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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Wedding expo unites same-sex couples with supportive vendors
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2016-03-23

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Almost 40 vendors—including florists, photographers, caterers, travel and wedding planners and event-space organizers—were on hand at Chicago's Hard Rock Hotel March 20 for the 8th Annual Same Love Same Rights LGBT Wedding Expo.

The event is organized by RainbowWeddingNetwork.com—a 16-year-old organization which co-founder Marianne Puechl explained was started through a marriage of both love and necessity.

"In 1999, my partner Cindy Proul and I were getting married on the coast of Georgia and there were limited resources for us," Puechl told Windy City Times. "She thought of the idea of having a wedding registry that was specific to the LGBT community. Within six months, the site got about a million hits. We added a directory and then, in 2003, we started doing the expos. Today, we do between 25 and 30-per-year throughout the country."

The vendors—which, this year, included local and national companies such as Carnivale, The Holiday Inn, DaValle Jewelers, Brookfield Zoo and Music by Design—were limited in number only by the space available. Puechl noted that there is a waiting list.

Rev. Pam Magnuson has been conducting spiritual ceremonies for LGBT couples for 35 years. "I was one of the first people in Illinois and certainly one of the first in Cook County to start doing civil unions and transfer that to marriages," she said. "I am proud to be on the forefront."

Magnuson added that she is the only wedding officiant in the State who can legally hold a service at her Pine Manor home located in Mount Prospect. There, Magnuson can host up to 30 guests and has created a list of vendors for people to choose from at a discount.

Business has been growing steadily.

"In 2014, I married 300 couples and half of them were same sex," she said.

This is a trend that is bound to continue as LGBT couples actively seek out companies which are going to be welcoming to them.

It is certainly important for Nicole and Shawn—two of the 600 people Puechl said had RSVP'd for the expo. The South Side couple are planning a July 15, 2017 wedding.

"We don't want any surprises," Shawn said. "We already faced discrimination once. We don't want to face it again.

The same feeling was expressed by Michelle and Gillian. They have been together for three years and are looking to tie-the-knot in October.

"We wouldn't hire any vendor who wasn't an ally," Michelle said. "We want them to be comfortable with us. We want to be comfortable with them. We care a lot where we put our money. We won't put it places where it will contribute to someone who discriminates against us."

For more information on RainbowWeddingNetwork.com, visit www.rainbowweddingnetwork.com .


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