In a boisterous protest that demonstrators hoped would recall the bygone days of ACT UP, gay marriage supporters stormed the offices of the Cook County Marriage License Bureau on Valentine's Day, with actions that landed two demonstrators in jail.
"The ban on gay marriage is a denial of our basic civil rights," said Andy Thayer, co-founder of the protest's lead organizer, the Chicago Anti-Bashing Network. "People should be outraged about this. People should be insulted that this is going on."
Chanting "Gay marriage is our right/We've only just begun to fight," an estimated 75 protesters lapped the lobby of the County Building, drawing confused looks from bystanders, many of whom were forced to move aside as demonstrators walked by.
There was not much visible support from onlookers, and one man stood holding his nose and giving a thumbs-down to the demonstration as it passed by him.
Flanked by a contingent of sheriff's deputies, protesters noisily made their way to the license bureau, where a long line of male-female couples-;some in tuxedos and veils-;stood in line to get the paperwork they'd need to get married.
Marc Loveless of the Illinois Green Party told the couples, "We don't want to ruin your day ... . We just want the integrity of our lives preserved. It's about the integrity of your lives, too."
Once downstairs, three same-sex couples approached the bureau's counter to get marriage licenses, and were each told the same thing by office manager Tim Dever and clerk Rosa NegrĂ"n: "We would like to issue a license, but unfortunately we cannot," Dever said. "We are governed by state law, which prohibits same-sex marriage. I agree that you should be able to marry anyone you want to. Contact your state representative and ask them to amend the state law so you can be married in Illinois. Then we would be happy to issue you a license."
In the day's most dramatic moments, Thayer and Michael Maltenfort, after being turned down by a clerk, attempted to lock and chain the doors to the clerk's office with a long metal chain and padlock.
Thayer said before the protest that the plan was to lock the doors and post a sign saying, "This office closed until all treated equally."
The pair were quickly overpowered by four sheriff's deputies stationed outside the doors, however, and within seconds they were pushed against a wall and handcuffed.
The scuffle drew a strong reaction from protesters outside the office, who immediately began chanting "No violence, no violence!" and loudly chastising the police.
"This goes to show you what kind of world we live in," said Chris Lariviere, one of the men who attempted to get a license.
Ever defiant, Thayer and Maltenfort kept chanting-;"Marriage for some, marriage for all"-;as they stood handcuffed and closely guarded by two deputies.
During the diversion, a second group of protesters was able to chain a set of exit doors located across the office from the entrance. That lock remained several minutes after Thayer and Maltenfort had been lead away.
The pair were held overnight at the Cook County Jail facility in Maywood, and were released on $3,000 bond apiece late Thursday night after spending the day at 26th and California.
They were charged with felony criminal damage to government-supported property and misdemeanor disorderly conduct. According to a CABN release, the felony charge carries a maximum penalty of one to three years in prison, up to 30 months probation or a $25,000 fine.
In a letter to media outlets, Thayer and Maltenfort called the felony "a 'junk charge' designed to intimidate us and place an extra financial burden on our defense."
"They alleged that we broke a door stop," Thayer said late last week of the felony charge. "They were quite fixated on the condition of the door."
Thayer said he and Maltenfort, who were consistently separated from other inmates, had a certain level of celebrity status at the jail.
"A lot of people knew us down there," he said. "Word got around as to who we were. People had seen us on the evening news."
The pair have a status hearing scheduled for this Wednesday, Feb. 21.
Other organizations involved in Wednesday's protest included: Equality Illinois, the Green Party, Men of All Colors Together, News & Letters, the Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association and Sangat.
In a letter to GLBT media, Thayer and Maltenfort said the message behind Wednesday's protest was that, "the various attacks on same-sex marriage are assaults on ALL Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgendered people, as the right wing is using same-sex marriage as a 'wedge issue' to attack ALL of our rights."
"The ban is government-sanctioned second-class citizenship to all same-sex couples, and those narrow-minded clergy who support the ban are promoting bigotry, pure and simple," they said.
The pair appealed to the public to help with their legal costs: "We appeal to your readers to help defend us against the ridiculous felony charges by contributing to our legal defense fund. Please make checks payable to the 'Chicago Anti-Bashing Network' and put in the memo section 'Gay Marriage Legal Defense Fund,' and mail them to CABN, 4404 N. Magnolia, #420, Chicago, Il, 60640. If there are any funds received in excess of those used for our legal defense, they will be used to defray the cost of the demonstration itself."