Same-sex couples often experience discrimination from peers and even their own family members; when they come here to get married, it can be a highly emotionally charged experience. Pulling off same-sex weddings requires plenty of emotional intelligence.
By day Darryl Persello, 35, works with troubled youth as a probation officer for the B.C. Ministry for Children and Family Development. Dark-haired, tall and broad-shouldered, he is personable with a ready laugh, and exudes the poise and unflappability undoubtedly required for his challenging job. But on a recent Saturday, Persello, dressed casually in jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers, strode into a coffee shop on Denman Street to discuss his other gig, which couldn’t be more different from his nine-to-five role. When he’s not trying to keep young offenders on the straight and narrow, Persello is negotiating deals with caterers, pastry chefs and limo drivers as part of Vancouver’s newest industry: same-sex-wedding planning. To hear Persello tell it, it’s a simple, streamlined business. The majority of his clients are out-of-towners, coming up from the U.S. to get hitched, often alone or with a very small entourage. “In some cases, families are supportive but not financially able to come up. Other times, families are not involved and not supportive,” he says. That may be sad, but it’s got one big advantage: “We don’t have to deal with in-laws and families paying for this and that. A lot of times, the couple’s paying for the majority of stuff.” On July 8, 2003, B.C. became the second province after Ontario to legalize same-sex marriage. For quick-thinking Vancouver entrepreneurs connected to the lesbian and gay scene, tapping into this new sector was a no‑brainer. With its wildly popular annual gay-pride parade and with nearby Whistler hosting Winter Pride gay ski week, Vancouver already boasted an international reputation as a gay-friendly city. Adding same-sex marriage to the mix only heightened the city’s appeal. In fact, according to a recent survey by San Francisco-based Community Marketing Inc. (CMI), it’s top of the heap for gay travellers. For its eleventh annual GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered) travel survey, CMI surveyed more than 7,500 self-identified gays and lesbians about their travel preferences. Canada came out as the number-one country of choice, with Vancouver as the number-one city in Canada. B.C. played a major role in the legalization of same-sex marriage across the country. Its 2003 decision to legalize same-sex marriage put pressure on federal politicians to follow suit; that same year, the federal government, led by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, unveiled draft legislation that changed the legal definition of marriage to include the union of same-sex couples. In June 2005, the House of Commons passed Bill C-38, the Civil Marriage Act, and Canada became the third country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. (Even so, the matter was not fully resolved until December 6, 2006, when Stephen Harper’s government put forward a motion to parliament asking whether the issue should be reopened to support the “traditional” definition of marriage. It was defeated.) In November 2003, Persello sat down with two friends, Anne Cochran and Sheila Robinson, and over a few glasses of shiraz they discussed the possibilities of cashing in on this new market. The booze worked; by the end of the evening, the trio had decided on a same-sex-wedding-planning business, which they cheekily named Two Dears and a Queer – or 2DQ. “I always say good ideas come with a nice bottle of wine,” jokes Persello. They weren’t the only ones brainstorming that year. Around the same time as Persello, Taylore Darnel launched her same-sex-wedding-planning business, Belles and Balls – now S’Wonderful Westcoast Wedding & Event Designers, with her life partner Daiana Leask. (Earlier this year, Leask left the business after her personal relationship with Darnel ended. Darnel is now in the process of rebranding.) Energetic and cheerful, the 40-year-old Darnel had organized a few weddings for friends and family, and, when B.C. made same-sex weddings legal, she figured she had what it took to make it work: organizational skills, a head for money and a passion for working with people. Darnel says that when she and Leask started their business back in 2003, “there were four or five other companies,” along with numerous individuals doing it privately. By and large, however, those other start-ups fell by the wayside as the realities of the job set in. “It’s not like you’re going out to the grocery store and organizing to buy a pizza and a drink,” says Darnel. The job not only takes organizational skills, a keen business mind and an eye for detail, but it also requires a heavy dose of tact and sensitivity. Same-sex couples often experience discrimination from peers and even their own family members; when they come here to get married, it can be a highly emotionally charged experience. Pulling off same-sex weddings requires plenty of emotional intelligence. It also means a big time commitment. Persello says he averages 10 hours a week on the business, on top of his day job, but has spent as much as 60 hours when things get busy. Persello and Darnel say theirs are the only two businesses in Vancouver that focus exclusively on the same-sex wedding market. (Darnel has organized services catering to the second- and third-wedding market and will plan straight weddings, but she markets only to same-sex couples.) Vancouver’s same-sex-wedding planners have one big plus on their side: very few countries in the world allow gays and lesbians to marry, let alone non-residents. (The Netherlands, Belgium, South Africa and Spain are the only others offering full marriage for same-sex couples.) While Persello and Darnel may personally feel outraged that homosexuals cannot legally marry in most countries across the globe, Vancouver’s progressive mindset, together with Canada’s marriage rights, mean we’ve claimed a huge chunk of the global market in same-sex weddings.