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Getting married: Same-sex couples tying the knot

Ken Brooks (left) and Donald Lindenbrook of St. Charles exclaim, "Legal at last!" while cutting their wedding cake following their wedding ceremony June 21 at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin.
Ken Brooks (left) and Donald Lindenbrook of St. Charles exclaim, "Legal at last!" while cutting their wedding cake following their wedding ceremony June 21 at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin.

The two elderly men walked slowly but deliberately down the aisle together, arm in arm, one of them using a cane.

They dressed as opposites: Kenneth Brooks, 72, on the right, wore a black shirt with white pants. Donald Lindenbrook, 78, on the left wore a white shirt with black pants. Except for Lindenbrook's cane, they were a yin and yang.

Partners for 51 years, the St. Charles Township couple finally could get married legally in Illinois, which allowed same-sex marriage June 1. The Rev. Olin Sletto married them June 21 at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, where they are members.

"This is the culmination of a dream I never thought would happen," Lindenbrook said, his eyes glistening with tears. "And it just makes me so unbelievably happy."

Brooks said he was grateful to Holy Trinity's membership for voting to allow same-sex weddings. As part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, each church is allowed to decide for itself whether to do same-sex weddings.

"I never thought it would happen in our lifetime," Brooks said during a cake-and-cookie reception after the ceremony. "I never thought that I would be legally married to Donald. And I'm grateful that it's happened. I'm glad to know that Illinois is progressive enough to let us do it."

• • •

Brooks and Lindenbrook are part of a trend. Or as Brooks said, "We are trendsetters and role models."

While the emotional aspects of being able to marry legally are foremost for them, another aspect is financial: Same-sex weddings are providing a financial boost to the wedding industry on all fronts – including clothes, flowers, jewelry, venues, receptions, food, accessories, photography, tourism and officiants.

Although Illinois has not officially calculated the economic impact of same-sex weddings, The Williams Institute examined it for Washington and found that total spending on wedding arrangements and tourism by resident same-sex couples and their guests would add an estimated $88 million boost to the state and local economy of Washington over three years. 

The institute is a national think tank at the University of California School of Law doing independent research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, according to its website.

Also, in 2004, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that on net, the impact of same-sex marriages in all 50 states would improve the budget’s bottom line by less than $1 billion in each of the next 10 years.

A 2007 study by the the New York City comptroller estimated that same-sex weddings would add $142 million to the city's economy and $184 million to the state's economy overall. 

Local businesses that serve the wedding industry report significant interest this year, such as Nancy McElvenny, owner of Crystal Bride in Geneva.

"It is no more or no less than any other heterosexual wedding," McElvenny said. "Very much like anyone else, they want a beautiful dress to wear."

New collections are coming out with women's black tuxedos for bridesmaids, she said, so that women can stand up in a wedding with a suit that fits.

"It gives you more couples who can get married when you are not limiting yourself to the male-female idea of what a wedding is," McElvenny said. "You have all these people who could not get married before, but now they can."

At the reopened Fishermen's Inn in Blackberry Township near Elburn, owner Patricia Southern said the facility has three same-sex weddings booked for 2015. Southern said she did not pay attention to the law making same-sex marriage legal in Illinois.

"I just figured they are the same as anybody else," Southern said of same-sex couples wanting to get married. "I don't think about it. I really don't. Good for them."

• • •

While Brooks and Lindenbrook's wedding was modest with about 50 guests, Anne Vogt and Rachel Clark of Elgin got married at the Herrington Inn and Spa in Geneva with 125 guests and a full wedding package. 

They were by far not the first – though they were the first for when the law went into effect, Herrington spokeswoman Jennifer Piazza said.

"We are no stranger to same-sex unions [as] we have had three in the last 10 years," Piazza said. "But the amount of requests and phone calls is multiplying. Same-sex couples are definitely getting engaged and shopping for wedding venues. ... We have five more planned for the rest of the year and five more in 2015."

Piazza said the wording was changed a bit to reflect the terms "couple" or "spouse" instead of bride and groom.

"Things are different, but not much," Piazza said. "We are not here for rules, but to customize."

Vogt, 39, a softball coach and Clark, 33, a sales manager, got married June 1, the day the same-sex marriage law went into effect, but it also was the 15th anniversary of them being together as a couple. 

"I knew from the first second we were at the Herrington – that is where I wanted to have our day," Clark said. "They were amazing. The wedding planner, Deanne Mitchell – she made it so easy. It was a dream wedding."

Clark said they got their marriage license at the county clerk's office the next day, Monday, June 2 – the first day it would be open and available for a license.

"It was a pretty special day for sure," Clark said. "Even this last weekend, I looked at her and said, 'Can you believe we are married?' ... It was not about a new beginning. It was about publicly declaring our marriage and having support of the state at the same time. Heterosexual couples get married because they are in love, and that is why we got married." 

• • •

Wayne Jorgensen and Paul Safransky of Batavia, a same-sex couple who are longtime friends of Brooks and Lindenbrook, not only attended their wedding, but encouraged them to tie the knot.

"We were teasing them," said Safransky, 66. "We have been together 25 years now, and we have known Ken and Don that whole time. And after we got our [license] conversion from a civil union to Illinos married, we said, 'You could think about it. It's not like you've been a one-night-stand for the past 51 years.' And a couple days later, Ken called and said, 'We're going to do it.' It's so much the right thing to do."

Jorgensen, 62, said the protections of marriage cannot be underestimated for same-sex couples. He said the death of a friend who was not married, left his partner without legal standing in the face of a family that just took over the funeral – and did not acknowledge his lifetime partner.

"I have heard that story over and over again from people I know who have lost a partner," Jorgensen said. "It is just nice that society is recognizing same-sex relationships so ... that people have some rights that are protected by law."

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