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Wedding expo in St. Pete offers options for gay couples

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Published:   |   Updated: October 14, 2013 at 11:59 AM

ST. PETERSBURG — After 22 years of courtship and countless proposals that were turned down or pushed off for later, Karen Anna has finally agreed to marry Patt Kline in May at Niagara Falls.

It wasn’t a fear of commitment that kept the Brandon couple from walking down the aisle, both have worn wedding bands for years. It wasn’t a distaste for the institution of marriage or agreeing on their vintage wedding theme that stopped them, either.

Patt and Karen are lesbians, and while their New York wedding will be legal, in Florida it will be meaningless.

“She’s been asking me for years, but I never thought there was any point, and now that we can be legally married in some states I said it was finally time to get that piece of paper and do it right,” Anna said. “The only problem was we were looking for warm states where it was legal and there weren’t any, so we just chose the next prettiest place.”

Whether gay or straight, couples and their families and friends couples flocked to St. Petersburg on Sunday to attend two wedding expos —the Tampa Bay Bridal Show at The Coliseum and the Gay and Lesbian Wedding Expo at the Hilton Hotel at St. Petersburg’s Carillon Park.

Same-sex marriage is illegal in Florida, though 13 states and six Native American tribal nations in the U.S. now legally recognize the unions. Still, several hundred people showed up to the Hilton to sample wedding cakes, dresses and decor for upcoming ceremonies.

“The great thing about our show, whether its large or small, is that couples can come in and they don’t have to translate for people, they don’t have to answer questions of if they’re with their best friend or brother, they can just go right into the joy and excitement of the occasion,” said Mariane Puechl, founder of RainbowWeddingNetwork.com. “In most ways, gay and lesbian ceremonies are very similar to straight weddings. They want the same things. It’s just a matter of finding companies that are willing to work with them and are comfortable with them. We still face a lot of discrimination.”

Puechl and RainbowWeddingNetwork.com have sponsored more than 100 wedding expos featuring “gay-friendly businesses,” including five in Florida, since launching in 2003. About 30 companies like Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Aqua restaurant at Rocky Point and Chantilly Cakes in Largo decide to ditch the traditional expo, which attracted about 5,000 potential customers, to show their support for the gay and lesbian community. Apart from the clientèle, the cakes, dresses and flowers showcased at both events were similar, with most brochures at both venues featuring smiling heterosexual couples.

For photographer Brian Adams, it was an easy decision to go with the smaller show instead of competing against about 100 businesses at The Coliseum. Adams already has two gay weddings on the books for 2014, which is “two more than a few years ago,” he said, and more requests are trickling in.

“The trends for gay and straight weddings are pretty much the same. The only thing is that at gay weddings there are different requests for privacy and sensitivity,” Adams said. “Sometimes mom will be there as emotional support for her child, but may not be OK with everything. She may come to the ceremony but not the reception, so we have to be aware of that and make them feel comfortable.”

For some of the couples at the Gay and Lesbian Wedding Expo, the brochures and lists of ideas they gathered for their ceremonies will be saved until they can plan the perfect Florida wedding. John Berga and Thomas Carpenter of Dunedin know they’ll get married at the beach. They know they want white chocolate shells on their wedding cake, and toasts will include tales of how they met in a pub 9 years ago, the day before Carpenter’s birthday. Berga knows he’s in love with the way Carpenter always provides a shoulder to lean on, always takes the garbage out, and “grows on him like mold,” he said. But they don’t yet have a date for when they will make their union official. Legally.

“Right now we’re waiting, we’re planning and that’s OK,” Berga said. “We’re inseparable, and we’ll make it work.”

adawson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-9851

Twitter: @adawsonTBO

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