GATLINBURG (WATE) – The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn marriage bans in all 50 states could have a big impact on Sevier County. It’s one of the nation’s most popular spots for destination weddings, and many expect legalizing same sex marriages will help the industry grow.
Wedding chapels dot the landscape in Gatlinburg, and those chapels marry nearly 10,000 couples each year.
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“Gatlinburg is either second or third for destination weddings in the nation, only to Las Vegas,” said Guy Jacobs with the Gatlinburg Wedding Center.
Now they are preparing for even more couples to walk down the aisle after the Supreme Court ruled to overturn bans on same-sex marriage.
“We’re anticipating that about the same percent of the population that are gay will come that are straight, so probably about five percent of our marriages in the future will be same-sex marriages,” said Lee Bennett, president of the Gatlinburg Wedding Chapel Association.
People in the wedding industry there say they do not doubt the legalization of same-sex marriage will help bring more revenue into the area because, as for-profit businesses, those chapels cannot turn same-sex couples away.
“Churches and clergy do not have to marry people that they don’t want to, just like a Catholic priest probably wouldn’t marry a Southern Baptist unless they became Catholic, or a Jewish Rabbi wouldn’t marry a Muslim. That’s just part of people’s religion and their faith. This ruling has nothing to do with that,” said Bennett.
By late afternoon, the Sevier County Clerk was ready to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples saying they were fielding a lot of phone calls, but no one had applied. The chapels were just anticipating what was to come.
“Couples already saying ‘when?’ We’re saying ‘get your license. We’ll get you married!'” said Jacobs.
While some may not agree, Jacobs says they are ready to see the change.
“We see this as a civil rights issue. You know it started off 50 years ago with interracial couples not being able to get married, and it comes full circle with civil rights,” he said.
The Gatlinburg Wedding Center says they started receiving calls from same-sex couples all across the state wanting to get married there right when the high court’s decision came down.
They are anticipating a small rush this summer before things level off.