Falling for You: Niagara Falls Courts the LGBT Wedding Market
Back in the day, if you had any taste whatsoever, a summertime stay in Niagara Falls was just what you did. It would be so still if it weren’t for the air conditioning.
Pre-Frigidaire, the Yankee side had a lot going for it - the city rests in the perfect summertime "Goldilocks" zone: Not too hot, not too cold. Enticed, glitterati ascended upon this far corner of New York State to escape the heat, and because the marrying month of June heralded the beginning of Bermuda High season (if you don’t know what it is, you’ve never experienced one), overheated lovebirds made it a twofer, escaping to cooler weather after tying the knot and making Niagara Falls "The Honeymoon Capital of America."
Then came Freon. With the advent of AC, Hawaii, the Caribbean and other tropical climates became year-round destinations and Niagara Falls lost popularity. Even as Canadians glitzed their side into a Las Vegas knock-off, the U.S. portion slipped into obscurity.
But fortunes whirled around again in 2011 when New York governor Mario Cuomo signed into law the Marriage Equality Act - something that Hawaii, the Caribbean and just about everywhere else within eyeshot of a palm tree fell short. Seeing opportunity, Niagara Falls made a robust public relations move: Not only can gays and lesbians honeymoon here, they can get things rolling by marrying here.
Says Sally Fedell of The Falls Wedding Chapel, "It definitely gave my business a boost, and these weddings are so much more emotional than heterosexual ones." Fedell saw a 20 percent increase from the LGBT community alone.
It’s a similar experience throughout the city. At the aptly named Romantic Wedding Chapel, the figure is 25 percent. Same-sex marriage specialist Shanie McCowen of Rainbow Bells has joined couples from 13 states and as far away as Australia.
Taking the Plunge
Couples could hardly pick a more dramatic backdrop, a sentiment shared by everyone in town, but particularly by those who take one of the most awesome sights of nature and turn it into one of the most romantic.
"It’s the most beautiful place," McCowen tells me. "There is something magnetic that just draws you to it. It’s just beautiful."
"It’s one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World," adds Laura Lee Morgan of the Romantic Wedding Chapel (and B&B), noting, "The falls produce ions that make everyone feel good, and I think that is a part of the atmosphere it provides."
American or Canadian, going to a Niagara Falls and not actually seeing the Niagara Falls is like traveling to Mars and not stepping out of the rocket. Wrought by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same mind behind New York City’s Central Park, the leafy lanes and sculpted gardens of Niagara Falls State Park are an arboreal buffer between the cataracts and the city. Deliciously green in summer and blazingly scarlet in fall, each section of the park is named after one of the Great Lakes before opening up into the grand vista of the falls. Three cascades compose Niagara Falls, along with one international border and a veritable United Nations of sightseers squeezed in.
The U.S. claims American Falls and aptly named Bridal Veil Falls while Horseshoe Falls is split down the middle with Canada. All three pour into the Gorge, whose deceptively calm-looking waters roar to life yet again in the Niagara Whirlpool until it all finally blisses out in the waters of Lake Ontario. It is little wonder Native Americans envisioned Hino, God of Thunder, living not in the sky but in the falling waters.
But Park Warden Ang Berti is quick to point out that while couples can get married anywhere in the park, above the falls or below them, some vistas are more prudent than others. What makes Niagara a magnet for tourists can be downright detrimental to a wedding.