How same-sex couples will celebrate their commitments

GLBT couples around Minnesota race to plan August weddings

How same-sex couples will celebrate their commitments
Benjamin Carter Grimes
Rod Stark and Howard Austin already wear wedding bands, but on August 6 will get the marriage to match

On May 13, 2013, about five minutes after the Minnesota Senate voted to pass the same-sex marriage bill, Denise Moreland and Deb Pearson decided that they would get married — again.

"It was like, 'Wow, we really could get married!'" Moreland says. "Why would we wait?"

They had already waited for decades. The two women met in 1981, exchanged rings in 1989, and held a religious ceremony in 1991. Now they would finally get the civil ceremony to match.

Liza Dungo and Mackenzie Labine
Photo illustration by Emily Utne
Liza Dungo and Mackenzie Labine
When they met 32 years ago, Denise Moreland and Deb Pearson were scared even to hold hands in the car
Benjamin Carter Grimes
When they met 32 years ago, Denise Moreland and Deb Pearson were scared even to hold hands in the car

"Third time's the charm," Pearson laughs. "Most people do all three on one day. It took us 32 years."

The bill passed on a Monday, and by Tuesday, the two were calling venues to host the nuptials. Over their years together, they had compiled a list of all the beautiful places they had been, places where they dreamed of someday having a wedding.

But Moreland and Pearson wanted to get married as soon as the new law took effect, in August. Most of their top choices were booked.

After visiting three or four locations, the couple stumbled upon a small golf course in St. Paul. "We walked in and we looked at each other and we said, 'This is where we are going to get married,'" Moreland says. "It was clear."

They had a destination, a date, and a new state law. Now they had to start the hard part: planning the wedding.

"It just hasn't been part of our culture," Moreland says. "We've always watched weddings from a distance, because we just assumed we took a different path. We don't know how to do wedding planning."

In the 2010 U.S. Census, 10,207 Minnesota couples described themselves as in a same-sex relationship. Hennepin County is home to more than half of them, and Ramsey County counts another 1,619. Together, that's 68 percent of the state's GLBT couples who live in the Twin Cities.

And a lot of them will want to get legally hitched now that it's an option. A recent analysis from the Williams Institute at the UCLA Law School predicts that more than 30 percent of those couples will tie the knot in the law's first year. That works out to 3,165 new marriage licenses.

That's a lot of Minnesotans figuring out what this law means to them, how it fits in with their existing commitment, and how they want to celebrate it.

Those celebrations will make an impact of their own on the state. Another statistic from the Williams Institute study says that wedding-related spending could add as much as $27 million to the state economy in the law's first year, plus an additional $2 million in tax revenue.

But the money won't necessarily be going to traditional white dress, layer cake, and church affairs.

Since May, nontraditional wedding venues throughout the Twin Cities have seen surges in interest from same-sex couples. Karen Scher, who handles party planning at the Guthrie Theater, went to the Capitol at 4:30 p.m. on May 13 to watch the bill pass. By the time she got back to her desk 90 minutes later, she had six inquiries from same-sex couples.

"The first ones, I somewhat naively said, 'When are you thinking?' and I got, 'August,'" Scher recalls.

When couples have come to check out the space in person, their questions and excitement have been "pretty much the same" as that of straight couples, Scher says.

"The only thing I've noticed," she says, "is that heterosexual couples usually have come with a parent or sibling, and same-sex couples usually come alone."

At the Walker Art Center, two same-sex couples have already booked weddings for the fall, and about 15 more have explored the venue.

"The couples so far, what they have in common is just a general excitement of, 'Wow!'" says Rachel Joyce, a publicist for the museum. "Of, 'We finally get to make these calls and these plans, and we get to have our cake samples.'"

For same-sex couples, a question like where to get the cake isn't as simple as who makes the best buttercream. When Moreland and Pearson had their first ceremony back in 1991, planning the wedding was a minefield.

"We went to Wuollet Bakery on Grand Avenue, because we figured it was the most progressive neighborhood around, but we were scared," Pearson remembers. "Being lesbian, it's like you have to figure out first, are they for us? Will they be kind?"

More than 20 years later, Moreland and Pearson are having an easier time finding gay-friendly vendors, but they still face reminders that they're not the average marrying couple. When the DJ they hired for their August wedding handed them a contract, he asked them to go through and replace "bride and groom" with the appropriate language.

"I thought, okay, but why wasn't he already doing this?" Pearson recalls.

Julie Lyford, who runs the wedding planning business Fabulous Functions, has seen couples run into unsupportive vendors — as well as vendors who are still figuring out how they feel, or how to adjust their business in order to serve the gay community.

"The owners of a catering company might be totally fine with it, but are their staff?" Lyford asks. "Usually I get a blank stare when I ask that, because they're like, 'I don't know; I assume they are.' But the owner's not usually the one interacting with the couple and their guests that day, and you don't want someone who's uncomfortable to be the person handing that married couple their food."

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