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by Jessica Carreras
In 1999, like so many LGBT couples before and after them, Cindy Sproul and Marianne Puechl decided to get married. They didn’t have equality, but they did have a love for each other that transcended the barriers of law.
Unfortunately, another barrier was yet to come: the challenge of planning a wedding between two women in a country in which many believe that marriage is reserved for opposite-sex couples. The obstacles were manifold, from explaining their relationship, to encountering wedding businesses that simply refused to work with them. It was a frustrating experience in what should have been a time reserved only for joy.
“When you get engaged, you want to be giddy and silly and talk to jewelers who are sharing in your joy and talk to florists that are giddy with you,” Puechl said. “We had some moments where that’s not what we experienced.”
Often, the best ideas are borne out of tough experiences – as was the case with the Rainbow Wedding Network, and the Same Love, Same Rights LGBT Wedding Expos.
Fueled by their experiences, and by a desire to fill the void of resources for same-sex couples looking to get married, Sproul and Puechl celebrated their own wedding by launching the Web site http://www.rainbowweddingnetwork.com. Since then, it has grown to include their LGBT wedding expos in 2003, the Same Love, Same Rights activism initiative in 2004 and the Rainbow Wedding Network Magazine in 2006.
And on May 2 in St. Clair Shores, the couple will celebrate another milestone: the first-ever Detroit LGBT Wedding Expo.
Though the experience will be new for metro Detroiters, it’s a long time coming for Sproul, 42, and Puechl, 43, who have spent their entire married life ensuring that others have an easier time than they did planning their Big Day. “We thought it would be great to help couples not have that experience – not have the phone hung up on them when they were calling vendors about their event,” Puechl said. “We really wanted to help provide couples with that resource, because of our own experience.”
The Web site and magazine provide couples with ideas for activism, contacts for gay-friendly florists, caterers and bridal shops – and even a wedding gift registry.
The expos, however, add a localized touch.
This year, events have been held in New York City and Chicago, with an expo in Massachusetts still to come. But this weekend, it’s all about the Motor City.
Though Michigan is riddled by economic problems, Puechl and Sproul saw beyond that to a genuine need for an LGBT Wedding Expo. Several calls from couples and local businesses indicated an interest in the event, and the co-owners decided to take a chance on the mitten state.
Though places like Vermont or Massachusetts are relatively longtime supporters of marriage equality, Peuchl said states like Michigan are where LGBT Wedding Expos have the most important presence. “When we go to a state like Michigan that has not passed pro-marriage legislation, that’s almost where the couples need us more – and the businesses too, to bridge themselves to the couples,” she said. “…We’re excited. It’s going to be fun to come to a new area.”
Even though, admitted Puechl, it’s an area that has made no strides toward marriage equality. In 2004, Michigan citizens voted in favor of Proposal 2, which stated that marriage in the state was reserved solely for opposite-sex couples. Then last year, a lawsuit brought before the state Supreme Court resulted in a decision that disabled people from receiving their partner’s health care benefits under Proposal 2. Same-sex couples in the state cannot marry, cannot adopt children together and have little to none of the legal rights afforded to straight couples.
But both Puechl and Sproul believe that a lack of legal rights shouldn’t stop couples from celebrating their relationships. In fact, Puechl asserted that the expos help to give people the confidence to have their ceremonies – legal status, be damned. “A lot of times, the couples in these states where they’re not feeling as generally welcomed by the government are nervous about having their ceremonies,” she said. “Having a place where they really feel legitimized in terms of the wedding expo helps really boost their sense of security and acceptance.”
The expos include exhibits from commercial businesses, plus local LGBT organizations. Often, in addition to 30-50 exhibitors, Puechl said the expos include cake-cutting ceremonies, champagne toasts and performances by dancers or singers. “Couples that attend can expect to walk into an event filled with excitement and joy,” she described, “but also a nice degree of respect.”
Respect that comes from an environment filled only with businesses, organizations and people that support same-sex marriage and LGBT equality. In Michigan’s case, this includes such businesses as Emerald City Designs, Dolce Gift Shop and Chocolates and jewelry company InForm, plus a sponsorship by Affirmations LGBT community center. “Not everyone who exhibits at our shows is a gay-owned business, but they’re all gay friendly,” Puechl explained. “We’ve screened each and every one to see that they stand up for non-discrimination and they welcome working with these couples – not just because they want the gay dollar, but because they truly believe in these issues.”
That screening process was even applied to the location of Detroit’s LGBT Wedding Expo: the Infinity and Ovation Yacht Charters, which will be parked at the Jefferson Marina in St. Clair Shores for the day-long event.
Though most other expos are held in hotel convention centers and expo halls, the river-bound location for Detroit’s expo was chosen both being unique, and for the company’s involvement with LGBT weddings in the area. “We learned that the Infinity and Ovation were just starting to branch out into the gay and lesbian wedding market in terms of providing the opportunity for couples to board in Detroit with their wedding party and then head into Canadian waters and have a legally recognized ceremony under Canadian law,” Puechl said. “That was really striking to us, and so we thought it was a fun venue.”
It’s a unique venture in a new city for the Rainbow Wedding Network – but paving the way for marriage equality was never something they shied away from. In fact, when Puechl and Sproul began their organization a decade ago, the LGBT community was hesitant to accept them. “When we started to market our idea, the gay community laughed at us. Many, many, many people,” Puechl recalled. “We talked to the community, we marched in prides, we had booths in prides to talk about this. Certainly, we had support; otherwise we would not have been successful. But many gays and lesbians were very staunchly against it, actually. …Others were scared, saying…’this is never going to fly.'”
Thankfully, they were wrong.