Same-sex marriage may not be recognized in South Carolina, but few things get in the way of an elaborate wedding in Charleston.
Alliance For Full Acceptance, a local organization dedicated to equal treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, is auctioning off an all-inclusive Charleston wedding, valued at $45,000, for the highest-bidding LGBT couple.
The American Theater
Berlins for Women
Croghan's Jewel Box
Rick Dean Photography
The Event Cooperative
Francis Marion Hotel
Limos For Less
MIX Premier Bartending
The RSVP Shoppe
Leah Suarez & Jazz Ensemble
Uniquely Charleston Tours
Unitarian Church of Charleston
Dozens of local businesses and event planners have donated their goods and services to put together the wedding package, which will be marketed to out-of-town LGBT couples who will have a marriage license from another state. Couples will bid on the package, which is on sale until Aug. 8, and the funds from the top-bidder will be donated to the Alliance.
The wedding date is set for Jan. 24.
"There's nothing unlawful about coming here and celebrating their wedding here, and I think that's a great first step," said Susie Prueter, chairwoman of the Alliance.
The organization aims to build on the Holy City's reputation as a top wedding destination to illustrate the economic advantage of legalizing same-sex marriage in the Palmetto State, Prueter said.
"We're trying to point out that LGBT individuals, whether they are spending their money here or whether they are business partners in the community, that we are significant threads in the economy," Prueter said.
Destination weddings are a driving force for the local wedding and tourism industries. In 2012, South Carolina was ranked the fifth most popular destination for weddings.
Consumers spent $105 million in 2012 on wedding-related services in Charleston, such as florists, photographers and event planners, according to the most recent market analysis of the region from The Wedding Industry Report.
"It seems crazy that we are one of the biggest wedding destinations in the world, yet we aren't seeing any LGBT ceremonies being held here," Prueter said.
Maryann Hoyt, the owner of the Event Cooperative who is planning the wedding free of charge, agreed.
"There is certainly a market here in Charleston for LGBT weddings, but gay marriage is not often recognized in the South, and I'm sure it's something many of us would like to see more of in Charleston," she said. "We just want to let them know we are welcoming to their business."
Oran Smith, president of the Palmetto Family Council, said that while his organization opposes same-sex marriage, he wouldn't oppose LGBT couples celebrating their wedding in the Palmetto State.
"It's the opposite of our position, but that's what they believe and we certainly don't want to restrict anybody from having an event that's purely symbolic if it's not violating the law," Smith said.
None of the 14 Southern states have passed legislation to recognize same-sex marriage or to outlaw workplace discrimination based on employees' sexual orientation. South Carolina amended the state constitution in 2006 to ban same-sex marriages and civil unions.
Even as a major wedding destination, Charleston may not see as much business from LGBT couples as other places that recognize same-sex marriage, according to Marc Solomon, the national campaign director for Freedom to Marry. The national organization advocates for same-sex marriage.
"There is a tremendous economic benefit in the wedding industry. And we're seeing that in the 19 states where same-sex couples can get married," Solomon said. "There's no question that states that deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry are not going to see much of that economic benefit."
Prueter said the wedding project is a different way to communicate the Alliance's message, by speaking to the public's wallets as well as their hearts.
"We're working on the cultural change first because, legally, we can't get married," she said. "But we're going to try to change the culture here to say we are open here for LGBT wedding business."
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail