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Saturday, September 7, 2013 - 7:30pm

Minneapolis Courts Chicago's Same-Sex Couples

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.

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