Gay wedding industry booms as couples seek help for their big day

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Some choose to make a statement in drag and diamanté shoes, while others opt for muted chamber music and tasteful floral arrangements.

Some choose to make a statement in drag and diamanté shoes, while others opt for muted chamber music and tasteful floral arrangements.

Whatever the style or theme of today's same-sex commitment ceremonies, gay and lesbian couples in Britain who feel let down by the limitations of conventional wedding planners are increasingly turning to specialists in the industry.

The first large-scale gay wedding show opens in Brighton tomorrow and the organisers are expecting at least 500 visitors. The event reflects the growing demand for gay "marriage-style" ceremonies. The 32 stalls will showcase products including bespoke confetti, exploding, rainbow-coloured balloons, same-sex invitations, and top hat and tails for women. A series of four mock civil and religious ceremonies will also take place for visitors.

The Civil Partnership Bill, which allows same-sex couples legal recognition and is to be discussed in the House of Lords next week, has given added confidence to those within the gay community who want to have their unions officially recognised.

Tris Reid-Smith, editor of The Pink Paper, a freesheet weekly magazine, said the growing power of the pink pound has helped the partnership industry to mushroom in the past year. "It's well established that the gay community has some economic power and that it is prepared to pay a premium for things that it wants," he said.

Recent research by The Pink Paper found that 70,000 couples were considering "commitment ceremonies", a number that he predicts will increase significantly if the Bill going through Parliament is successful.

Gino Meriano, the founder of the same-sex partnership company, Pink Weddings, which has jointly organised tomorrow's show, said that although mainstream planners were beginning to recognise the specific needs of a gay couple getting married, there are still large gaps in the market. Business has grown at a rapid rate for Mr Meriano - his website was getting 20,000 visitors a month two years ago - now it has reached 15,000 a day.

"There are considerations from the usual invitation template which says 'Mr and Mrs So and So invite you to their wedding' to the heterosexual couple who usually appear on top of a cake. Also, many gay couples have told us they want something different from the conventional white wedding. They want personalised vows and unique elements. There are groups within the gay community such as 'bears' who often wear leather who are not readily recognised by mainstream wedding planners," he said.

Della Smith, 39, from Bristol, who had a ceremony in September with her childhood sweetheart, Tracy Cowlishaw, 40, found this to be the case. The women had trouble finding same-sex invitations and needed a planner who understood the importance of both women's desire to be given away by their fathers.

"We had a lovely wedding at a hotel outside Bristol that did not make us feel like freaks. We both ended up walking down the aisle. I was with my mum and dad and Tracy, who was given away by her dad, walked behind me. We said personalised vows and the day was very emotional. We had been to a lot of straight weddings and knew we wanted to do something different from that," she said.

While some assume that gay ceremonies are more likely to be outrageous, this is not the case, according to Ben Spence, founder of Pink Products. "Some will go all out for an iridescent pink, fluffy wedding while others will want a sophisticated ceremony," he said. "Whichever they go for, it's important that couples have that choice."