The freedom to marry a plus for travel

Posted by Becky Brandt on medill.northwestern.edu:

"Some same-sex couples are going the extra mile, literally, to get married. Since only five states in the country and Washington D.C. legally recognize the freedom to marry, gays and lesbians who don’t live in one of those places, must travel to tie the knot. This means an uptick in travel and tourism to those five states and the nation’s capital.      

"Amy Linder-Lesser is a justice of the peace and an innkeeper in Massachusetts, the first state to legally recognize marriage equality in May 2004. She said that allowing same-sex couples to get married in her state has opened up the market for her business at the Rookwood Inn. Just after it became legal for out-of-state residents to get married in July 2008, Linder-Lesser performed 17 marriages, 16 of which were same-sex couples and the majority from out of state.    

"In Massachusetts, there is a waiting period of three days between the time a couple applies for a marriage license and when the ceremony can be performed. This means out-of-state couples and their wedding guests will often spend a few nights at a hotel and use the time as a vacation to visit tourist locations and go shopping.     

"Leslie Puzio and her wife, Jen, live in Maryland and were introduced by a friend. They started dating in February 2008. Jen asked Puzio to marry her the next month saying that she knew she would feel the same way about her whether it was six months or a year later.

“'I jokingly asked her six months later if her feelings were the same and she said ‘Most definitely,’' Puzio said.

"The two women traveled to Massachusetts to get married on Valentine’s Day. Puzio said they chose that location because the state had the most established recognition of marriages of same-sex couples and they felt it was the safest place to go.   

"They made a vacation out of their trip spending a week touring Boston and Salem. Puzio said they spent about $1,500 on the trip including hotels and airfare. She and Jen enjoyed the trip but wishes that it could have been under different circumstances.

“'I know that it’ll take time. I just hope that eventually people don’t have to travel far distances to get something that should be allowed for everyone to have,' Puzio said.

"In 2008, there were 2,168 marriages of same-sex couples in Massachusetts. More than half of those couples were from out of state according to the Massachusetts Department of Health. In 2009, 2,814 same-sex couples walked down the aisle in Massachusetts; 1,668 of them from out of state.     

"Iowa is the closest state to Illinois that recognizes the freedom to marry. It has since April 2009. Esther Hoffa has hosted weddings for same-sex couples since May 2009 from all over the United States at her inn, Garden & Galley Bed and Breakfast, in Indianola, Iowa.

“'We decided to support marriage equality by having people here. My husband and I both think that gay people should have this right,' Hoffa said.   

"Just months after the court ruling that legalized marriages of same-sex couples in Iowa, Hoffa found the website Iowagayweddingplanner.com and asked to advertise. She said the new clientele has been good for business and it definitely brings money into the state because her guests will often stay a few extra days to do sightseeing as part of a honeymoon.   

“'People just think the state is great and come and see how beautiful it is. I have people who are going to come back for their anniversary,' Hoffa said, 'It makes me proud to be an Iowan.' 

... "Alexander de Hilster has been married to his husband for six years. He runs an event-planning agency, ADH Events that occasionally hosts ceremonies for same-sex couples who want to share their commitment with friends and family in a wedding-like fashion.   

"De Hilster and his partner traveled to the Netherlands for their wedding. He is saddened by the fact that his marriage isn’t legally recognized in Illinois.   

“'All our (gay) friends are waiting for it to be legal here. They don’t want to do it twice,' de Hilster said. He added, 'If [marriage equality] is also legalized here, it’ll help tourism in Chicago, totally.'

"Chicago currently has a $12 billion tourism industry according to the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau. It is the third most popular city with the gay and lesbian community, according to Community Marketing Inc., a gay and lesbian marketing research firm. David Palsel with Community Marketing said legally recognizing the freedom to marry is good public relations and marketing for states that have passed such laws.   

"He underlines the point that even if a couple is from the state they are getting married in, they will spend money on a hotel reception hall and at flower shops and on a photographer. According to The Wedding Report Inc., the average wedding in 2009 cost $20,000.   

"Soon same-sex couples in Illinois may not have to go far to get their long-term relationship legally recognized. The Illinois legislature will vote this week on a law that would recognize civil unions.

“'We’re getting really, really close,' said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, a non-profit LGBT advocacy group, '[Civil unions have] the same rights depending on the state but in Illinois, it would be all the same rights as marriage but without the word marriage.'”

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