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Minneapolis Courts Chicago's Same-Sex Couples

Sep 7, 2013
Originally published on September 7, 2013 6:34 pm

With the skyline of Chicago behind him, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak stands on a rooftop plaza in Boystown, the heart of a predominantly gay community.

He's here on a recruiting mission. Minnesota legalized gay marriage just over a month ago, but Illinois' same-sex measure is stalled in its legislature. So now the mayor of Minneapolis is drumming up business for his city — setting his sight on millions of wedding dollars that could come from Illinois.

Rybak hoists an ad that features wedding flowers and a tagline that reads, "Hey Chicago, I want to marry you in Minneapolis."

A University of California, Los Angeles, think tank says that same-sex marriage in Illinois could spur more than $100 million in new spending. "But how about this, Illinois," Rybak quips, "Why don't you give Minnesota the first $11 million off of that, and you take the next $100 million once you figure this thing out?"

Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda, a Chicago-based LGBT organization, advises gays and lesbians who live in states where marriage is not legal to get hitched in a state where it is. That allows them access to federal benefits, due to the recent Supreme Court decision rejecting the Defense of Marriage Act.

"For tax purposes, you can file jointly," he says. "If you want to be able to sponsor someone for immigration, or if you are a veteran, you can access benefits. So there are many rights and responsibilities already they are recognizing at the federal level if you're married in a different state."

Jean Fishbeck and Judy Popovich have been together for 17 years. Since 13 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized same-sex marriage, the Chicago couple say they've considered it.

"We were in San Francisco two weeks ago," Fishbeck says. "We thought about it then. But it seemed more practical to get Illinois to get it so we'd get the same state benefits."

"And to have it recognized in the state in which we live," Popovich adds.

Yet many couples are expected to travel to Minneapolis, just as more than 500 have traveled from Illinois to Iowa to marry since same-sex marriage became legal there in 2009.

High-profile Illinois politicians know this. Both Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn have issued statements noting the economic costs and urging Illinois lawmakers to pass a same-sex marriage bill. Rick Garcia, the policy director of The Civil Rights Agenda, has lobbied the statehouse for years.

"We're only a handful of votes away," Garcia says. "We've been working all summer to secure those votes. There's a chance we can do it before the end of the year, but who knows. We're still here, we're still fighting, and we're not going away, and some of us are not going to Minnesota."

Even so, Rybak's push is on to bring wedding business, tourism and even new residents to his city — though he admits he really likes Chicago.

"I'm here hoping that Illinois and Chicago take the competitive advantage away from Minnesota," he says. "But until you do, we're happy to have your money."

Minneapolis' convention and visitors association, which sponsored the ads, is also offering free wedding planning services to the LGBT community. Rybak plans to take his city's "get married in Minneapolis" campaign to Denver next, and to Milwaukee and Madison, Wis.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

Just as cities vie with each other internationally to host the Olympic Games, here in the U.S., they compete for jobs. And it's not unusual for them to try and poach from each other.

Weddings and honeymoons can generate tourist dollars. So this week, the mayor of Minneapolis hit the road with a new campaign, urging gays and lesbians who live where it's illegal for them to marry to come to his city to hold their weddings. The first stop on the mayor's list was the city of Chicago.

NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: With the skyline of Chicago behind him, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak stood on a rooftop plaza in the heart of a predominantly gay community. He hoisted one of the campaign ads that features wedding professionals. On the sign, a florist holds flowers and a tagline begins, Hey Chicago, and the mayor reads the rest.

MAYOR R.T. RYBAK: I want to marry you in Minneapolis.

CORLEY: It's been legal for gays and lesbian couples to get married in Minnesota for just over a month now. Illinois' same-sex measures stalled in the Illinois legislature last spring, even though the state allows civil unions. So now, the mayor of Minneapolis is drumming up business for his city, setting his site on money that could come from Illinois.

A UCLA think tank says if marriage for gays and lesbians was legal in Illinois, it could spur more than $100 million in new spending.

RYBAK: But how about this, Illinois? Why don't you give Minnesota the first 11 million off of that, and then you take the next 100 million once you figure this thing out?

CORLEY: Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda, an LGBT organization, advises gays and lesbians who want to get hitched to do so in a state where it is legal. He says that will allow them to access federal benefits regardless of a state's position due to the recent Supreme Court decision rejecting the Defense of Marriage Act.

ANTHONY MARTINEZ: For tax purposes, you can file jointly. You know, if you want to be able to sponsor someone for immigration, or if you're a veteran, you can access benefits. So there are many rights and responsibilities already that they're recognizing at the federal level if you're married in a different state.

CORLEY: Judy Popovich and Jean Fishbeck have been together for...

JEAN FISHBECK: Seventeen years.

JUDY POPOVICH: And a half.

(LAUGHTER)

CORLEY: They say since 13 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marriage for couples like them, they've considered it.

FISHBECK: Well, yes, we were in San Francisco two weeks ago. We thought about it then. But it seemed more practical to do it - to get Illinois to get it so that we'd get the same state benefits and...

POPOVICH: And to have it recognized in the state in which we live.

CORLEY: But they expect some couples will indeed travel to Minneapolis, just as more than 500 Illinoisans have traveled to Iowa since same-gender marriage became legal there in 2009.

And high-profile Illinois politicians know this. Both Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn issued statements noting the economic costs and urging Illinois lawmakers to pass a same-sex marriage bill.

Rick Garcia, the policy director of The Civil Rights Agenda, has lobbied the statehouse for years.

RICK GARCIA: We're only a handful of votes away. We've been working all summer to secure those votes. And, you know, there's a chance we can do it before the end of the year, but who knows. But we're still here, and we're still fighting, and we're not going away, and some of us aren't going to go to Minnesota.

CORLEY: Even so, Mayor Rybak's push is on to bring wedding business, tourism and even new residents to his city, even though he admits he really likes Chicago.

RYBAK: I'm here hoping that Illinois and Chicago take the competitive advantage away from Minnesota. But until you do, we're happy to have your money.

CORLEY: Minneapolis' Convention and Visitors Association, which sponsored the ads, is also offering free wedding planning service to the LGBT community. And Mayor Rybak plans to take his city's get married in Minneapolis campaign next to Denver and to Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.