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Photo provided by Leslie Puzio

Jen (left) and Leslie Puzio got married in Massachusetts in 2009 on Valentine's Day. Here they are pictured at a commitment ceremony in Maryland.


Gay marriage a plus for travel

by Becky Brandt
Nov 30, 2010


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Becky Brandt/MEDILL 

Info provided by National Conference of State Legislatures

Same-sex couples are gaining the same rights such as allowing hospital visitation and power of attorney as married couples in states across the country

Some same-sex couples are going the extra mile, literally, to get married. Since only five states in the country and Washington D.C. legally recognize same-sex marriage, gays and lesbians who don’t live in one of those places, must travel to tie the knot. This means an uptick in travel and tourism to those five states and the nation’s capital.      

Amy Linder-Lesser is a justice of the peace and an innkeeper in Massachusetts, the first state to legally recognize same-sex marriage in May 2004. She said that allowing same-sex couples to get married in her state has opened up the market for her business at the Rookwood Inn. Just after it became legal for out-of-state residents to get married in July 2008, Linder-Lesser performed 17 marriages, 16 of which were same-sex couples and the majority from out of state.    

In Massachusetts, there is a waiting period of three days between the time a couple applies for a marriage license and when the ceremony can be performed. This means out-of-state couples and their wedding guests will often spend a few nights at a hotel and use the time as a vacation to visit tourist locations and go shopping.      

Leslie Puzio and her wife, Jen, live in Maryland and were introduced by a friend. They started dating in February 2008. Jen asked Puzio to marry her the next month saying that she knew she would feel the same way about her whether it was six months or a year later.

“I jokingly asked her six months later if her feelings were the same and she said ‘Most definitely,’” Puzio said.

The two women traveled to Massachusetts to get married on Valentine’s Day. Puzio said they chose that location because the state had the most established recognition of same-sex marriage and they felt it was the safest place to go.   

They made a vacation out of their trip spending a week touring Boston and Salem. Puzio said they spent about $1,500 on the trip including hotels and airfare. She and Jen enjoyed the trip but wishes that it could have been under different circumstances.

“I know that it’ll take time. I just hope that eventually people don’t have to travel far distances to get something that should be allowed for everyone to have,” Puzio said.

In 2008, there were 2,168 same-sex marriages in Massachusetts. More than half of those couples were from out of state according to the Massachusetts Department of Health. In 2009, 2,814 same-sex couples walked down the aisle in Massachusetts; 1,668 of them from out of state.     

Iowa is the closest state to Illinois that recognizes same-sex marriage. It has since April 2009. Esther Hoffa has hosted weddings for same-sex couples since May 2009 from all over the United States at her inn, Garden & Galley Bed and Breakfast, in Indianola, Iowa.

“We decided to support gay marriage by having people here. My husband and I both think that gay people should have this right,” Hoffa said.   

Just months after the court ruling that legalized same sex marriage in Iowa, Hoffa found the website Iowagayweddingplanner.com and asked to advertise. She said the new clientele has been good for business and it definitely brings money into the state because her guests will often stay a few extra days to do sightseeing as part of a honeymoon.   

“People just think the state is great and come and see how beautiful it is. I have people who are going to come back for their anniversary,” Hoffa said, “It makes me proud to be an Iowan.”   

Same-sex marriages aren’t treated any differently at the inn. If the wedding is hosted at Hoffa’s venue, it costs between $75 to $150 depending on the size of the wedding party and an additional $75 if her husband officiates at the wedding. She also offers catering for an additional cost of $10 to $15 a plate depending on the order. The main revenue she gets from weddings is when the party rents one or all of the four rooms at the bed and breakfast.

From April 2009 to March 2010, there were 2,020 same-sex marriages in Iowa, according to the Iowa Department of Health. Illinois same-sex couples were the most frequent out-of-towners to get married in Iowa. Two hundred couples were married in Iowa in the first year it was legally recognized. Missouri came in second with 160 same-sex couples.    

Alexander de Hilster has been married to his husband for six years. He runs an event-planning agency, ADH Events that occasionally hosts ceremonies for same-sex couples who want to share their commitment with friends and family in a wedding-like fashion.   

De Hilster and his partner traveled to the Netherlands for their wedding. He is saddened by the fact that his marriage isn’t legally recognized in Illinois.   

“All our (gay) friends are waiting for it to be legal here. They don’t want to do it twice,” de Hilster said. He added, “If [gay marriage] is also legalized here, it’ll help tourism in Chicago, totally.”

Chicago currently has a $12 billion tourism industry according to the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau. It is the third most popular city with the gay and lesbian community, according to Community Marketing Inc., a gay and lesbian marketing research firm. David Palsel with Community Marketing said legally recognizing same-sex marriage is good public relations and marketing for states that have passed such laws.   

He underlines the point that even if a couple is from the state they are getting married in, they will spend money on a hotel reception hall and at flower shops and on a photographer. According to The Wedding Report Inc., the average wedding in 2009 cost $20,000.   

Soon same-sex couples in Illinois may not have to go far to get their long-term relationship legally recognized. The Illinois legislature will vote this week on a law that would recognize civil unions.

“We’re getting really, really close,” said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, a non-profit LGBT advocacy group, “[Civil unions have] the same rights depending on the state but in Illinois, it would be all the same rights as marriage but without the word marriage.”