Australia’s first same-sex weddings took place in December, just days after marriage equality was officially written into law.
It was a significant occasion in more ways than one, also marking the beginning of a glittering economic boost.
Australian bank and prominent marriage equality advocate ANZ has predicted the additional weddings will contribute more than $650-million to the Australian economy annually, while creating up to 8000 new jobs.
That’s an unprecedented profit growth for Australia’s lucrative wedding industry, which is already worth an estimated $6.3 billion each year.
The forecast represents direct spending on weddings only. It doesn’t take into account the additional flow-on benefits from wedding guest expenditure, honeymoon travel, heightened business confidence or greater financial security for same-sex couples.
That means there’s an even bigger pot of gold waiting at the end of the rainbow, and businesses across a broad range of sectors could be sharing in it.
If they choose to.
There was a lot of talk about the rights and religious freedoms of florists and bakers during the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey. Although there are no formal exemptions in place, businesses can of course choose not to market themselves directly toward the LGBT+ community.
But those that proudly wave the rainbow flag are primed to dip into Australia’s fast growing and cashed up ‘pink economy’.
That’s the term industry analysts use to describe the estimated 400 million LGBT+ people worldwide, who collectively spend more than US$3-trillion each year.
Closer to home the market is looking just as vibrant, with the 2016 Census revealing 46,800 same-sex couples are now living together in Australia, up 39 per cent from 2011.
At the time of the 2016 Census, 84 per cent of same sex couples were employed, compared to 67 per cent of opposite sex couples. Just over half of working same sex couples were in managerial or professional level roles, compared to 40% of heterosexual couples.
Not surprisingly then, people in same-sex relationships were more likely to have higher personal incomes. Women in same sex couples were twice as likely to be earning at least $2000 a week compared to their heterosexual counterparts (14 vs 6 per cent). While 23 per cent of men in same sex relationships earned $2000 or more a week, compared to 18 per cent of partnered heterosexual males.
The reported number of same sex couples has more than quadrupled since their relationships were first recognised by the Census in 1996. The Australian Bureau of Statistics concluded the rise was reflective in part of a greater willingness to identify as LGBT+. And we are likely to see these numbers, and the resulting economic benefits, rise even further in years to come with the greater visibility and social acceptance of same sex relationships resulting from marriage equality.
But before you rush out to glitter-bomb your business and hang rainbows from the rafters, first ask yourself why you’re doing it.
For rainbow branding to work, it has to be a genuine reflection of the culture and values at the core of the organisation.
If it’s anything but, it won’t take long for the cracks to show.
The AFL divided the football community when it installed a YES logo outside its Melbourne headquarters at the height of postal survey tensions in September, only to remove it the next day. The removal of the sign followed public criticism and a hoax threat that evacuated AFL House, but the AFL claimed the sign was only ever intended to be on display for 24 hours. Marriage equality supporters condemned the apparent backflip, with both sides of the debate agreeing it had done more damage than good.
In 2016 Telstra notoriously revoked its public support for marriage equality, but reinstated it a week later after receiving public backlash and customer threats to switch providers.
These examples demonstrate the power of not only the LGBT+ economy, but the influence of consumer activism and the importance for businesses to adopt a solid and unwavering position on issues of public significance.
There are many shining examples of brands and corporate heavyweights that have become outspoken supporters for marriage equality. Some arguably using their influence to affect change.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce personally donated $1-million to the ‘Yes’ campaign. Despite fierce condemnation including a man thrusting a lemon meringue pie in his face in protest of same sex marriage, Joyce remained a vocal advocate for marriage equality throughout the debate while defending the role of CEO’s to show leadership on social issues.
With support from some of Australia’s biggest brands including Qantas, Google, ANZ and eBay, Airbnb in collaboration with The Equality Campaign launched the most public corporate declaration for marriage equality in Australia to date. ‘Until We All Belong’ encouraged everyday people to champion the cause, taking a pledge and wearing an incomplete black metal ring, symbolic of the gap in marriage equality. The first allocation of the ring sold out in less than 24 hours, and within just three days, Airbnb was the top trending brand in Australian and global conversations on marriage equality.
The divisive nature of the same sex marriage survey was enough to make even rival brands raise a white flag and stand in solidarity, with SKYY Vodka and Absolut launching a joint marketing campaign with the motto, ‘The Skyy’s the limit when we have Absolut equality,’. The ad appeared on social media with the words ‘If two rival brands can unite to support equality, so can all of us’.
At a local level, small businesses signed petitions and plastered their shopfronts in rainbow flags.
And now with the fight for equality won on a 61.6 percent majority yes vote, preparations are well underway for quite possibly the biggest rainbow party Australia has ever seen, with the 40th Annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras just weeks away.
The 2017 event injected more than $39-million into the New South Wales economy. With up to 500,000 revellers expected to line Oxford and Flinders Streets for this year’s parade, the 2018 festival is tipped to be the biggest and brightest yet.
The Mardi Gras is one of the most colourful jewels in the crown of Australia’s LGBT+ tourism drawcards, and just another reason Australia is now poised to rival New Zealand as the top dream wedding destination for same sex couples from all over the world.
New Zealand has celebrated the nuptials of more than 3000 same-sex couples since marriage equality laws were introduced there in 2013. More than half of all same sex couples married in New Zealand in 2016 had travelled from other countries, and 58 percent of those were Australians.
With no need to cross the ditch just to walk down the aisle, it will be interesting to see how much of the international LGBT+ market chooses to tie the knot, and buy their toasters and cutlery sets, in the land down under.
Maybe money can’t buy you love. But $650-million will certainly pay for some lavish weddings, somewhere over the rainbow.
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