Wedding Bells in the Star City of the South

By, Brittany Cowan

Spouse Puts Ring on Finger

It’s a day filled with love, excitement and joy. It’s an evening of whispered vows, happy tears and gleaming smiles. A couple’s wedding day is sacred, especially when it has been a long time coming. Blooming in our post-marriage equality society, the once closeted city of Roanoke is continuing to proudly show its colors as a destination city for same-sex couples. The Virginia Office of Vital Records reported that in the first nine months of last year, one out of every nine marriage licenses were obtained by a same-sex couple. Roanoke topped out with the highest average of any other large city in Virginia.

A Resisting Past

The city of Roanoke was not always so warm and welcoming to the LGBTQ community. In 2001, the Roanoke Times began publishing a series entitled, “Living Gay.” In the wake of the devastating Backstreet shooting that claimed the life of a closeted member of the community and left many others wounded, the Roanoke Times moved to shed some light on the lifestyles of gays and lesbians living in the southern, conservative community.

Expecting that their controversial approach to the subject would bring some negative attention, they prepared themselves by dedicating an entire team to handle the community’s responses. But when the story ran that January, vicious backlash exploded from the community. Michael Riley, editor of the Roanoke Times, stated that, “Good journalism often carries a high price, especially when you're trying to open eyes and spark intelligent discussion about a sensitive, and once taboo, topic. In this case, the price was worth paying.”

Virginia Wedding Vendors for Equality

In the coming years, the community of Roanoke was able to push through calming tempers and social differences to begin creating a city of understanding and acceptance. Now, the city hosts drag shows, is home to multiple LGBTQ-friendly churches and has even opened a health clinic specializing in transgender services.

These great strides towards embracing the LGBTQ community in Roanoke are continuing to manifest in this post-marriage equality society as same-sex couples are flocking to the “Star City of the South” to say “I Do.” The inclusion of LGBTQ individuals could prove to make an economic impact on the city’s wedding industry. A financial analysis by NerdWallet estimates that legalization of gay marriage will boost America’s $51 billion wedding industry by as much as $2.5 billion annually ($72.5 million per year in Virginia alone)!

Wedding vendors in Roanoke have begun taking a stance on the controversial subject of same-sex marriages in the conservative city. Debate has encouraged the establishment of wedding expos, like OneLoveRoanoke, whose mission is to create an open environment for same-sex couples to enjoy the exciting, yet daunting, process of planning their weddings with love and support. OneLove’s website reads, “Virginia Wedding Vendors for Equality,” a statement supported by the small, yet growing, list of wedding professionals and vendors in southwest Virginia that openly and proudly serve those in the LGBTQ community. Times, they are a changing! Perhaps John Lennon was right: “All you need is love.”