Interview with Teresa Toro
WG: According to financial analysts, New York will be impacted in a very positive way by the new gay marriage legislation. It could bring in millions? TT: Everyone understands that weddings are a billion dollar industry. With same-sex couples in the mix, and New York not requiring residency for same-sex marriages, we should definitely see a major boost in the local economy. In June 2011, the Huffington Post noted: “In a 2007 report, former city Comptroller Bill Thompson found gay marriage would pump $142 million into the economy of New York City alone.” Our city government recently announced its “I Do” campaign to encourage same-sex couples to marry here. It’s on the official nyc Guide online.
It’s expected that NYC will see $400,000,000 in wedding taxes and license fees alone. That’s astounding. How will Greenpoint/Williamsbrg be impacted by the new commercial opportunities? This news is promising because it might inspire and support more entrepreneurship, and it could help bolster existing small businesses, leading to additional demand for supplies and employees. Economically speaking, we should welcome it. We may be in a recession, but people still have weddings. We have a great-looking neighborhood, too, with venues large and small in which to hold wedding receptions and engagement showers. We also have a core gay community that will help distinguish Greenpoint/Williamsburg as a welcoming environment for gay weddings. That would be a positive and refreshing change from our unfortunate reputation for raucous nightlife.
Can this turn around the economic horizon for the neighborhood? It sure can’t hurt. I’m concerned about the empty storefronts on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint; some have been empty for years now. The latest recession casualty was Zayas Appliance. The last thing we want is for our commercial strips to waste away; that hurts residents too because there’s less to choose from, and fewer employment opportunities.
It seems an issue close to your heart, or at least important to you? What interests you about the new gay marriage law? I believe a successful society has to defend civil rights for all, and denying homosexuals their right to marry (or any other right) is denying their constitutional rights. In the last century, we didn’t allow blacks and whites to marry; now such a thing is unthinkable. New York’s support for same-sex marriage is a belated yet quantum leap forward, and I hope our country follows suit. On a personal level, my gay relatives, friends, and coworkers shouldn’t be treated like second class citizens.
I understand you contacted the Greenpoint Business Association to make sure they are aware of the opportunities that lie ahead, please elaborate on that. Our local businesses are an integral part of the community, and the Greenpoint Business Alliance wants to be a positive force. Small businesses don’t have the luxury of time to come up with marketing campaigns; that’s what the gba is partly there for. I also knew that Pastors Ann Kansfield and Jennifer Aull from the Greenpoint Reformed Church have their congregation’s support to officiate at same-sex weddings, both at the church and elsewhere. So I suggested the church and the gba might refer gay couples to each other. After all, if you’re marrying local, you can also shop local for wedding related services and goods. Their conversation resulted in the development of the GBA’s “Shop Greenpoint” campaign.
Greenpoint Reformed Church is already signing people up. Maybe more churches will marry same sex partners. Do we have any idea? I think the Greenpoint Reformed Church has been crucial to the success of same-sex marriage in New York. For years, Co-Pastors Ann and Jennifer lobbied hard for same-sex marriage in New York State, winning over Assemblyman Joe Lentol’s critical support. And Ann and Jen are active in the gay community citywide and here at home. So there’s a certain richness and symbolism for gay weddings at the Greenpoint Reformed Church—you’d be getting married in a truly gay-friendly, supportive environment.
Aaron Short reported in the Brooklyn Paper that a couple of local churches are willing to perform same-sex marriages, although it isn’t clear whether these ceremonies would be in the church or off-premises. The paper said, “Greenpoint ministers John Merz at Church of the Ascension and Griffin Thomas of Lutheran Church of the Messiah are open to officiating gay marriage ceremonies.”
What other local businesses stand to gain from the new law? I can think of so many existing businesses that could profit—and many entrepreneurs might find this an opportunity as well. What sort of businesses? Photographers, liquor stores, florists, cleaning services, printers, party supply/favor companies, videographers, lawyers, jewelers, musicians, tailors, caterers, gift shops, restaurants, housewares shops, beauty salons, prop rentals—on and on. I was pleased to see Northside Williamsburg’s Catbird offering a discount to engaged gay couples and Rose Red and Lavender offering discounts on flowers to gay couples. I’m sure they’re the first among many—if the businesses are smart!
Will it mean more children from same-sex couples? There’s just as much of an urge to parenthood for gay couples as there is for straight couples, and marriage offers an added layer of legal security for both spouses and offspring that will encourage having children. We have a great family-friendly community, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see more same-sex parents settle here with their children.
How will the general atmosphere of Greenpoint/Williamsburg change, in your opinion? I’m cautiously optimistic. I worry about a homophobic backlash—we have seen some disturbing and violent hate crimes against gays—but over time I hope that people will at least grow more tolerant, if not actually supportive. It’s encouraging to witness the expressions of outrage over these hate crimes, not just from the gay community but from many residents. Again, I think we’ve made an important leap forward as a community.
Teresa Toro is a Brooklyn native. She supports several community causes, including the Northside Community Town Hall and the Greenpoint Reformed Church Soup Kitchen, and lives in Greenpoint.