MONTPELIER, Vermont – Bed-and-breakfast owner Jeff Connor was hoping for a boom in business once Vermont opened the door for same-sex couples to marry.
The law takes effect Tuesday, but he's still waiting. So far, he has only one wedding celebration planned at the 11-unit Grunberg Haus, in Duxbury. It's for Sept. 8.
"I guess the word's still getting around out there," said Connor, who runs the inn with wife Linda.
Unlike the rush that followed Vermont's adoption of civil unions in 2000, the state's adoption of full marriage rights for same-sex couples hasn't turned it into a gay marriage mecca. And it may not.
City and town clerks around Vermont have issued only a handful of licenses. The adoption of gay marriage in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Iowa has diluted what was once Vermont's monopoly — and a tourism draw.
"It's not like what it was when civil unions went into effect," said Manchester Town Clerk Linda Spence, a Justice of the Peace who officiated at some. "Of course, we were the first state, so that made the draw much bigger."
In Manchester, a southern Vermont town whose picturesque old buildings, mountain vistas and upscale shopping make it a wedding destination (there were 101 last year), no gay couples have plunked down the $45 fee for the marriage licenses, which are good for 60 days from the date of issue.
Ditto for Brattleboro and for Montpelier, the state capital.
"I haven't given out any yet, but I've heard from three couples who are going to be coming in," Spence said. "Two of the couples — one of them is from Australia — got civil unions from me and they're coming back for a marriage. It makes me feel good."
The wedding preparations have been slow elsewhere, too.
In Burlington, the state's largest city, only three licenses have been issued for post-Sept. 1 weddings involving gay or lesbian couples. In Rutland, four licenses have been issued, said City Clerk Henry Heck.
"I know the ladies here have received phone calls inquiring, thinking it was a done deal now," Heck said. "We tell them it doesn't take effect until Sept. 1. There's interest out there. I think more will apply shortly thereafter, but I'm not sure how big the turnout will be."
It's a sharp contrast to 2000.
After the civil unions law took effect July 1, 2000, there were 1,704 civil unions established in the next six months, including 405 in July alone. Out-of-state residents accounted for 78 percent of them — with most involving people from New York, Massachusetts and California, according to state vital records. Nearly 69 percent were between female partners.
The slow start to the same-sex marriage law may also be rooted in timing. When the Legislature adopted the law in April, it set Sept. 1 as the effective date, thereby missing out on the summer wedding season.
Too, the five-month gap between the adoption of gay marriage and its effective date have kept it out of the spotlight.
"My guess is that members of the gay community are assuming that on Sept. 1, they can come in to get the license so that they can have a fall marriage," said Secretary of State Deborah L. Markowitz. "I expect that after Sept. 1, it's going to pick up."
Beth Robinson, a Middlebury attorney who spearheaded the pushes for civil unions and then gay marriage in Vermont, says there isn't the "pent-up demand" for same-sex marriage that there was for civil unions. In the intervening years, people have obtained civil unions here or marriages in other states.
Still, there are plans being made.
One couple isn't wasting any time. Two men from Whitehall, New York, plan a midnight wedding Monday at the Moose Meadow Lodge in Duxbury, standing in front of a great room fireplace. Lodge co-owner Greg Trulson — a Justice of the Peace — will perform the ceremony, pronouncing them married in the first minutes of Sept 1.
The 30-member Vermont Gay Tourism Association, meanwhile, plans a "Small State, Big Heart" marriage equality wedding reception and dance party Tuesday night at The Essex resort in Essex, offering hors d'oeuvres, wedding cake and DJ dancing for $34 per person.
Meanwhile, Vermont-based Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream is marking the occasion in typically sweet fashion. They're renaming their "Chubby Hubby" flavor "Hubby Hubby" for the month.