In late 2009, when a gay couple asked Jared Slater, founder of New York’s J&J Photography, to shoot their commitment ceremony, they were worried he’d say no. At that point, same-sex marriage wasn’t legal in the Empire State and the men revealed they’d faced serious hesitation, even outright refusals, from other wedding vendors.
Slater—who runs his business with his make-up artist wife, Jeanne—saw no reason to turn them away. He happily agreed to shoot their ceremony.
Before the big day came, however, the New York Senate defeated the same-sex marriage bill in December 2009. New York State Senator Tom Libous, who opposed the measure, remarked, “I just don’t think the majority care too much about it at this time—they’re out of work, they want to see the state reduce spending, and they are having a hard time making ends meet. And I don’t mean to sound callous, but that’s true.”
although Slater is straight, Libous’ comment hit him hard. He has close gay friends and clients, not to mention a gay twin brother. “No matter what the financial situation of a country is, civil rights remain fundamental rights,” Slater says. “I wanted to show that New Yorkers—and not just gay New Yorkers, but straight ones, too—view civil rights as more important than how much money they’re making. I wanted to find a way to put my money where my mouth is.”
In the spring of 2010, Slater started an “inequality in marriage” discount for his LGBT clientele, offering 45% off his regular day rate—equal to the number of states that didn’t recognize same-sex marriage at the time. (When New York State legalized same-sex marriage in 2011, the discount went down to 44%.)
Being self-employed, Slater realizes he could lose a considerable amount of money from this deal, particularly now that gay nuptials aren’t merely legit in New York, they’re in demand. “We’re willing to reduce our income to disprove the state legislature’s perception that straight New Yorkers don’t care about this issue,” explains Slater, who says about 40 same-sex couples, or roughly half his wedding-season business, have taken advantage of the bargain. His mantra is “Equal rights, equal rates.”
But the chilling effects of homophobia have dampened some of the joy he feels in documenting these special rites of passage: Couples from conservative parts of the country often can’t share their wedding photos—treasured keepsakes of the most important day in their life together—with disapproving co-workers, friends, and family members. One Arizona couple requested Slater not use their image in any promotions because one of the grooms could lose his teaching job.
“We’ll know we’ve achieved equality when this isn’t the case anymore. I know I’m looking forward to the day when I no longer have to offer this discount,” Slater teases. “We’ll ask gay couples to pay the same rates as straights when they’re given the same rights.”
This is one deal we pray won’t last.
UPDATE (11/7/2012): On November 6, Election Day, voters passed laws for same-sex marriage equality in Maryland, Maine, and Washington. Looks like the discount is going down to 41%. Huzzah!
Photos: J&J Photography