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Tampa bridal show focuses on LGBT market

Sisters Stephanie, left, and Angelica Cuevas, center browse and chat with vendors at the Equal Plan Bridal Show at the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel on Sunday. Angelica is planning her wedding to her fiancee, Ellie, set for next summer. The event was put on by Diana Marie Events to showcase LGBT-friendly businesses. Stephanie attended the show with her sister because, she said, “She helped me plan my wedding, which was last September.” Angelica’s wedding is scheduled to be held next Fourth of July to her fiancee, Ellie. While the sisters attended the bridal show, Angelica won two raffle prizes, which included a cupcake prize from Sweet Tweets Cakery and a free night’s stay at the Sheraton. 
Published Jun. 20, 2017

TAMPA

As the couple walked past the vendors at the wedding planning showcase at the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk on Sunday, they couldn't help but envision what their special day would look like in December.

When it comes to the style of their commitment ceremony and reception, the two women are traditional, they say.

"I haven't seen her dress," Jessica Marquez, 32, said. "I haven't seen her in it, nor do I want to. It's traditional."

Marquez and her fiancee, Mary Bailey, 29, were one of more than 80 couples who registered for the showcase presented by Diana Marie Events that included vendors promoting gay-friendly businesses and services. The showcase was open to couples of all kinds, including heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

Tradition is important to Marquez, which is why she got down on one knee when proposing to Bailey in Key West in March. Less than two weeks ago, a Monroe County judge ruled that Florida's ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional. On Friday, a judge in Miami-Dade County followed with a similar ruling.

Diana Marie Martin, the host of Sunday's event, said the rulings have given a lot of couples hope, despite Attorney General Pam Bondi announcing the state's decision to appeal the Monroe County case. By filing the appeal notice, Bondi triggered an automatic stay, preventing same-sex marriages from being performed.

"I had some of our couples calling me asking, 'What does this mean for us?' " Martin said. "It makes it even more exciting to plan their weddings knowing, when their wedding day comes around, it might be legal."

Though Diana Marie Events does all sorts of weddings, Martin said she is making a concerted effort to take the lead in the LGBT wedding market as things are changing across the state and country.

"There's so much excitement for these couples, knowing that attitudes are changing and laws are changing," Martin said. "It makes them so much more fun to work with."

For Marquez and Bailey, the goal of the showcase Sunday was to find a photographer. The couple of nine years heard about the event from their caterer at the Embassy Suites Tampa in the West Shore area.

Marquez chatted with photographer Marilyn Shamblin about the couple's vision for their day. For Bailey, the important shots are those of her getting ready: putting on her dress, finishing her makeup, laughing with friends. Marquez hopes the photographer can find a way to include a reference to her mother, who died a couple of years ago. She's thinking of something symbolic, such as a flower or memento.

"I do want to capture that moment of me honoring her," Marquez told the photographer. "I'm the butcher side of the relationship, as people say, but I still have those emotions."

Marquez listened as Shamblin told her about her extensive editing process, how she creates slide shows and how she likes to really get to know a couple.

"Have you ever done a gay wedding before?" Marquez asked.

"I've done shoots for gay couples," she said, gesturing to a black-and-white photo of a gay couple. "But as far as a wedding, no."

"That's okay," Marquez said. "It's a wedding. Love is love."

Many of the vendors echoed the same sentiment Sunday. While some of them had experience with same-sex ceremonies, others were chatting up potential clients and looking to work on their first one. It's all the same skill set, Marlon Brown of Fortuity Entertainment said.

"It's still two people in love that want to join together for the rest of their lives in front of their friends and family," Brown said. "The only difference is, at the end of the day, right now, it isn't legal. But that will change."

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2443. Follow @cljohnst.

Folks browsed and chatted with vendors at the Equal Plan Bridal Show at the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel on Sunday. The event was put on by Diana Marie Events to showcase LGBT-friendly businesses. Sunday's one-stop shopping event speaks to a wedding market that watches and waits as Florida law unfolds.

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