Venues foresee more business when gay-marriage law takes effect
Several area venues that have hosted civil-union ceremonies are anticipating becoming busier when same-sex marriages become legal in Illinois.
"We have four or five coming up this year," said Jordan Gifford, the wedding coordinator and housekeeping supervisor at the Allerton Park & Retreat Center in Monticello. "We've had a lot of inquiries these last two weeks from people who got engaged over the holidays. We'll probably get another wave of them after Valentine's Day."
The I Hotel and Conference Center in Champaign and the historic Mann's Chapel south of Rossville are among the other venues in East Central Illinois that have hosted civil-union ceremonies since Illinois legalized them in June 2011.
Other locations — from Hardy's Reindeer Ranch in Rantoul to the Refinery in Champaign to Turtle Run Banquet Center in Danville — say accommodating same-sex couples isn't an issue.
"We don't discriminate. We are definitely open to everyone," said Chris Heeren, co-owner of Turtle Run, which was set to host a ceremony last year before the couple canceled due to changes in the law. Heeren hopes they rebook after the new law takes effect.
"We're in the love business," said Michelle Murphy, event director at The Refinery, which hosts about 35 wedding ceremonies and receptions a year. "We're a family-owned business, and they would never want to have a certain demographic feel unwelcome here."
The University of Illinois-owned Allerton Park hosted about 55 weddings and receptions in 2013, and three or four were civil-union ceremonies. The last one was held in the Fu Dog Garden before 300 guests.
Gifford believes couples choose the park as the setting for their special day because of its natural beauty, uniqueness and history.
"And for civil unions, because Robert (Allerton) was possibly gay, that's drawn them here," she said.
Some have speculated that Allerton, who built the park as a private residence in 1900, and John Gregg, whom Allerton adopted as his son in 1959, were same-sex partners. "They know we're going to be OK with it and that we welcome them here."
Since the same-sex marriage legislation passed, park staff have been working to try to make the venue even more welcoming, Gifford said.
For example, "our (event) contracts say 'bride' and 'groom' right now. We're rewording that to let them know we are accepting of them," Gifford said. "We also have dressing rooms for both parties. We really try to make them both feel they're really special, especially when it's two women."
Last year, the I Hotel became the first TAG Approved hotel in Champaign, said marketing director Natalie Gross. The San Francisco-based Community Marketing, Inc., launched the program to better reach and serve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clients.
To be approved, Gross said, the hotel must: enforce non-discriminatory policies, including sexual orientation; have personnel policies that treat heterosexual couples and domestic partners equally; and provide sensitivity and diversity training for all staff, among other things.
Most venues said they're not aware of any complaints. However, Sue Richter — executive director of the Vermilion County Museum, which owns Mann's Chapel — said a few people raised concerns when a gay couple held a civil-union ceremony last year at the church, which was built in 1857.
"I explained that it's there for anyone to use," Richter said. "When the chapel is booked, we don't ask whether the couple is same sex or not. The only requirement for anyone is that they abide by the rules and that they respect it for what it is — a historical and spiritual place."
Cheri Welsh, owner of Floral-n-Flair in Catlin, said she didn't get any criticism when she provided flowers for a civil-union ceremony last summer. The ceremony was held at a private residence in Danville.
"The mother was very upfront with me and wanted to make sure I was OK with it," Welsh recalled. "I said I had no problem with it. I'm a Christian, but I don't discriminate. I was brought up to not judge people. I have gay friends. I have gay acquaintances. I guess I approach it as a business transaction.
"And everyone's entitled to have their special day, and if I can help make that happen, it's my obligation to do so."
Gay marriage is set to become the law of the Land of Lincoln on June 1. Among the area wedding venues that welcome all couples, regardless of sexuality:
The I Hotel and Conference Center, Champaign
The Refinery, Champaign.
Harrison Park Clubhouse, Danville
Kennekuk County Park, Danville
Turtle Run and Banquet Center, Danville
Allerton Park & Retreat Center, Monticello
Hardy's Reindeer Ranch, Rantoul
Mann's Chapel, Rossville