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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Forty years ago: Chicago's 1975 marriage protest
2015-07-01

This article shared 5021 times since Wed Jul 1, 2015
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The following is excerpted from the book Marriage Equality in the Land of Lincoln, by Kate Sosin and Tracy Baim, published in 2014:

On October 20, 1975, two women, Toby Schneiter and Nancy Davis, staged a sit-in at a Cook County Marriage License Bureau facility and were arrested. Many activists believed this event would hurt more mainstream efforts to pass a then-pending Chicago gay-rights law and that the fight for marriage was years away. They feared a media backlash, especially since one of the women, Schneiter, was still married to a man and because of an association with the Socialist Workers Party.

The women joined forces with Jeff Graubart and called themselves the Chicago Gay Rights Action Coalition, claiming to represent the community and espousing socialist views. Some activists believed the whole thing was a publicity stunt for a book, Heterosexual, that Schneiter and Davis had written.

Longtime Chicago activist ( and, later, attorney ) William B. Kelley wrote in The Chicago Gay Crusader that media reaction was actually generally favorable. But " [t]his political action was done at a time when the Illinois Gay Rights [later, Gay and Lesbian] Task Force was working closely with Ald. Clifford Kelley to get a gay-rights bill passed in the City Council, and many gay and lesbian activists felt their efforts were undermined by the sit-in and subsequent arrest of Davis and Schneiter," said Mark Sherkow, who from 1974 to 1979 represented the Rogers Park Gay Center. "Worse, the two protesters had issued a flier proclaiming they spoke for and represented the gay and lesbian community of Chicago."

Organizers of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Metropolitan Chicago, which was formed in response to the marriage action, issued a news release denouncing the sit-in; the organization lasted several years.

While that first action gained no traction, by the late 1980s and 1990s there were regular efforts to seek marriage licenses in Cook County, including actions where people were arrested protesting the refusal of licenses. Grassroots organizations including the Gay Liberation Network were among those fighting for marriage equality, while most of the larger LGBT groups stayed away from the marriage fight until the turn of the century.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruling June 26, 2015, Jeff Graubart said: "I spent many days fighting for marriage equality from 1975 through 2009, so today is both joyful and poignant. While proud, I am also saddened by the many rifts this struggle has caused in the community over the decades, some of which have still not healed to this day. I hope in the future, there will be more respect for the minority viewpoint in any struggle for social justice. For one day that minority viewpoint might become the law of the land."


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