SHELBYVILLE, Ill. — The gay wedding business is booming in this pint-sized Midwest town, where a non-denominational church featuring a mobile chapel has united couples from across the country since Illinois made same-sex ceremonies legal last summer.
Pastor Darrell Best told the Effingham (Ill.) Daily News he’s married nearly 50 same-gender couples from Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida and Illinois at his Best Wedding Chapel church. He said they learned of his welcoming service on the Internet, through social media and by word of mouth.
Floral shops, bakeries, gift stores, motels and other businesses in and around this rural community of 4,700 residents, located 200 miles south of Chicago, are experiencing the commercial benefits of gay weddings.
Heather Craig of suburban Columbus, Ohio, and her partner, Effie, said they had doubts a small town would accept same-sex marriage. But everyone they met – the town clerk, the lady at CVS, motel desk clerk and others -- made them feel at home, she said.
“We never felt anything but the most sincere acceptance,” said Craig. “It was a good time.”
Pastor Best said several gay couples he’s married had been together for 35 years or more. He said they were thankful they could “finally have a marriage, a wedding, like they’ve always had dreams of doing but were never allowed to before.”
And, he added, they have a choice of doing it in a traditional church or his mobile chapel converted from a 1942 fire truck, once featured on the Country Music Television show “Trick Your Truck.” Couples select any theme they want – with ceremonies so far ranging from hippy to biker to Medieval.
“We’re open-minded,” said Best. “So if people want to do their wedding a certain style or implement certain things that aren’t typical to weddings, that’s fine. We’ll help them do that.”
Best started his church in 2001, purchasing the fire truck and a historic church that was on the market in Shelbyville. Once Illinois made gay marriage legal June 1, he made it known he would gladly marry same-sex couples. Some, he added, have driven hours to tie the knot.
“They have to do their soul searching,” said Best. “Apparently, they feel strong enough about the desire to be married that it’s not that long of a drive for them.”
Best describes himself on his church’s website as a non-denominational ordained minister who is a licensed wedding officiant. He said he was an over-worked and under-appreciated banker before moving to Shelbyville with his wife and sons to start his church.
He told the Effingham, Ill., Daily News he had no moral qualms about marrying gay couples.
“These are people that are committed to each other,” he said. “So it’s really an honor for me to help them be married. They deserve the same rights as anybody else. Everyone should have the right to proclaim some body as their spouse.”
Polanski writes for the Effingham (Ill.) Daily News.