Wedding expo caters to gay, lesbian market

Same-sex couples are learning about all the headaches and joys of planning nuptials

Family Matters

April 11, 2004|By K Kaufmann | K Kaufmann,Sun Staff

Andrea Rinaldi and Rhonda Jenkins came to the Gay Life & Wedding Expo in Washington looking for a photographer, a DJ and flower ideas.

The West Virginia couple have been together "two years, three months, and a week and a half," said Rinaldi, 20 years old and an obvious romantic, who expects to spend between $12,000 and $17,000 for their garden ceremony in May 2005. "Love's love," she said, "no matter who it's with."

As lesbian and gay couples across the country await the outcome of current battles over same-sex marriage in California and Massachusetts, events like the Washington expo are putting a human face on the controversy.

The scene at the expo, held last weekend at Washington's Lafayette Galleria, was appropriately celebratory as more than 200 couples -- and a small phalanx of reporters and TV cameras -- checked out the 70-plus businesses lining the aisles in the building's two-story atrium. Vendors ranged from the traditional -- florists, caterers and photographers -- to the offbeat, such as providers of vegetarian honeymoons and luxury portable bathrooms that come complete with attendants.

Meanwhile, couples sampled cakes, oohed and aahed over the latest in tuxedos and bridal fashions, and talked with excitement and trepidation about the possibility of legal marriage and the problems they continue to face, such as finding a reception site.

Washington couple James Kearney, 27, and Duane Walker, 42, thought a local hall, the Washington Times Ballroom, would be perfect for their May 2005 ceremony, only to be turned down cold when they showed up for a site tour.

Shopping for a gay-friendly venue at the expo, they were impressed with Baltimore's Chase Court, a converted 19th-century church in the city's Mount Vernon district. It would, they said, go well with the romantic, flowing long-sleeved shirts they were going to wear for the ceremony. Talking with the couple, owner David Egan offered tips on wedding planning and said he could arrange transportation for out-of-town guests.

For other couples, the legal limbo of same-sex marriage has put their plans on hold. After five years together, Jonathan Blumenthal, 34, and Eric Cohen, 35, of Silver Spring, were planning a commitment ceremony, but have decided to wait and see if they will be able to marry in Massachusetts, which may begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples next month.

Instead of an informal, anything-goes type of event, they are now thinking about finding a rabbi and having a traditional ceremony. "The whole idea of getting married is new to us," Blumenthal said. "We never expected things to progress as quickly as they have."

Similarly, Philip Morganti, 43, and Randy Goodhope, 41, are waiting to make it legal, but came to the expo to talk with financial consultants. Celebrating four years together this month, the couple own a condo in Washington's Logan Circle neighborhood and have life insurance together, but are concerned about estate planning.

Without the 1,049 federal legal protections that come with a marriage license -- like a surviving spouse's automatic right to inherit -- they have to be sure "to spell things out," Goodhope said.

Family discomfort is another pressing issue, especially among the younger couples.

West Virginia bride-to-be Jenkins, 25, said her parents are still "iffy" about her and Rinaldi's wedding. While trying to be patient and realistic, she said, "it will kill me" if they don't attend.

Jill Weaver and Jamie Resurreccion of Silver Spring have also been working on their families, with mixed results. Weaver, 27, said her parents are "very hesitant" about being at the couple's September 2005 wedding, but were "coming around and being more accepting."

Resurreccion, 26, said her parents will definitely not be there, but a brother will.

Whatever the obstacles, however, most couples think getting married --legal or not -- is worth it.

Kearney and Walker said their marriage is more than symbolic. It was love at first sight when the couple met last October, and their decision to tie the knot, said a clearly smitten Kearney, is "a lock and ... key. He's not going anywhere."

Looking forward to their August 22 wedding, Tina Townsend, 35, and Angelisa Young, 41, of Hyattsville also talk about their sense of commitment. "I love Angel," Townsend said. "She's the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with."

Commenting on current opposition to same-sex marriage, Young said, it's "sad that someone can tell you who to love."

Echoing the thoughts of many at the expo, Townsend is more outspoken. "As a taxpayer, they don't have a problem with taking [my] federal and state taxes," she said, "[but] when I want to marry who I love, I'm not a citizen."

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