By Dawn Wolfe
Where can you find caterers, lawyers, insurance agents, ministers, DJ’s – not to mention free beer and wine and a rockin’ dance floor – all under one roof? On Sunday, April 7, all of the above and more (more than 200 more, in fact) gathered to celebrate Marriage Rites for All at the Detroit Marriott Livonia during BTLs’ third annual Same-Sex Wedding Expo.
The event featured everything – literally, everything – a couple could want to make their wedding an event to remember, with jewelers, photo booths, caterers, a limousine service, and churches all hosting booths to show their support for – and do business with – LGBT couples.
“Unlike other expos and events I’ve done, there’s is a real pulse of community here,” said Eric Swanson, co-founder of the professional music ensemble Motif. Swanson and Motif definitely contributed to the “pulse” of the event with periodic performances that had couples and singles alike swinging.
Kristy Hutchings, who was at the Expo for Jeff Zak catering, said that the gay-owned and operated business attended to support the community. And support the community they did, with a thirst-quenching sparkling water and fruit juice drink that was a huge treat for this thirsty reporter.
According to Marriott Catering Sales Manager Julie Emerson, the idea for the Expo came to the facility’s staff a bit over three years ago when a same-sex couple came to her for a place to hold their wedding ceremony. “They asked if I would do that sort of thing, and I thought ‘Why wouldn’t I?,'” she remembered. Emerson and Marriott Director of Sales Danielle Bastianelli reached out to BTL Publisher Jan Stevenson, and the Expo was born.
Jim Ankofski of the Pastry Palace in Wixom summed up the feeling of many of the vendors at the Expo. “This is a big, untapped market,” he said. “I’m a member of the gay community and I think that if people do the right thing in the government and legalize same-sex marriage this market will take off.”
“We just need the government to do the right thing,” Ankofski added.
While the vendors were all smiles, what about the people the event was created for – same-sex couples thinking about getting hitched?
Eric DeVore and John Petrucello of Detroit said that, while after twenty years together they feel married, they also feel it’s time to make their relationship official. DeVore said that the pair were at the Expo to get ideas and were happy to have so many vendors to choose from. “Otherwise we’d have to do a lot of running around and have to figure out who’s OK with gay couples.”
First-time Expo guests Karen Fitzpatrick and Majorie Beasley, also of Detroit, were also looking for wedding ideas and said that, among other things, they loved, “…the photo booth and the beautiful cakes.”
Also, “All of these people, every race, color, creed … everybody getting together to have fun!,” Beasley said while looking through shots she and Fitzpatrick had taken in one of the two photo booths.
Markey (who asked that her last name not be used) was in Michigan from Hawaii and decided to check the Expo out while in town. Markey, who identifies as gender-fluid, isn’t in a relationship but said that she was enjoying herself, “Everybody’s friendly, everyone’s upbeat,” she said.
A Bit of Canada in Michigan
Thanks to a bit of Expo magic, all anyone who wanted to experience a bit of Canada here in Michigan had to do was visit the Expo’s Windsor Experience, courtesy of Caesar’s Windsor and Tourism Windsor. With free wine flowing and periodic music and dancing thanks to Star Trax Event Productions from Southfield, the Windsor Experience combined a party spirit with a welcome chance to unwind.
More importantly, the room was a reminder that, unlike the state of Michigan, Canada affords equal protection under the law to same-sex couples.
Mike Cardinal of Civil Marriage Celebrations said that, in fact, he and partner Joe McParland serve, “…probably two-three dozen couples a year from Michigan and the U.S. in general.”
One thing that many U.S. couples seeking to wed in Canada don’t know, said Cardinal, is just how easy the process is. “As long as both members of the couple haven’t been previously married or divorced in the states, the paperwork takes about a half an hour,” Cardinal explained, and added that unlike in Michigan there is no mandated waiting period between obtaining the license and holding the ceremony.
Couples where one partner or the other have been divorced in the states do face some bureaucracy, though, with about a four-five week wait until the paperwork goes through.
Celebrations – and Protections
While the Windsor Experience reminded guests that there are places where same-sex couples are respected by the law, that respect is still sorely lacking in Michigan. With that in mind, the Expo featured insurance representatives and attorneys who specialize in the sometimes-complex paperwork dance that sexual minorities have to deal with to protect their relationships and assets.
Amanda Shelton of the law firm Shelton & Dean summed up the situation, “This event (the Expo) gives us the chance to really talk to people and help them understand that right now they’re getting caught up in their ceremony – but they have to see us to be protected.”
While that need for special protection is a constant reminder of the legal discrimination same-sex couples face in Michigan, that fact wasn’t anywhere near enough to put a damper on the high spirits of virtually everyone at the Expo. Kisha Avinger said that she and her wife, Sherry Broom, were at the event to find a caterer – and a chocolatier – for their wedding during Motor City Pride at Hart Plaza this June. “We aren’t into drinking, but we love to get ‘chocolate wasted!’,” Avinger said with a smile while choosing between luscious treats from AG Chocolates.