The centerpiece of the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago ( CRFC )'s 2015 Bill of Rights in Action benefit held in the downtown J.W. Marriott Burnham Ballroom on Oct. 6 was a table set with well over fifty separate plaquesone for each of the plaintiffs in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana and the organizations representing them in groundbreaking cases which were the genesis of marriage equality in those states and eventually nationwide.
It was an unprecedented number of awards distributed in a single evening for the 41-year-old organization which, according to their mission, is dedicated to strengthening "American Democracy by providing elementary and secondary students with hands-on learning about the Constitution to prepare them for informed civic engagement."
"We honor those involved in the marriage equality cases decided last year in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, particularly the plaintiffs, who stand as real-life and real-time examples of the Bill of Rights in action," CRFC Board Chair Benjamin Ghess noted in his introduction to the evening. "Extraordinary citizens who fought for what they believed was right and were protected by the Constitution."
His sentiments were echoed by fellow board-member Andrew W. Vail. "Tonight we are especially proud to honor the sacrifice and determination of these honorees and recognize the historic success that they helped the United States of America achieve in the critical areas of constitutional, civil and human rights," he said. "Most importantly they remind us that in life, even in law, love conquers all."
Illinois plaintiffs including Jim Darby and Patrick Bova, Lee Edwards and Brenda Lee, Vernita Gray and Pat Ewert, Gary Magruder and Edwin Hamilton alongside their peers in Wisconsin and Indiana became part of a distinguished pantheon of the CRFC's prior honorees including former United States Attorney General Janet Reno, actress Whoopi Goldberg and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Also awarded were representatives from the advocacy organizations and law firms who relentlessly litigated the marriage casesLambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union ( ACLU ), Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Mayer Brown LLC and Miller, Shakman & Beem LLP.
"This is the icing on the cake to be honored for taking action with others representing people throughout Illinois in trying to get justice for all and marriage equality," Edwards told Windy City Times. "I think about friends like Vernita Gray and Renae Ogletree who paved the way for us to be trailblazers in that cause."
Lee added that she wants to see more people take their lead in a fight for LGBTQ civil rights that has only just begun. "I'd like to see more community support for our youth," she said. "They are the future. They have way more courage than I had at their age. Of course the number one concern that Brenda and I want to be involved with is equality and fairness for the transgender community."
"In the end the hero's journey is not over," Magruder told the audience. "You are the ones to go into the deepest part of the forest and fight for equality, liberty, freedom and justice for us all."
The global business management consulting firm Navigant was also a recipient of the award for their partnership with the CRFC.
For more information about the work of the CRFC visit: www.crfc.org .