Same-Sex Couples Attend Wedding Expo

A spring weekend has brought another wedding expo to a Detroit area hotel, but as WDET’s Rob St. Mary reports, Sunday’s event was aimed at people who can’t legally get married in the State of Michigan.

"(Barry White song plays as crowd murmurs)"

The ballroom of the Livonia Marriott looked like any other wedding expo you might attend. The floor included dozens of vendors sharing samples and information about their goods and services - everything from gowns and rings to cakes and DJs. But this expo was a little different. It was organized by “Between the Lines” – Michigan’s newspaper serving the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender community, a community currently barred from having their relationships legally recognized in the State of Michigan under a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2004.

Jan Stevenson is publisher of “Between the Lines” and coordinator of the event.

“Well, it’s a little bit of defiance… ok, so legal we can’t get married but the truth of the matter is we’re gonna fall in love and there’s going to be couples and there’s going to be marriages… and we feel pretty strongly that it’s a waste in a state that need more and more business activity to allow this kind of business to leave and to also not have equal protections not only for marriage but also for employment that also make Michigan not with modern times… and we feel pretty strongly that if we show that we’re going to do it anyway that maybe the lawmakers will catch up with us someday.”

Stevenson says when the expo was planned in March – vendor space sold out in about three weeks and hundreds of tickets were pre-sold far exceeding her expectations. But actually, the same sex wedding expo wasn’t the idea of “Between the Lines”, it was spurred on by the hotel’s management.

Julie Emerson is with the Livonia Marriott.

“I had gotten a couple calls… the ladies that called asked if we would do a commitment ceremony and reception and I said of course we will… and they had said that they had been turned down by other locations… and I found that really surprising.”

Emerson says when it comes to a same-sex couple…

“They’re just a couple like any other couple… although… this is a market we haven’t tapped yet and we’re looking forward to our first one. We haven’t actually hosted one yet, so that’s why we decided to do this.”

Jamie Leyerle and his partner, Brian Derey, from Pleasant Ridge were at Sunday’s expo.

“It’s an interesting thing to recognize that the whole marriage and wedding industry… that I can play a part in it. Never really felt that way before… so, that was an interesting thing to see.”

Jamie and Brian say they have been together for about four years and over that time their commitment to each other has deepened.

“There’s a lot of aspects to that… as time goes on… just like any other couple... you realize that you are more and more involved with each other emotionally, economically and socially."

"And also for legal reasons so as power of attorney, in I’m ever in a situation where I’m in the hospital… I think it’s important that Jamie makes the decision.”

But couples like Jamie and Brian can’t get married or have an out-of-state or out-of-country same-sex union legally recognized in Michigan. Jan Stevenson with “Between the Lines” says she believes it’s only a matter of time before the laws change in Michigan and nationally. Because, Stevenson says, in her opinion, the concept of same-sex marriage is being de-mystified more and more every day.

“And people are finding out that if gay and lesbian people get married and there are same-sex marriages… is doesn’t have any impact on anybody else’s marriage. We joke that… Susan and I are married… that’s my partner right there… Susan and I are married and all of our neighbors around us… some of them split up… we have nothing to do with that… we are fairly confident… and our neighbors know us and know we’re a couple… I think it’s scary to people who have never seen it before and what we are offering through this event is an opportunity for people to see it… and realize it’s just people. It’s people who are in love. The world needs more love, right? (laughs).”

Beyond an education for people unfamiliar with her community, Stevenson says the pocketbook may eventually help spur a change in the laws. Since, she says some hotels, caterers and other wedding suppliers, like those at the expo, are starting to realize that same-sex weddings could make good business sense.