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Behind the Story: For Love & Money
How we developed the story, photos and cover for our March 2014 feature story on same-sex marriage.

The brainstorm process at Milwaukee Magazine goes like this: We all research and formulate ideas, even going as far as creating pitches, headlines and cover concepts. Then we get together and talk about the ideas. And then, and only then, are assignments given.

So, one day in September 2013, the editorial staff of Milwaukee Magazine gathered in the office of our editor, Kurt Chandler. I had recently read a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story about Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak coming to Milwaukee to lure same-sex couples to get married there. (Minnesota legalized same-sex marriage in May 2013.) I started thinking about the money Wisconsin was potentially losing. I found research papers from the Williams Institute at the University of Los Angeles School of Law that estimated that economic impact same-sex weddings would have on the economy of states that had legalized same-sex marriage. And then I came up with a story idea: What would the economic benefit be to the state of Wisconsin if it were to pass same-sex marriage?

This story, I thought, was a way to cover same-sex marriage that got outside the political and social conversations that were so prevalent. It was different. The best magazine stories have specific, unique angles and points of view – which differs from newspapers and TV. This story – we all agreed after I pitched it – had that. Are there are other stories to be written about same-sex marriage? Absolutely. But none of those stories were this story.

So I got to work.

During reporting, I discovered that one of the the biggest economic ramifications of same-sex marriage for the state (and the companies based here) had little to do with the wedding industry, but rather the idea that talented employees do not want to work in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage. So the story’s angle expanded a bit.

I also found out fascinating things like same-sex couples are often in demand for foster parenting when a child is afraid of people of a certain gender. (One couple told a heartbreaking story of a young child who was terrified of women and had to be placed immediately. And with a gay couple.) I also found out depressing things like how high the suicide rate is for young gay teenagers, who might not even have come out yet. But none of that fit with the angle of this story. As any journalist can attest to, sometimes your best stuff ends up on the cutting room floor.

Once the story was written, our attention turned to the cover. Although we refined and tweaked the concept, the final cover remains true to the idea I first had in the meeting: two brides in wedding dresses in front of the Milwaukee Art Museum. The idea behind that cover concept was to immediately get across the point that this was a same-sex wedding in Milwaukee. The time of year (January) ruled out an outdoor shoot.

We had many conversations about how to approach the cover. Ultimately, we decided to stage the entire thing – from the dresses to the models. We had talked about using a real couple on the cover, but decided against it. Asking a couple to be on the cover of a magazine representing that idea is one thing. Asking them to have their hair and makeup done, wear the big white wedding dresses we picked out and pose for us is another thing entirely. In the end, we decided that the story itself was hypothetical –as same-sex couples can’t legally marry in Wisconsin – so we would create a cover image that stayed consistent with the hypothetical nature of the piece.

The goal of the piece was always to present another facet of the same-sex conversation – one that doesn’t get covered as often – and expand the dialogue on the issue.

Were we successful? I hope you’ll let us know.

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