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posted: 2/10/2014 5:30 AM

Lake County candidates not enthusiastic about same-sex wedding business

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As Illinois caterers, photographers and other entrepreneurs prepare for the expansion of marriage to same-sex couples this summer, Republican candidates in two contested Lake County Board races said they're not interested in promoting the county as a destination for such events.

One was dismissive of the idea.

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"As you present this option, identifying Lake County as a special place for same-sex marriages, it merits little attention," said Chuck Bartels, one of three hopefuls in the GOP primary for the board's 10th District seat.

The other hopefuls in the Mundelein-area race -- Terri Voss and Connie Shanahan -- also weren't keen on the concept of teaming with pro-business groups to encourage couples to choose Lake County over Cook County or other areas for their ceremonies and receptions.

No Democrat is running.

County board candidates were asked about gay marriage and other issues in questionnaires for the Daily Herald. Democratic and Republican candidates faced the same questions.

One of the Republicans running in the primary for the Grayslake area's 6th District seat -- the only other contested race on the March 18 ballot -- doesn't think the county should promote itself as a wedding destination, either.

Jeff Werfel said there are "more significant" projects that would benefit from a promotional effort. He gave no examples.

The other GOP candidate in the 6th District race, Timothy Powell, didn't answer the Daily Herald's questions.

The lone Democrat in the 6th District race, John Wylie, was enthusiastic about the opportunity, however.

Under a state law adopted in 2013, same-sex ceremonies can begin this June. Even though licenses can't be issued until then, couples are reserving reception halls, churches and the services of wedding professionals for anticipated ceremonies.

Wedding arrangements and tourism by same-sex couples and their guests could add an estimated $66 million to state and local economies in one year, according to a 2013 report from the Williams Institute, a UCLA think tank on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.

Same-sex weddings also could create an additional $5.4 million in annual tax revenue in Illinois, the report said.

Some government agencies and representatives are actively trying to attract same-sex weddings.

The official Illinois Office of Tourism website, enjoyillinois.com, has a section dedicated to same-sex wedding planning.

And last year, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak traveled to Chicago and Wisconsin to promote ad campaigns encouraging same-sex couples to consider having weddings in his city. Wisconsin, which borders Illinois and Minnesota, was particularly a target because its state constitution outlaws gay marriage.

None of the Lake County Board's 10th District candidates support spending county time or money trying to attract that business.

Bartels, a consultant, said he doubted having county employees research the issue or spending county dollars on advertising would be worth the cash same-sex weddings could generate.

The money would be "a relatively small increase in total county revenue as a result of added marriage license fees," he said.

Shanahan, a Fremont Township board member, downplayed the significance as well.

"Marriage licenses are just one service the county does for the residents," Shanahan said. "Every service is just as important as the other."

Voss doesn't think the county, as a governmental entity, should promote itself as a wedding venue.

"(That's) best left to those private businesses providing marriage planning and services," said Voss, a Mundelein trustee.

The 10th District race is for an open seat. The incumbent, longtime Republican board member Diana O'Kelly, isn't seeking re-election.

The District 6 seat also is open. Incumbent Democrat Pat Carey isn't running again.

Werfel, a Grayslake trustee, said there are more important revenue- and job-building efforts that deserve the county's focus. That's particularly true "in an environment of limited resources and staff," he said.

Wylie, a Grayslake lawyer, supports promoting Lake County as a destination for weddings.

"Weddings will bring new people to the county, allowing them to experience its many attractions," he said. "This will, in turn, create both short- and long-term economic activity."

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