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Sit-in at County Building Photos
by Nikki Usher

This article shared 5 times since Wed May 19, 2004
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Bolstered by marriage licenses being issued to same-sex couples in Massachusetts Monday, Chicago-area gay and lesbian rights activists tried again to prompt the city of Chicago to follow suit.

While wedding bells were ringing and champagne was flowing on the East Coast, at City Hall in Chicago, more than 200 people participated in a noon rally featuring speeches from local activists and devoted couples demanding the right to be married in Illinois.

Some held signs with political references, saying 'Brown v. Board, Separate But Still Not Equal,' and 'Daley: Newsom or Romney?' referencing the San Francisco mayor who granted more than 4,000 marriage licenses to gays and lesbians and Gov. Mitt Romney, who has tried to do everything in his power to halt gay marriages in Massachusetts.

'Enough is enough,' said activist Sherry Wolf of Equal Marriage NOW! 'Marriage is our right, and we've only just begun to fight.'

Also on hand was a gay minister who told the crowd that he wanted to be able to sign a marriage license for a gay couple.

'Not everyone who is of the faith is a bigot,' said Bob Schwartz, of the Chicago Anti-Bashing Network.

Earlier in the day, a smaller group of anti-gay activists protested outside of the Thompson Center downtown. Speakers and signs condemned homosexuality as sinful and informed gays organizing the noon rally that they would be going to hell.

Members of the Illinois Family Institute, Concerned Women for America and a 'former lesbian' of Rescuing Homosexuals dubbed May 17 'Destruction of Marriage Day.'

'This sad day marks America's descent into legal and social chaos,' said Peter LaBarbera, director of the Illinois Family Institute.

Deborah Mell, the sister-in-law of Gov. Rod Blagovitch and daughter of Ald. Richard Mell, told the crowd of gay-rights supporters, 'My family loves me. It's time to be proud of who we are.'

Jennifer Widd and Michelle Baladad, a committed couple for nine years already in possession of a domestic-partnership from Cook County and a civil union license from Vermont, said they wanted to be married where they live and to have their love legally recognized.

Chanting 'gay, straight, black, white, equal marriage is our right,' about 80 people followed Widd and Baladad to County Clerk David Orr's office to watch them attempt to get a marriage license.

They plunked down their $30 and their licenses and asked for a marriage license.

Baladad and Widd were told by Michael Bush, staffing the desk, 'Unfortunately, gay marriage is still illegal in the state of Illinois, I cannot do this.'

The protesters staged a stake out in the office for a few hours, but Orr said he does not plan to issue marriage licenses until there is a legal mandate for him to do so.

Activists offered Orr a $500 check to pay for the misdemeanor he might have been charged with had he issued a license to Baladad and Widd.

He refused the money and said that even if he had issued a license it would have been voided by the state in 30 minutes.

Orr said that more support from local politicians would be necessary if he were to grant marriage licenses without a legal mandate. He pointed to San Francisco and Portland where city council members and the mayor were crucial in the decision to grant licenses to same-sex couples.

'We've got nothing in Cook County—there's no local support outside myself,' Orr said. 'The mayor's said a few nice words but nothing beyond that.'

Still, local activists said they were hoping that Orr will realize that his position is 'ridiculous' and would begin issuing marriage licenses soon.

Some chanted for Orr to stop issuing any marriage licenses at all until all marriages were legal. For a few hours Monday, that became a reality, as the Clerk's office turned away even heterosexual couples because of the sit-in.

As part of the national day of actions, activists dropped a 70-foot banner from Chicago's City Hall / County Building, and avoided arrest. The activists were part of and Equal Marriage NOW!

Activists said they would return Tuesday to resume the occupation.

A spokeswoman for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said Madigan would not be issuing a statement on the marriages of Illinois citizens travelling to Massachusetts. Former state Attorney General Jim Ryan had said such marriages would not be recognized in Illinois, and Madigan will not issue a different determination. Her spokeswoman said that only the state legislature can change the law on same-sex marriages.

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