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Gay couple become part of Crate & Barrel wedding contest
Extended for the Online Edition of Windy City Times
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2011-04-13

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Their three-year love story is rock solid and gaining worldwide fame, fortune and friends.

However, it almost never even happened.

Robbie Cronrod and Allen Artcliff met on Match.com when Cronrod was not out, now admitting he was afraid of being gay. In fact, he had been going to a therapist and a coming-out group at the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center at the time.

"I decided, if I was gay, I need to try to be in a relationship with another man," Cronrod said.

For years, Cronrod looked at profiles online, including Artcliff's, to imagine life with a boyfriend, but never did anything about it. Finally, he created a Match.com account, logged in, and came across Artcliff's profile, again.

Cronrod nervously clicked the "wink" button and the next day, ironically, Artcliff was logging in to cancel his account, but saw Cronrod's correspondence. Artcliff sent Cronrod a message saying, "Call me, call me, call me" because he didn't want to have to renew his account.

"It frightened me but, in retrospect, it was really cute," Cronrod said.

The two emailed a few times that day, and then Cronrod called Artcliff, and they met the next day.

It's since been love at first wink.

Cronrod, 34, is the vice president of a national apartment association, and is originally from Los Angeles—where the two now live. Artcliff, 38, who hails from Birmingham, Mich., works for a Los Angeles-based restaurant investment firm.

They are now Internet sensations, where they have "Like"-d their way to stardom in the Crate & Barrel Ultimate Wedding Contest. They've gotten support from family, friends, complete strangers and, naturally, the entire LGBT community worldwide.

"Initially, I found the contest and thought, 'Oh, free wedding!' But within a few minutes, I realized this was much larger than a free wedding; it was an opportunity to campaign for marriage equality," Cronrod said. "What better way to change people's perceptions of the LGBT community's right to marry then to continually reinforce the normalcy of same-sex love through mainstream media? [ The TV show ] Modern Family does it every week with the characters Mitchell and Cameron. We love the show, but we wanted to take it one step further: reality.

"Entering the Crate & Barrel Ultimate Wedding Contest allows us to show a real same-sex couple in a real-life situation, displaying real love for one another. We entered because we're in love, just like any other couple that enters the contest."

Artcliff added, "Winning this contest would be an amazing platform to continue the fight for marriage equality. It would be the first time an LGBT couple will have won a nationwide wedding contest open to both heterosexual and same-sex couples. The media attention generated would be invaluable toward the fight for the freedom to marry and provide a platform for Crate & Barrel to become an industry leader for their acceptance of the LGBT community. Winning this contest would further validate the fact that same-sex couples deserve equal rights while providing a broad media outlet to showcase a healthy relationship between two loving people."

Votes for Cronrod and Artcliff can be cast at www.loveatfirstwink.com/vote. The website redirects to the Crate & Barrel website.

The winner will be announced in late May or early June.

Judges consist of Crate & Barrel executives and wedding planner Yifat Oren, who will evaluate the top 100 entries based on: 1 ) the number of votes received; 2 ) the love story submitted; 3 ) the details provided for their ultimate wedding; 4 ) how the described dream home fits the Crate & Barrel image; and 5 ) the photos submitted.

The winning couple receives a wedding valued at $100,000.

"Allen and I spent a great deal of time writing our entry since we knew it was limited to 500 characters per question and, once submitted, could not be edited," Cronrod said. "The entry is a true reflection of our love story, our ultimate wedding, and our dream home, and we hope the judges view it as the winning entry."

The couple said that, regardless of the contest's outcome, they will have two celebrations later this year: one in Boston and one in Los Angeles.

They plan to legally wed in Boston the first weekend of October to coincide with the three-year anniversary since Cronrod asked Artcliff to be his boyfriend.

Both said their honeymoon plans are still up in the air, although they are considering Puerto Rico, Italy, France and Spain.

"A few details [ of our perfect wedding ] would be … we want a wedding outside with panoramic views of the Los Angeles skyline and a lounge atmosphere instead of the traditional weddings we are all used to," Cronrod said. "We want a killer make-your-own ice cream sundae bar with every topping you could imagine and a dessert bar with goodies from our childhood like cotton candy and licorice ropes. Plus, our newest idea is to get the NOH8 campaign to setup a photo booth so guests can get tattooed and duct taped to create our ultimate photo album.

"We'd also invite all the reporters and press that helped us win to cover the wedding. While we can't invite every person that voted for us, we think it's important to share the event with everyone we can and to continue to reinforce and provide imagery of marriage equality."

Both have been blitzing mainstream and gay media for support, plus major LGBT-related organizations—and they've gotten it. The Trevor Project, for instance, has Like-d the Los Angeles duo, as well as GLAAD, Freedom To Marry, Marriage Equality USA and WhiteKnot.org, among others.

"Robbie's parents threw us an engagement party last November," Artcliff said. "During the party, we were asked to go to another private room because a surprise was waiting for us—and we had no clue what to expect. We entered a banquet room and found an elderly heterosexual couple and a videographer waiting for us. We had no idea who they were, but it turned out that they were there celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. The couple had heard we were celebrating our engagement and wanted to share their secrets of how they stayed together for 50 years."

The tips from the elderly couple were:

—Don't sweat the small stuff. Whatever the problem may be, you'll work it out.

—Never go to bed angry. Resolve whatever issues you have now because letting it fester just makes it worse.

—Humor. Be sure to have fun and not take life so seriously all the time.

Artcliff said they were eager to apply. In fact, they were "excited and anxious" to get their entry in and get working on the voting process.

"The response has been amazing, incredible, heart-warming," Cronrod said. "I was telling Allen the other day that I wish I realized how supportive the LGBT community and its allies were when I was younger because I would have probably come out earlier. Media of all sorts, from radio shows to magazines are interviewing us for our story, and to spread the love about marriage equality and encourage their readers/viewers/listeners to vote."

The support for Cronrod and Artcliff isn't just online, surprisingly.

One day, for instance, they returned home to find a box from Crate & Barrel with items from their registry inside. The box was from a woman in Texas—whom neither knew. She was just sending her congratulations on their engagement.

"The support has been overwhelming, in a good way," Artcliff said. "We are both working hard at our jobs and then trying to breakaway mid-day to post on Facebook and Tweet. Then we spend all night online responding to emails and trying to make new contacts to have our story heard. Robbie puts in so many hours I sometimes joke that I go to bed without him and wake up without him; it's like he never came to bed."

There are about 7,000 couples entered to date and, among the top 100 vote-getters, there is one other gay couple.

"Keeping marriage equality at the forefront of everyone's minds via different means of media is what this is all about," Cronrod said. "View our supporters and do business with those that support the cause."

Telling Robbie Cronrod from his partner, Allen Artcliff:

—College: AA: Central Michigan University; RC: University of Arizona

—Favorite movie: AA: Somewhere in Time and The Breakfast Club; RC: "Allen is trying to hide the truth. His favorite movie is The Notebook. Just turn it on and he cries like a baby. I'm more of an Old School, Goonies, Ferris Bueller's Day Off kind of guy."

—Favorite TV show ( s ) : Both: Modern Family, Shark Tank, Parks & Recreation and Wipeout

—Favorite sport: AA: Baseball and ice skating; RC: Baseball and swimming

—Favorite sports team: AA: Detroit Tigers; RC: Los Angeles Dodgers

—Favorite athlete: Both: David Beckham

—Favorite alcoholic drink: AA: Vodka, Tito's; RC: Scotch, Oban

—Who's super hot? AA: "There are so many, but I choose Ryan Phillippe, Ricky Martin and Josh Duhamel." RC: "If he gets three, then Bradley Cooper, Neil Patrick Harris and Brad Goreski."

—Little-known skill, trait or talent: AA: "I can make a cocktail out of anything." RC: "I can fold my tongue in half, although now that I told you it's not little-known anymore."

—I'm better than my partner at ...: AA: "Giving in." RC: "Getting my way."

—Ties or connections to Chicago: AA: Previously worked for Morton's of Chicago; RC: "I actually flew to Chicago for a weekend just to meet a girl who I was set up with on a blind date. We see how that worked out. Clearly, she wasn't the one."


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