Photos by Adam Ryan Morris
On a day in late December 2013, Roger and Indy Arteaga-Derenne sat, marriage license in hand, waiting for a 12:15 p.m. appointment with Judge David Piper of the Hennepin County court system. They had driven 350 miles from their home in Bayside to Minneapolis, and they were nervous. They had plenty of questions for this judge, whom they had never met. Would he marry them? Would he waive the required five-day waiting period for all would-be newlyweds?
Piper entered – a blue and white plaid shirt under his black judge’s robe – and agreed to go ahead with the ceremony. Just moments later – in front of the couple’s two children, Roger’s parents, two close friends, and Roger’s sister and her wife (who were married in Massachusetts in 2006) – Piper read from a short script he had prepared especially for same-sex weddings.
“By virtue of the power vested in me by the laws of the state of Minnesota, I pronounce you are, finally, married,” he said, smiling. “You may kiss!”
The couple’s 10-year-old son, Rafael – jet black hair with a blue shirt and orange bow tie – cheered and ran to hug his now-married dads. The rest of the wedding party clapped.
After the ceremony, Roger asked his mother – a small woman with crisp white hair and a blush pink rose pinned to her lapel – if she thought she would ever see the day when Roger and Indy could be married.
“I always hoped it would happen,” she replied.
A few hours later, the couple and their guests gathered for dinner at B.A.N.K. restaurant in downtown Minneapolis – a trendy spot in a converted bank lobby with 34-foot ceilings and an old vault housing an extensive wine collection. In the private dining room, guests ordered from the menu and toasted good health and the couple’s happiness.
When the guests had finished dinner, Indy and Roger took their places for the traditional cake-cutting ceremony. The cake was all-white with ornate scroll detail. Indy sentimentally insisted on a two-tier cake, even though it was too much for the small wedding. Hand in hand, the two husbands gripped the knife and sliced through the surface.
Suddenly, a camera flash captured the moment: Roger – tall and blond, his brow furrowed with his smile, wearing a light green shirt and orange tie – with his newlywed husband Indy – dark hair combed up slightly, the corners of his eyes crinkled with his smile, wearing a blue shirt and pink tie – in an act that symbolizes the start of married life.
But Roger and Indy have been together for 14 years, and have lived together with their two adopted children in Bayside for almost a decade. To get married, they had to travel to Minnesota, where same-sex marriage became legal on Aug. 1, 2013. “It wasn’t an elaborate thing, but it was very personal and quaint with family members,” says Indy.
But when you look at the numbers, that “quaint” celebration added almost $2,000 to the local economy. The couple – and their eight out-of-town guests – all stayed at the Marriott Renaissance Depot hotel, located just blocks away from the courthouse in a renovated train depot, during the weekend festivities. “We spent probably $1,000 on hotel rooms,” Roger says. Not to mention the cake from Buttercream Bakery in St. Paul (where small cakes start at $30) and the dinner at B.A.N.K. (where entrées are $20-$32).
That’s money Wisconsin is losing. “If we had gotten married in Milwaukee, we never would have gotten away with doing something so small,” Roger says.
Roger and Indy are one of more than 9,000 same-sex couples in the state of Wisconsin, as defined by the 2010 U.S. Census. Original research by Milwaukee Magazine shows legalizing same-sex marriage could add more than $43.6 million in wedding-related spending to the state’s economy in just the first three years. And the real impact could be much greater than that. Experts say that whether or not a state recognizes same-sex marriage could have even broader economic ramifications – including the ability of businesses to attract and retain top talent.
But the road to marriage equality is not an easy one. In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court declared a section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional – effectively requiring recognition of same-sex marriage at the federal level. Since then, several states have legalized same-sex marriage, and several others – Wisconsin included – have lawsuits making their way through the courts challenging state constitutional bans.
Now that married same-sex couples receive the same federal benefits as married opposite-sex couples, more are leaving states where it’s not legal and marrying in states where it is. Same-sex couples from Wisconsin can travel short distances to Minnesota, Iowa and, starting this summer, Illinois to enter into federally recognized marriages.
Can Wisconsin afford to not legalize same-sex marriage?
Patty McKenzie sits curled in a dining room chair, drinking water out of a wine glass, in the Oak Creek home she has shared with her partner, Pat Cline, for 11 years. Patty, 45, has long, brown hair and wears eye makeup, despite being dressed in sweats and sporting bare feet. Pat, 51, her hair cropped close, is the self-described numbers person. They have made the conscious decision to not leave the state to get married, though Patty says she was overjoyed when she found out the federal government would recognize same-sex marriage for tax purposes. “I got personally excited, like, ‘Wow, maybe we might actually do this now,’ and subsequently got a little heartbroken when we talked to our accountant,” she says.
Pat explains: “If we get married, because we only get federal benefits and not state benefits, it would cost us $500 more a year in our taxes.”
Although they admit it sounds like an unromantic reason to not get married, the commitment is already there. “Pat and I have been together for 19 years,” Patty says. “Not one single thing is going to change for us if we get married or don’t get married.”
But if Wisconsin legalized same-sex marriage, would they do it?
“Absolutely,” Patty says.
“I think we would,” Pat says in tandem.
“You think we would?” asks Patty, and they both laugh.
“Well,” Pat explains, “I don’t know what the likelihood of Wisconsin –”
“I don’t think it’s very likely, to be quite honest,” Patty finishes.
Even so, they entertain the possibility. “Our circle is made up of people who are Team Patty and Pat,” says Patty. “We have very supportive family and friends.”
“And there’s lots of family, so it would have to be big,” Pat says.
Patty and Pat represent just one of the 9,179 same-sex Wisconsin couples who potentially would tie the knot if the state were to legalize same-sex marriage. Borrowing the research methodology from the Williams Institute at University of California at Los Angeles (see: “Behind the Math of Marriage Equality”), an analysis by Milwaukee Magazine estimates that 4,681 of those couples would get married in Wisconsin in the first three years. That would generate an additional $27.9 million in wedding spending, more than $13.5 million in out-of-town guest spending and more than $2.2 million in added tax revenue, for a total of $43.6 million.
In Milwaukee County specifically, an estimated 1,272 same-sex couples would get married in the first three years, adding an estimated $6.7 million in wedding spending alone to the economy, according to the analysis. In the city proper, 910 same-sex couples would get married in the first three years, adding an estimated $4.9 million in wedding spending to the city’s economy.
But legalizing marriage equality is especially difficult in Wisconsin, says Katie Belanger, executive director of Fair Wisconsin, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocacy group. In November 2006, 59 percent of Wisconsin voters approved a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Reversing that ban could take years, partly due to the long and complicated process to repeal a state constitutional amendment. “People are looking at our neighbors and seeing them move forward at a quicker pace than us,” Belanger says. “But those states never had a constitutional ban.”
Politics also play a role. The Republican-controlled state legislature has not indicated an appetite for reopening a debate on same-sex marriage. Nor has Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The state’s anti-discrimination laws and the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage provide “a healthy balance,” Walker has said.
But there is another way. On Feb. 3, Wisconsin joined several states on the litigious route to same-sex marriage. The American Civil Liberties Union, with its Wisconsin affiliate and the Mayer Brown law firm in Chicago, filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of four same-sex Wisconsin couples. The lawsuit seeks to declare as unconstitutional both the ban on same-sex marriage as well as Wisconsin’s little-known marriage evasion law, which has been on the books for decades. That law makes any couple who leaves the state to get married and then returns subject to a potential $10,000 fine and up to nine months in jail, as their marriage would be illegal in the state of Wisconsin.
“The legislative part of it is very difficult,” Belanger says. “But litigation is not necessarily quicker than legislation.” The Oklahoma same-sex marriage case currently working its way through court started in 2004, she points out. Larry Dupuis, the legal director of ACLU Wisconsin, admits they don’t know how long the court process could take, but the litigation route seems likely to achieve marriage equality quicker than any other approach.
In the past, Wisconsin had been a leader in protecting the civil rights of its gay residents. In 1982, Wisconsin became the first state to pass legislation barring discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations.
In 2009, Wisconsin created a domestic partnership registry, which gives couples 43 of the more than 1,400 state and federal rights extended to married couples. It became the first state with a constitutional ban to pass some form of civil union, but the registry is currently under legal challenge. A decision is expected this summer, Belanger says.
Belanger and others point out that public opinion in Wisconsin, and the nation at large, has changed substantially since the state’s constitutional ban was passed in 2006. Even within the past year, there’s been a shift toward greater support of gay marriage. A Marquette University Law School poll in October 2013 showed 53.4 percent of respondents were in support of same-sex marriage, in contrast to 24.4 percent for civil union only and 19.1 percent for no legal recognition. Support was up from just 44 percent the year before. Pollsters say that mirrors the trend nationwide, where 17 states now have marriage equality when only nine did a year ago. Wisconsin is bordered by three of those states: Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.
And one of those states is viewing its recent legalization of gay marriage as an opportunity to lure Wisconsin couples.
Around 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 31, 2013, hundreds of people began pouring into the Minneapolis City Hall, filling six floors of balconies and staircases in the marble rotunda. At the rotunda’s center an hour later, on a staircase adorned with floral arrangements and just behind the Father of Waters statue (which contains marble from the same mines used by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo), appeared Margaret Miles and Cathy ten Broeke in red and black floor-length dresses. Just after the stroke of midnight, the couple said “I do” and became the first same-sex couple to be legally married in the state of Minnesota.
Then-Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, an ordained minister, officiated the second ceremony that night – after assisting a priest on the first – and also the 44 that followed. General Mills, headquartered in a Minneapolis suburb, donated Betty Crocker cake for the entire gathering. At 6:45 a.m., Rybak had finished the very last ceremony. “The chapel of love is officially closed,” he announced.
After a nap, Rybak was back in his office when someone showed him a map of all the states that had marriage equality laws. What he saw set in motion a multistate marketing campaign. The three-term mayor saw Minnesota and Iowa as “islands of opportunity” in the middle of the country. He envisioned drawing couples from other big cities in the Midwest. So he told his staff: “Let’s go.”
And they did.
Rybak’s vision brought him to Milwaukee on Sept. 9, 2013. At an event at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, he unveiled a marketing campaign – “I Want to Marry You in Minneapolis” – targeted at local LGBT couples. He took the message to Madison, Chicago and Denver as well. “Minnesota has a tremendous economic advantage,” Rybak says. “Nothing would make me happier than losing that. In the meantime, we’re happy to take their money.”
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law the bill legalizing same-sex marriage in May 2013, just six months after his state’s voters rejected a constitutional amendment banning such marriages. In April 2013, UCLA’s Williams Institute published a research paper estimating total spending on weddings and tourism by same-sex couples and their guests would add $42 million to Minnesota’s economy during the first three years same-sex marriage was legal.
But that might have been a conservative estimate. In the first six months same-sex marriage was legal, 1,755 couples had obtained marriage licenses in Hennepin County – accounting for one-quarter of the marriage licenses issued. That figure already exceeds the estimate for how many same-sex couples would marry in the first year: 1,742 couples, according to the Williams Institute methodology.
Janet Elkins, who handles the free wedding planning service at Meet Minneapolis, has been in touch with more than 60 same-sex couples – Roger and Indy among them – who were looking to plan their nuptials in Minneapolis, including some from other states as well as other areas of Minnesota. The size of the weddings so far has been relatively small, but she and Rybak see that changing.
On a Friday afternoon in January, Rybak sits in a coffee shop near his house in south Minneapolis. Many of the couples he married on Aug. 1 had been together for decades and had fought for marriage equality, he says, enduring deep prejudice and now experiencing a profound relief. He starts to tear up, as he did over and over again during all those wedding ceremonies.
“There was a lot of pain I saw,” says Rybak, who, as a Twin Cities journalist in the 1980s, launched a local gay and lesbian newspaper, Q Monthly. As the number of younger couples – for whom the wedding is nothing but pure celebration – increase, the celebrations are only going to get bigger, he says.
At Wilde Roast Café just across the river from downtown Minneapolis, owner Dean Schlaak says he’s seen a 10-15 percent increase in special event revenues since marriage equality became legal. “It’s been good from the standpoint of extra parties,” says Schlaak, who married his husband three days after it became legal. He has spoken to couples from Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas who’ve come to the state to get married. “They’re doing some shopping, spending money,” he says. “It’s good for the economy.”
In January, Sarah Puchalski and Serena Pollack welcomed about 100 of their closest friends and family to their wedding reception at Wolf Peach restaurant in Brewers Hill. Sarah, 25, donned a casual white dress and let her long blond hair fall past her shoulders. Serena, 39, with short brown hair and thick-rimmed glasses, wore a sweater and jeans – the embodiment of the reception’s offbeat, preppy theme.
Although they had gotten married on Nov. 23, 2013, in Santa Monica, Calif., and spent the next week driving up the coast, stopping in Sonoma, Napa and San Francisco, they wanted to do something for friends and family back home. “We both have huge families, and we [had] people flying from all over the country,” says Sarah.
“World, actually,” Serena corrects. It was a casual culinary event, they say, with beer pairings and a J. Crew-esque dress code.
The cost for catering and venue rental is the biggest piece of the wedding-industry pie, averaging $15,493 in Wisconsin in 2012. Using the Williams Institute formula, the market size for same-sex wedding venue and catering could be as much as $18 million in the first three years.
But not all couples fit into a formula. In October 2013, the Hilton Garden Inn Milwaukee Park Place hosted its first same-sex commitment ceremony, a ceremony in which couples declare their love and commitment removed from legal standing, in its grand ballroom. “The energy in the hotel that weekend was just great,” says Corinne Kangas, the hotel’s catering manager. Kangas estimates the couple spent $20,000 at the hotel and another $10,000 on flowers, lighting and decorations for the ceremony and reception for 236 people. Although that’s the only same-sex ceremony it’s held, the hotel advertises on LGBT sites. “The more people getting married, the better,” says Annette Clason, the hotel’s director of sales.
Another big-ticket item for weddings is photography, which could be worth an additional $2 million for same-sex weddings. Adam and Miranda Kneeland of Reminisce Studio in Oak Creek have only photographed a handful of same-sex weddings, but they’ve seen an increase recently. “We’ve gotten a number of inquiries of couples who are getting married out of the state who asked what our travel fees were,” Miranda says. Their wedding photography packages start at $2,900 and average $4,500-$5,000, for both gay and straight couples.
Erin Thull, the owner of Miss Ruby Bridal Boutique in Downtown Milwaukee, has also seen an increase in brides shopping for wedding dresses for same-sex weddings. Her shop on Water Street has been open for six years, and in the beginning, she says, she rarely saw same-sex brides. In the past six months, however, she’s seen two to three times as many. The projected 4,600 same-sex weddings in three years could add $2 million to the state’s attire and accessories industry – including wedding gowns, shoes and tuxes.
Thull doesn’t always know what sort of celebration – out-of-state wedding or in-town commitment ceremony – a bride is buying a dress for. But the Rev. Julie Forest, who has officiated commitment ceremonies at Unitarian Church North in Mequon for years, used to see three to four ceremonies a year. “There are less and less commitment ceremonies here because people are just going where it’s legal,” she says.
Forest herself went to Vermont in October 2013 to legally marry her wife. (They had a commitment ceremony years earlier.) From her congregation, three or four couples have left the state to get married.
After Sarah and Serena returned from their legal wedding in California, their attention turned to planning their reception and finding Sarah a new job. As part of the job hunt, Sarah considered whether or not the company extended health benefits to same-sex partners.
“It’s a nice benefit if it’s there,” Serena says. “It wasn’t going to be make-or-break. Obviously, Sarah finding a job that makes her happy and that makes her fulfilled and comfortable was more important.”
Sarah agrees. “It was something of concern, certainly. I felt more comfortable accepting an offer that had that perk.” In January,
Sarah accepted a job at Meta House, a substance abuse treatment program that began offering same-sex benefits in fall 2012. Amy Lindner, the president and CEO at Meta House, says Sarah was the first job applicant to ask about same-sex benefits during the interview process. “I was so glad to be able to answer yes to the question,” Lindner says.
On the seventh floor of Rockwell Automation’s Walker’s Point headquarters, Ed Seaberg sits in the shadow of a world map with a pin for every one of the company’s locations, spanning 80 countries. “Diversity means a very different thing depending on where you sit in the globe, where you sit in the country,” he says.
Sitting where Seaberg sits, as an out executive at the company, diversity means accepting all employees regardless of age, race or sexual orientation. Seaberg is vice president of IT service operations. He’s also the creator of ROKout, the company’s LGBT and allies affinity group, which started last fall. The group allows people in different departments of the company to come together to discuss LGBT issues.
One of several employers in the Milwaukee area that offers benefits to same-sex partners – including Milwaukee Public Schools, Northwestern Mutual and Manpower – Rockwell Automation in 2009 began offering domestic-partner benefits for both same-sex couples and heterosexual couples. In 2013, 100 employees included coverage for their domestic partners.
Rockwell was one of 304 companies to get a perfect score in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index in 2014 – which takes into account things like anti-discrimination policies and same-sex partner benefits.
Rockwell views this as a business opportunity. The company estimates up to 40 percent of its workforce might retire in the next five years. “We need to regenerate that talent in the new workforce, and the new workforce expects this,” Seaberg says. “It’s not a ‘nice-to -have’ anymore, it’s a ‘must-have.’”
However, because the health insurance was an “additional benefit not allowed by law,” it was taxed as income by the federal and state government; that is, until the federal government announced it would recognize marriage for tax purposes in 2013. For a Rockwell employee making an average Milwaukee salary ($47,859, according to the U.S. Census Bureau), the savings from the federal tax impact would be $1,925 in 2014. But health insurance of the employee’s spouse would still be taxed as income by the state.
Moreover, the federal exemption is only applicable if the couple gets legally married; being on Wisconsin’s domestic partnership registry is not enough. Seaberg and his husband had a commitment ceremony in 2007 but went to California to get legally married on Jan. 2, 2014, mostly as a “formality,” Seaberg says. But it might save them hundreds – if not thousands – on federal taxes annually.
That delineation – between marriage and domestic partnerships – requires Rockwell and other companies to treat employees differently depending on their relationship status: single, married, domestic partnered or same-sex married. “If there’s anything that a company would like, it’s less regulation and less paperwork and less procedural overhead,” Seaberg says. That institutionalized discrimination is where many of the current lawsuits regarding same-sex marriage come from, he says.
That complexity might add to the cost of administering employee health care programs, Seaberg says, but companies that have done it think it’s worthwhile. “The benefits of being able to attract and retain talent – whether in the LGBT or any other affinity – have far outweighed any of the costs that companies have gained,” he says. “Which is why they’re piling on. It’s not for the social good. Companies are in it for the economic good – and the social good – but first and foremost, expanding the bottom line.”
Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, which received a score of 90 on the Human Rights Campaign’s index in 2014, began offering same-sex domestic partner benefits in 2005, and 30 current employees and retirees now take advantage of that benefit, says Todd Smasal, the director of the company’s benefits program. Milwaukee County offers benefits to domestic partners, too, but only 36 of the county’s 4,400 employees take advantage of that – at a total cost of $275,000 a year.
The addition of same-sex partner benefits was a big debate at the time – first passed by the Milwaukee County Board in 2009 and vetoed by then-County Executive Scott Walker, and revived by County Exec Chris Abele and passed in 2011 – but Abele remembers looking to the corporate world for inspiration. “The vast majority of our biggest employers in the state already had this,” he says. “For big, public companies, they’re making decisions because they want to maximize value and, trust me, they’ve been through this ‘who we can attract for talent and who we can retain for talent.’ And if they thought this was a net loss for them, they wouldn’t be doing it.”
Denise Cawley and Anne Hefter know firsthand how changing laws and policies can affect household income, career planning, friendships – even parenting decisions. In addition to being a founding member and volunteer communications director of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, Denise owns her own marketing and communications business. Anne, meanwhile, works at Aurora Healthcare, where the couple and their 7-year-old son get their health insurance. When the federal government stopped taxing its portion of health benefits, Anne and Denise started saving about $1,000 a month, but only after a fight with Aurora due to the complex nature of the situation.
Their son is their root to the community, so they say they won’t leave. Sometimes, Denise says, they feel like the “Goodbye team,” saying goodbye to friends and colleagues who have decided to jump ship and leave Wisconsin. “We’d be lying if we said we hadn’t looked up the residency requirements for Canada,” Denise joked over breakfast at Mad Rooster Café near their home in West Milwaukee. But there’s a hint of truth in that joke. “Why would you want to live in a state where you don’t have the same rights as other people,” Denise asks.
Less than a month after their wedding, Roger and Indy Arteaga-Derenne sit in their Bayside home and flip through wedding photos on an iPad. Their two children play quietly in their bedrooms. The couple started dating 14 years ago, adopted two children and got married on Dec. 27, 2013. Economic reasons compelled them to get married before the end of the year. Their health insurance, through Roger’s job, was transitioning to a high-deductible plan, and getting married made setting everything up easier.
But only so much so.
“What’s difficult right now is that we have all the federal recognition, but we don’t have the state recognition,” says Roger.
Roger has worked at Acuity for 24 years and has no plans to leave. He added Indy and their two children on to the company’s health plan shortly after Acuity extended benefits to same-sex partners in 2006. “I think a lot of companies realize that if they want to attract good employees, there are certain things that they have to do and give,” says Roger. “If you want to attract [and retain] good employees, you have to give them good benefits.”
R.T. Rybak, who retired in January as mayor of Minneapolis, has a theory. “It’s a little abstract,” he says, but he believes cities have “talentsheds,” just like the Great Lakes have watersheds. Basically, cities pull talent from an area beyond their borders.
Minneapolis, he says, has a relatively large talentshed and pulls from Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota. Milwaukee, on the other hand, has a much smaller area. “Milwaukee is boxed in by other competitive cities,” Rybak says.
Two of those cities, Minneapolis and Chicago, are in states with marriage equality. If you’re an LGBT kid growing up in a community – say, Rice Lake in northwestern Wisconsin – he asks, are you going to go to Minneapolis, Chicago or Milwaukee?
“I’m going to go where I’m welcome,” he says. And that idea could have a huge impact on Wisconsin’s economy. “It affects not just a wedding this weekend or a small business down the line, but a talent pool that is increasingly mobile,” says Rybak.
Of the four states that border Wisconsin, three have now legalized same-sex marriage, two of them within the past year. “People will remember how long it took Wisconsin to pass marriage equality,” he says. “Every day that passes, Wisconsin is more of an island.”
|This article appears in the March 2014 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
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