A hitch in getting hitched

Posted by Brian McCormick on chicagotribune.com:

"On one level, the wedding days of Marc Kaufman and Cindy Savage this summer could not have been more different. Marc and his betrothed, Bill Healey, each wore a suit handmade by a Hong Kong tailor; Cindy and her bride, Julia Zayas-Melendez, made their own dresses. Marc and Bill decided to tie the knot after nearly a quarter-century together; Julia proposed to Cindy in 2007, a year after their first date. The men were joined in a religious ceremony officiated by a rabbi at Temple Sholom on North Lake Shore Drive, followed by a reception for 140 guests at the University Club that included cocktails, dinner and dancing to a 10-piece orchestra.

"The women's ceremony took place at a Park District pier in Rogers Park and was conducted by an actor friend of the couple's, with 75 guests, then capped by walking across the street to RoPa, a Middle Eastern restaurant, for a feast served family-style and entertainment provided by the brides and by guests who performed or served as DJs.

"Yet on another level, the two couples share this disappointing reality: Neither union is recognized by the state of Illinois. Which forces a basic choice by same-sex couples looking to wed: tie the not here, or go out of state. Julia and Cindy followed their July 5 Chicago ceremony with a trip to Boston for a civil ceremony July 19 that declared them legally married in that state and in eight other U.S. jurisdictions — Illinois is not one — that recognize marriages of same-sex couples performed in other states.

"Bill and Marc decided to make their Aug. 1 Chicago nuptials their only wedding, at least for the time being.

"'This is our home, so this is where we wanted to be married,' Kaufman says. 'While the state thing is important, it was more important to us that we be married in the eyes of God and in the eyes of our friends and family.'

"For the brides, however, simply pledging their love in front of friends and family wasn't enough. 'We wanted it to be legal somewhere,' Savage said. 'We originally planned to wait until it was legal here, but after three years we decided it was getting ridiculous.'

"Two weeks after their Chicago event, Julia and Cindy headed off to Boston, where they slipped into their homemade dresses again, hopped on the subway to the Public Garden for another exchange of vows outdoors and capped off the evening with five friends at an intimate dinner in a French bistro.

"Although many Chicago-area couples are content to keep their events local, increasingly gays and lesbians are pairing local commitment ceremonies with out-of-town events that give their partnerships legal sanction. Ted Grady, co-owner of J&L Catering, which does full-service event planning as well as catering, says that desire to make it legal is one of several trends he has seen in same-sex commitment ceremonies in recent years.

"Another is the number of such events. While same-sex commitment ceremonies have been at least a small part of his business for most of the two decades J&L has been in operation, the 20-plus weddings of gay and lesbian couples his firm is handling this year more than double what he was doing two years ago. He has also seen the events grow substantially in size, from the backyard events in private homes that were once the norm to ceremonies with 100-200 guests at venues like the Chicago Cultural Center, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and New Leaf, a florist/event space in Old Town.

"The growth can be explained in part, he says, by the growing number of states legalizing marriage equality — and he predicts that the growth will accelerate if either a marriage equality bill or a civil union bill currently under consideration in Springfield becomes law. But the higher visibility is not the only explanation. The increasingly family-inclusive aspect of these events is also helping them grow in size. 'They routinely include young children and grandparents today, which was not always the case,' he says.

... "After she announced her engagement to Christin Baker on the floor of the General Assembly this spring, Rep. Deb Mell, D-Chicago, saw a similar [high] level of family acceptance. 'The first question one niece asked was who's going to have the babies,' she recalls, 'and the other niece immediately asked if she could be the flower girl.'

"In a reflection of marriage equality's short-term chances in Illinois, Mell and Baker are busy making plans for their fall 2011 wedding — in Iowa — with a subsequent party for friends and family here.

"For Wally Bowling and Doug Dawson, their April Iowa City wedding in the company of two friends — 20 years to the day from the grooms' first date — was just the beginning of a revelatory odyssey. 'Even after all those years together, it did really elevate the relationship' to state their commitment before a judge, Bowling says.

"The couple threw a June reception at their Douglas Dawson Gallery for about 150 friends and family members. 'My mother, who is from a small rural town in northwestern Iowa, told all of her conservative friends that she was coming to Chicago for our birthdays, not for a wedding reception,' Dawson says. Transformed by the event, she returned to her small town and invited many of those friends over for coffee and shared pictures and stories about the wedding reception for her son and his husband.

"'That's how change occurs,' Dawson says."

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