Mayor courting gays in Chicago, Milwaukee: Marry in Minneapolis

AP and WiG reports

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak was making a pitch on Sept. 5 to gay and lesbian couples in Chicago that they should come to his city to say their vows — and spend their money on weddings — rather than wait for Illinois to join Minnesota in legalizing same-sex marriages.

At a news conference in Chicago’s predominantly gay neighborhood, Rybak said that while he hopes Illinois eventually allows gay marriage, as Minnesota’s Legislature recently voted to do, he plans to take advantage now of his city’s competitive advantage for tourism dollars.

“Have you met Mayor (Rahm) Emanuel?” he joked about the famously competitive Chicago mayor, when asked about whether it is fair to try to persuade residents of another city to leave to get married. “He would do this to me every day of the week.”

Rybak said that if the mayor and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, both of whom have pushed to legalize gay marriage, should be afraid of all the money they are losing. He said gay marriages could generate tens of millions of dollars in tourism dollars, for everything from hotels to caterers to florists in states where the ceremonies are legal.

Chicago was the first stop on Rybak’s tour to announce his “Marry Me in Minneapolis” campaign, which also will include stops in two other states where gay marriage is not legal – Colorado and Wisconsin.

Rybak’s message is that Chicagoans no longer have to make a long and expensive trip to the coasts to get married, just the six-hour drive to his city. And on Thursday he told the media that couples could fly up to Minneapolis, get married and fly back that night, meaning they would have federal tax benefits that would more than offset the price of a plane ticket.

Many Midwestern gay couples have exchanged vows in Iowa — the only state bordering Illinois that allows same-sex weddings — but Rybak hopes to bring some of that business home with him.

“I love Chicago and love to come spend money there, but if people there don’t get the rights they deserve, I am more than happy to have them come and spend their money in Minneapolis,” he said in a telephone interview before the trip.

Some Illinois same-sex couples say they are open to the idea, particularly if lawmakers again fail to approve a marriage law soon. Advocates say they fell just a few votes short of getting a proposal passed in the Legislature last spring and hope to push for it again this fall, but its odds are unknown.

“If we can reinforce for our son that we are a family and have something that recognizes that we are a family, we might take the mayor up on his offer,” said Aana Vigen, a college professor in Chicago.

The thought of couples and their families hopping in the car and spending their money elsewhere upsets Emanuel, who spends considerable time trying to generate revenue for the city.

“Failing to extend marriage to gay and lesbian couples is bad for Chicago, bad for Illinois and bad for our local economy and the jobs it creates,” he said in a statement. “Our robust tourism and hospitality industries will thrive most fully when our state hangs out the ‘welcome’ sign for everybody.”

Quinn, who’s overseeing a state grappling with a $100 billion public pension shortfall and billions of dollars in unpaid bills to state service providers, said failure to pass a same-sex marriage law not only “costs people their rights, but also has an economic cost.”

If Minneapolis’ offer attracts even a fraction of the state’s gay couples, it could mean millions of tourism dollars. One study by the Williams Institute, a national think tank at UCLA’s law school, concluded that if Illinois does extend marriage to same-sex couples, half of the state’s approximate 23,000 same-sex couples will get married within three years. And that, the study found, would pump more than $100 million into the state and local economy.

The Williams Institute also found that 60 percent of same-sex couples are traveling out of their home states to get married, at least in the three states that track those statistics.

In some instances, the percentages are even higher. Doug Johnstone, the town clerk of Provincetown, Ma., a Cape Cod town popular with gay tourists, said that more than 80 percent of the 362 marriage licenses issued to gays so far this year have been to out-of-state couples.

A push to pass gay marriage through the Illinois Legislature came up short last spring. Supporters have reinforced their campaign to get it approved and vow to bring the issue back as early as this fall.

Rybak said that while this particular welcome mat is being put out for gay couples, the longer Illinois goes without legalizing same-sex weddings, the more Chicago’s loss will be Minneapolis’ gain.

“You can look to the future and say, Minneapolis and Chicago are competing to attract talent,” he said. “Over time if people have rights here that they don’t have there, it does have a bottom line impact (because) it impacts where you locate your business.”

In Milwaukee…

Rybak will be in Milwaukee on Sept. 9 to talk about the ad campaign and also to invite same-sex couples to say “I do” in his city. He’s scheduled to visit the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, 1110 Market St. No. 2, at about 11 a.m.