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Chicago’s gay community proud of ground gained



Updated: June 24, 2012 12:29PM

In addition to the New York lawyer spearheading the legal fight for gay marriage who will serve as grand marshall, attendees at this year’s Pride Parade think they’ll have a new companion marching with them this year: Big Mo.

“There’s an enormous momentum you see with the Freedom to Marry movement,” said Grand Marshall Evan Wolfson. “Polls are showing a majority of people nationwide and in Illinois support freedom to marry and we’ve seen Illinois’ favorite son Barack Obama become the most recent convert to join that majority.”

With a little inadvertent prodding from his vice-president, Obama declared his support for gay marriage last month.

“Last year everyone was excited about civil unions — Now we have the president of the United States and the governor and the attorney general and the state’s attorney and the county clerk all affirming their support for same-sex marriage. This is a sea change,” said Rick Garcria, policy director for The Civil Rights Agenda.

Wins appear to have exceeded losses for members of the gay community over the past year. New York, Washington State and Maryland all legalized gay marriage, though Washington and Maryland voters have a chance to reverse those actions at the polls.

On the other hand, in North Carolina, voters approved a law forbidding same-sex marriage.

“No movement for social progress is without its setbacks and defeats,” said Water Reclamation District Commissioner Debra Shore, who will be at #70 in the parade. “We’ve seen so much progress. People see couples who are in committed, stable, loving relationships and realize there is no evidence that granting marriage to same-sex couples in any way threatens the sanctity or stability of heterosexual marriage,”

The movement has had more success in the courts than at the ballot box so far. The legal fight launched just weeks ago in Illinois to legalize same-sex marriage has found no elected officials who want to defend the state’s ban.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and Cook County Clerk David Orr have all said they agree the ban violates the state constitution, leaving the conservative Thomas More Society as the only entity willing to defend the state’s ban.

“I think there’s a cultural shift,” said Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) “I think it’s made people more comfortable coming out, They are our teachers, our doctors. It feeds on itself the more people are comfortable with the community, it changes public opinion. I think the momentum is certainly swinging more in favor of LGBT [Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] rights. In my lifetime, I never would have thought we’d see the progress we’re seeing over the last five years.”

Forty-two years ago when the parade started, “There were 10 drag queens and three beer trucks,” Garcia quipped.

On Sunday, there will be 200 floats including gay and lesbian sailors from the Great Lakes Naval Base newly liberated by the end of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ There will be gay-straight alliances from Chicago high schools.

The crowds that come every year have gotten so big that organizers and the city had to disperse the parade from a circular route in Lakeview to one that starts in Uptown and works its way down, said Parade Coordinator Richard Pfeiffer.

Congressman Mike Quigley, D-Chicago, has been at the parade every year for 30 years.

“Back then, when an elected official showed up, it was like a big deal — it wasn’t as big and corporate. All of this is evolutionary from where we were in 1982.”

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