PORTLAND — Gay couples are booking wedding dates and exchanging vows in Maine, but inns and wedding venues aren't expecting a deluge of new business like Massachusetts experienced when it became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage nearly a decade ago.
About 2,360 same-sex couples were married in Massachusetts the first month alone after its gay-marriage law went into effect in 2004, according to the Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders organization.
In contrast, about 150 gay couples have exchanged vows in Maine since same-sex marriage became legal Dec. 29. While the new law has given hotels, photographers, florists and others a boost, many say they're not anticipating a bonanza from same-same couples right off the bat, but still expect the gay marriage business to grow in the years ahead.
The Portland Regency Hotel has booked three same-sex weddings for this year. Besides making money from the weddings themselves, the hotel benefits because wedding parties often book blocks of rooms for guests, said David Davis, director of sales. The hotel has also gotten room reservations for same-sex weddings that are being held elsewhere.
Gay weddings represent only a sliver of the hotel's events business, he said, but he expects it to grow over time.
"We'll see more bookings in 2014 and 2015 and beyond," he said.
When Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, there was a rush to get married because it was the first state to allow gay marriage and there was uncertainty whether the law would survive, said Lee Swislow, executive director of GLAD.
"Maine is in a much different position than Massachusetts in 2004," Swislow said. "If you wanted to get married then, this was it."
Now, in addition to Massachusetts, gay marriage is legal in neighboring New Hampshire, six other states and the District of Columbia.
After Maine voters approved a gay marriage referendum in November, The Williams Institute, a national think tank at the UCLA School of Law, estimated that nearly 2,000 same-sex couples living in Maine would get married in the first three years of the law, generating $15.5 million in wedding-related spending. The estimate didn't include spending from out-of-state gay couples who get married in Maine.
As of Feb. 25, the Department of Health and Human Services had recorded 148 same-sex marriages in Maine, 78 of which took place the first three days the law was in effect.
While some couples got married as soon as they could, most same-sex weddings — just like other weddings — are expected to take place from mid-spring through summer into fall, when people from other states want to come to Maine and the weather is better for outdoor weddings.
Amanda Hollander and Katy McCormack of Portland are getting married over Memorial Day weekend. They wanted to wait so they could invite friends and relatives and make all the arrangements that come with a wedding in which 224 people are being invited.
Hollander said they've sent invitations to people as far away as Washington state, England, New Zealand and Costa Rica. The wedding will be held at a lakeside children's summer camp in Ellsworth, where guests can sleep in camp cabins and have access to kayaks and canoes. A catered dinner will be served in the camp's dining hall.
Hollander and McCormack, who've been together for 3½ years, will be married in an outdoor chapel.
"The marriage license is of course super important, but so is making vows in front of family and friends, and we weren't willing to give that up," said Hollander, 31. "So we decided to wait to get our license to allow our family and friends to hear somebody say, 'By the power vested in me by the state of Maine.' That's a really important moment for me and Katy to experience, and we wanted our families to experience it as well."
Businesses are beginning to reap the benefits of the new law.
The Camden Harbour Inn typically hosts about 15 weddings a year, in May, June, September and October. The weddings are elaborate affairs and can cost $50,000 to $60,000, including lodging and food. With three gay weddings booked, the available wedding dates this year have filled up faster than usual, said co-owner Raymond Brunyanszki.
"And we've already booked two gay weddings for the spring of 2014," said Brunyanszki, who is gay.
Some businesses that host weddings have yet to book any for gay couples. The Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport has gotten several inquiries, but hasn't scheduled a same-sex wedding yet, said Timothy Ames, director of sales. The law has barely been in effect for two months, and it will take time to feel the full benefits, he said.
"I've talked with other people in the business, and they're saying the same thing, that it's not that all of the sudden the gates have opened," he said.