More than 2,000 members of the LGBT community, as well as their friends, families and allies, gathered at the UIC (University of Illinois at Chicago) Forum Nov. 20 to watch Gov. Pat Quinn sign SB10 into law, bringing marriage equality to Illinois effective June 1, 2014.
Illinois is now officially the 16th U.S. state to have marriage equality.
In a nod to the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, which fell the day before, Quinn signed the historic legislation on one of Abraham Lincoln's desks, which was shipped in from Springfield for the occasion.
Quinn shared the stage with numerous political allies, among them Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, House Speaker Michael Madigan, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Secretary of State Jesse White, State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Also present were state Rep. Greg Harris and state Sen. Heather Steans, who sponsored SB10 in their respective houses.
After a moment of silence to remember Illinoisans who were lost in the deadly tornadoes Nov. 17, Quinn introduced his colleagues.
Attorney General Madigan brandished a necklace belonging to the late politician Dawn Clark Netsch, saying that SB10 ushered in a "new proud chapter for the state." But she added that the new era would likely be fraught with work. "It is one thing to change the law, and another thing to change minds," Madigan said.
Topinka spoke to the political bipartisanship that was necessary to bring about SB10's passage. "It takes both parties to make something happen, and when we work together, look what we can do," she said, before naming the Republican legislators who crossed party lines to vote for marriage equality.
Illinois politicians sometimes take "a lot of guff, and sometimes it's well-deserved," Topinka added. "But I think history will show that on this one we were right."
Topinka also joked that she would be available as a flower girl for weddings, drawing loud applause from the crowd.
Simon and White also spoke of the importance of the bill's passage. "It's time to stop planning rallies and start planning weddings," Simon said.
White urged the LGBT community to keep moving forward, "for today is a day to rejoice."
Preckwinkle called marriage equality "the civil-rights issue of our timethis is an issue of basic human rights. …Throughout our nation's history, nothing worth fighting for has been easy."
She added that while many on the stage would be remembered for their votes and support for marriage equality, there were many more "whose names will never appear in history books," and thanked supporters and activists who fought on behalf of the legislation.
Emanuel said that in the wake of the SB10, the differences between "gay marriage" and "straight marriage" would be blurred, and there would only be a single vision of marriage between loving people. He spoke of the mass civil union ceremony he oversaw in the early days of his administration, and said he was glad those 33 couples would soon be able to enjoy the full benefits of marriage.
"We realized that to have a forward looking state, we can't have backward looking laws," Emanuel said.
Speaker Madigan gave only a few brief remarks, mainly to thank Steans and Harris. Quinn jokingly thanked Madigan for his "long and passionate speech," adding, "Sometimes the great speeches aren't eternal."
Steans extended thanks to Senate President John Cullerton for his help in stewarding SB10. It was Cullerton's idea, she said, to schedule a vote on Valentine's Day. "I had no idea that he was such a romantic, besides such a class-act guy."
"It is your door knocking, your phone calls, your March on Springfield, your conversations with family, friends and legislators, your donated time and money, your perseverance that brought us to this moment today. …My husband, Leo, and our two kids are here with me today. We're celebrating that all families can now enjoy the rights, the benefits, the obligations, the squabbles, the dog walks to the beachall those things that come with marriage," Steans said.
When Harris came to the podium, he remarked that the framers of the Constitution understood that liberty and equality are "not destinations, but journeys. Since that time men and women have struggled to take step after step on that journey to ensure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."
He went on to thank several religious leaders across the state who vocally supported SB10 as well as former state GOP Chairman Pat Brady. "They stood up for marriage, because marriage is a family value," Harris said, also thanking families willing to publicly disclose their stories on behalf of marriage equality, such as Jim Darby and Patrick Bova.
Harris also expressed his gratitude to state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who had long championed SB10 but was unable to attend the signing because of her mother's death, and state Rep. Naomi Jakobson, who left her gravely ill son's bedside in order to cast her vote on SB10. Her son passed away shortly before she returned.
"Naomi and Kellytoday is for you and your families, and all of the loving families of our state," Harris said.
Darby and Bova came to the podium next. "Today is the day we can look back at our five decades together and finally feel like newlyweds," Bova said. The couple has long wanted to arrange for Bova to be buried alongside Darby at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Ill.
"This is not a small privilege, a resting place for servicemembers," Bova said. "We have never wanted special rightswe always wanted to be treated with the honor and respect as afforded anyone else who served this country."
Just before signing the bill, Quinn closed by mentioning Abraham Lincoln and noting the Gettysburg Address anniversary. The speech spoke not just to audiences in 1863, but is still relevant now, Quinn said.
He called the SB10 signing a "triumph of democracy, a triumph of government of the people, and (a demonstration that) that we believe in liberty and equalityand we're making sure that it is part of our law."
"I think we understand in our state, that part of our unfinished business is to help other states in the United States of America achieve marriage equality," Quinn said.
The Nov. 20 ceremony also featured performances by Artemis Singers, Chicago Gay Men's Chorus and Sami Grisafe.
After the event, members of the Illinois Unites for Marriage coalition, which John Kohlhepp headed, gathered at the Chicago Firehouse Restaurant. Also speaking to that crowd were finance co-chairs Laura Ricketts and Ray Koenig, Lambda Legal Midwest Director Jim Bennett and Harris.
Anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera of Americans for the Truth About Homosexuality protested the event.
See related story at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Illinois-Unites-celebrate-marriage-equality/45264.html .
Additional photos by Hal Baim at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/photospreadthumbs.php .
Photo spread by Tim Carroll at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/photospreadthumbs.php .
Livestream video archived link: new.livestream.com/accounts/954563/events/2531451 .
Videos by Tracy Baim and Jean Albright:
Patrick Bova and Jim Darby at Illinois marriage bill signing 11-20-13 www.youtube.com/watch .
Illinois marriage equality bill signing 11-20-2013 www.youtube.com/watch .
Illinois marriage equality bill signing 11-20-13 www.youtube.com/watch .
Rep. Greg Harris at marriage equality bill signing 11-20-13 www.youtube.com/watch .