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Salt Lake City stages gay wedding expo
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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Jason Langlois and Will Bladh are in the early stages of making plans for their summer 2017 wedding, and they don’t want their excitement pierced by the pain of being rejected by a venue, florist and photographer who have a legal right in Utah to refuse to serve a gay couple.

That’s why they joined several hundred people Sunday at a gay and lesbian wedding expo in Salt Lake City aimed at connecting couples with businesses who want to make it known they’re open to doing same-sex weddings.

“We don’t have to worry about, ‘Will they or won’t they,’” said Langlois. “It’s a group of businesses that are LGBT friendly.”

With a string quartet playing on one side of the exhibit hall and pop music on the other side, gay and lesbian couples chatted with businesses showing off fancy wedding cakes, fun photo booths and elaborate floral arrangements.

Karl Jennings and Chris Marrano were looking for a cake baker and photographer for their June wedding. They said they’ve had a heterosexual friend helping them make wedding plans by calling ahead to businesses to make sure they’ll do a gay wedding. That wasn’t an issue Sunday.

“We know that whoever is here isn’t going to turn us away because we’re gay,” Jennings said. “It’s very relaxing and makes you want to give people business here. I want support people who want to support us.”

Utah is one of 29 states where it is legal for businesses to refuse services to same-sex couples, according to the Human Rights Campaign. A proposal to change that law died last week in the Utah’s Republican-controlled legislation. There are no estimates of how often it happens, but most gay couples know somebody who has been rejected.

The Salt Lake City event was the first of kind since gay marriage became legal in Utah in 2013, said Michael Aaron, the show organizer and publisher of QSalt Lake, a magazine that caters to the LGBT community.

For wedding-related businesses, gay marriages represent a growth market. Gaining a toehold requires spreading the word you’re open to LGBT weddings — and not just doing it for the money, said Annie Munk, who along with her wife Nicole Broberg rents photo booths for weddings.

“Couples need to feel comfortable with the person they’re working with and know that’s not going to be any judgment, or awkwardness or whispering behind the counter,” said Munk, owner of Utah Party Pix.

Same-sex weddings have been happening at a brisk pace over the last three years as judges declared gay marriage legal in a number of states, including Utah in December 2013, and finally the U.S. Supreme Court in the summer of 2015.

As of last fall, an estimated 486,000 same-sex couples were married — more than double the figure in 2013, according to the Williams Institute, a LGBT-issues think tank based at UCLA’s School of Law. That figure represents 45 percent of all same-sex couples.

Though no hard figures exist yet for how big the wedding industry has become, the Williams Institute estimated in 2014 that making gay marriage legal across the country could generate a total of $2.6 billion across the country within the first three years.

The LGBT population has an estimated buying power of $884 billion annually, according to a report from Witeck Communications and the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

The rise of gay wedding expos, which have been around for more than a decade, is reflective of corporate America’s expanding embrace of the LGBT market, said Beck Bailey of the Human Rights Campaign.

The LGBT population has an estimated buying power of $884 billion annually, according to a report from Witeck Communications and the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

The Salt Lake City expo marked another step into the public sphere for an LGBT community in Utah that was relegated to the shadows, due in large part to a conservative culture rooted in a Mormon faith that teaches its members that acting on homosexual attraction is a sin.

The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still opposes gay marriage and recently drew the ire of gay rights advocates for banning baptisms for children living with gay parents.

But the religion has made strides in recent years to become more accepting of gays and lesbians — including backing a law in 2015 that protects gay and transgender people from housing and employment discrimination, while also protecting the rights of religious groups and individuals.

Last November, Salt Lake City elected its first openly gay mayor: Jackie Biskupski.

“Having an event like this out in the open shows how much we’ve changed,” said Sophia Hawes-Tingey, a transgender woman representing the Utah Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. “Six years ago, there would have been a lot of public complaints. I haven’t heard one at all this time.”