Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gay, lesbian wedding planners 'tickled pink' and seeing green

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BUSINESS has nowhere to go but up for a Winnipeg-based Web site that plans weddings for gay and lesbian couples.

"We're tickled pink things are coming out the way they're coming out," said Rita Leonard, chuckling over her own pun.

Leonard started the Web site pridebride.com four months ago with her partner Paula Rutledge.

It's the only service in Canada and believed to be one of the few in North America that plans weddings with all the trimmings for gay and lesbian couples.

Now, with Ottawa announcing yesterday it would rewrite the definition of marriage to include same-sex matrimony, the Winnipeg partners feel poised to ride a wave of weddings.

"Toronto Pride is going to set up a booth to marry people. There is going to be a flood of people in Ontario. It's going to happen in every province. We expect it to happen here," she said.

"There are tonnes of families out there -- like my partner and I, raising a child. They've just been waiting (to be legally married)," Leonard said.

Pridebride.com has been jammed since a Ontario Court of Appeal ruling in favour of same-sex marriage last week.

"If we're talking hits, we're talking 10,000," said Leonard, talking about visits to the Web site the day after the ruling.

"If we're talking about people specifically looking for pridebride.com, we're talking about 600 people a day (since the court ruling)," Leonard said.

The business tracks gay-friendly marriage commissioners, finds places where couples are welcome to hold ceremonies, venues for receptions and romantic getaways for honeymoons.

In their first four months, they have planned 150 weddings.

"We like to think of ourselves as business visionaries. We did a lot of research for it. We didn't just walk out of the closet," Leonard quipped.

Leonard said there are a couple of comparable businesses in the United States but as far as she knows pridebride.com is the only gay and lesbian wedding-planner service in Canada.

It offers a Web site and provides one-stop shopping for items such as gay-friendly announcements to honeymoon retreats, arranging and selling everything to carry off a wedding with all the trimmings.

"We can help our clients avoid all that annoying coming out to everyone -- coming out to the baker, coming out to the jeweler, coming out to the tuxedo rental place," said Leonard.

The partnership gets the cake, books the hall, has the invitations printed and even scouts out gay-friendly jewellers -- some gay and lesbian couples with wedding rings wear the gold bands on the right ring fingers to be different from straight couples that wear them on the left ring finger, Leonard said.

The timing for the business couldn't have been better for the partners. In the last week, Leonard has added current affairs to the Web site, with postings on the latest news updates.

"It's phenomenal. That there is a little company from Winnipeg that can be in the forefront in the whole, wide world," said Leonard.

Last week the Web site got a couple from Scotland, who needed a place to hold their wedding. Leonard and Rutledge filled their order finding them a Scottish venue to host it.

They don't make money by charging clients set fees; they charge vendors and they charge for products such as cake toppers and wedding invitations.

There's so little available out there, Leonard said, using wedding cake toppers as one stand-out example.

"That was our first product. We started looking around and we were just disgusted by what we found. Cake toppers ripped off with two brides -- that looked like they'd been stuck to grooms -- put beside each other. That's not the way it should be," Leonard declared.

Rutledge declined to provide a list of the service providers she uses because it might hurt her business.

However, she said some of the city's large hotels, such as the Fairmont and the Fort Garry Hotel, are excellent companies to work with.

Several jewellers, including A&A Jewellers, are also sensitive to the needs of gay and lesbian clients, making them feel comfortable and welcome as they pick out marriage rings, Rutledge said.

She urged businesses that want gay and lesbian business to use signs or symbols in their stores that will be recognized by homosexual couples.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 18, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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