tradition of a white dress and tux, and lawfully wedded man and wife.

Most wedding websites, cards and invitations are designed for a man and woman, and business contracts and marketing materials are tailored to straight couples, say same-sex couples and gay marriage proponents. Couples say they are frustrated by venues that have only one bridal dressing room, the absence of women's clothes at tux shops and bakers that don't sell cake toppers representing same-sex couples.


Some wedding registries require listing the husband's last name, and most photographers don't have experience taking pictures of gay weddings, and using traditional wedding portrait poses with same-sex couples may make for awkward photos, according to wedding planning experts.

"There's just a whole lot of assumptions that go into a wedding based on how we've been programmed for centuries," said Bernadette Coveney Smith, a same-sex wedding expert in New York and founder of 14 Stories, a wedding planning firm that launched when same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts in 2004. "The industry, by and large, is incredibly old-fashioned and has a lot of work to do."

Renata Moreira, of San Francisco, who is planning a winter California wedding with Lori Bilella, said her caterer stopped replying to her emails after she requested a cake topper with two brides. Other couples share similar stories about businesses that stopped returning phone calls or suddenly changed their minds when they learned the wedding was same-sex.

"I would have enjoyed just being in the wedding planning instead of having this constant conversation about homophobia, rejection and exclusion," said Moreira, 36, who works at a San Francisco advocacy organization. "I feel like I'm teaching the industry. They're just not there yet."

Mandy Scott, a florist and wedding planner in San Francisco, said she had a surge of business when gay marriage was briefly legalized in 2008. Scott is ready to start booking same-sex weddings again, but she said she knows of a local florist who refused business from same-sex couples.

"We're supposed to be the groundbreakers here," she said. "But there are still people who are very entrenched in their beliefs."

Like Scott, many of the business owners who have welcomed same-sex weddings had some prior experience in 2008, when the state Supreme Court struck down California's ban on gay marriage and paved the way for more than 18,000 couples to marry before voters passed Proposition 8, restoring the ban.

David Mohr feeds his fiance, Pablo Presti, left, a sample of cake frosting as they shop for a wedding cake at Aki’s Bakery in San Jose on July 23,
David Mohr feeds his fiance, Pablo Presti, left, a sample of cake frosting as they shop for a wedding cake at Aki's Bakery in San Jose on July 23, 2013. The San Jose couple have been together for two years. They are planning to get married at Sunset State Beach in Watsonville. (Gary Reyes/Staff)

Hotel Monaco in San Francisco hosted about 10 same-sex weddings before Proposition 8 passed and has booked two more for this year. Its parent company, Kimpton Hotels, is offering discounts on same-sex weddings, including 50 percent off for gay couples who book their reception before September. Since Kimpton Hotels was founded in San Francisco in 1981, the company has been a fundraiser and advocate for the gay community.

"We're pretty well-known as friends in the gay community," said Jason Stone, manager of Hotel Monaco.

After a five-year court battle, the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26 ruled that Proposition 8 supporters did not have the constitutional standing to defend the law in federal courts, effectively ending the state's ban on same-sex marriage. The court has rejected two subsequent appeals from Proposition 8 proponents. With that firmer legal footing, many same-sex couples are planning big events and investing in all the decorations, food and entertainment that was often left out of the more modest commitment ceremonies or the rushed weddings in 2008, when the looming passage of Proposition 8 left a narrow window to tie the knot.

"This is not a little throwaway party," said Kathryn Hamm, president of, an online directory of gay-friendly vendors.

Tim Lorenz and Ed Graziani are planning a "large-budget" wedding at the Marines' Memorial Club and Hotel in San Francisco that includes a sit-down dinner and custom-made tuxes. Lorenz, 49, said the venue -- a private hotel and social club run by U.S. Marines and veterans -- has "no qualms" about hosting a gay wedding.

"We never have come up against any kind of resistance," he said.

Some businesses have recognized the cash potential. Chardonnay Golf Club in Napa will host its first same-sex wedding this fall, when Brancatelli and fiancee Lisa Kirk get married there. Another couple is planning a wedding for December.

"From our perspective, it's good business," said General Manager Roger Billings. "In today's economy, I'm surprised that anyone is turning away business of any kind."

Casa Real and Palm Event Center, vineyards in Pleasanton under the same ownership, are offering special wedding packages for same-sex couples who want to marry this year. Marketing Director Michelle Peters said the industry can't afford to exclude any customers.

"We adapt as the market evolves," Peters said. Besides, she added, "They waited long enough."

Contact Heather Somerville at 510-208-6413. Follow her at

Marriage licenses (issued, by county
The U.S. Supreme Court on June 26 issued a ruling that effectively ended California's ban on same-sex marriage, and same-sex marriages resumed June 28. Beginning July 1, Bay Area counties saw a dramatic increase in requests for marriage licenses. Most counties do not distinguish between same-sex and heterosexual marriage licenses, and the variation in dates is due to differences in record keeping between counties.
Alameda County
July 1-15, 2012: 353
July 1-15, 2013: 582
Santa Clara County
July 1-16, 2012: 490
July 1-16, 2013: 714
Contra Costa County
July 1-16, 2012: 220
July 1-15, 2013: 323
San Mateo County
June 3-14, 2013: 149
July 1-12, 2013: 275
San Francisco County
June 28-July 16, 2013: 788 licenses to same-sex couples only