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Gay marriage bill signed: ‘A triumph of democracy,’ Quinn says

 
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BarbarMarian Harvard Ill waves pride flags outside UIC Forum Wednesday November 20 2013 where Religious Freedom Marriage Fairness Act was

Barbara Marian of Harvard, Ill, waves pride flags outside the UIC Forum Wednesday, November 20, 2013, where the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act was signed into law. Illinois is the 16th state in the nation to embrace marriage equality. | Jessica Koscielniak ~ Sun-Times

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Updated: December 23, 2013 2:29PM



Gov. Pat Quinn stood up, thrusting an arm into the air holding the freshly signed bill that just made history: Same-sex marriage was now legal in Illinois.

To thunderous applause in the University of Illinois at Chicago Forum on Wednesday, Illinois became the 16th state to legalize same-sex marriage. The forum was packed with a jubilant crowd made up of same-sex couples and equal rights activists.

To underscore the fight for equality, Quinn signed the bill on a desk Abraham Lincoln once used to write an inaugural address.

“President Abraham Lincoln of Illinois said our nation was conceived in liberty, and he said it’s dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” Quinn said. “And that’s really what we’re celebrating today, it’s a triumph of Democracy, a triumph of government of the people — that we believe in liberty and equality, and we’re making sure that’s part of our law.”

The crowd was at various times quietly reflective, poised with hands on hearts to show respect for the flag and attentive as a stream of elected officials took to the podium to validate the newly won rights.

And it was occasionally jubilant, especially once the bill was actually signed. The lights changed, spinning in different colors, and a stage packed with politicians broke into celebration as Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” blared over the speakers. Ald. Deb Mell (33rd) — the first lesbian to sit on the City Council — twirled on stage.

During the ceremony, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel took the microphone and at one point appeared to briefly choke up.

“There is no straight or gay marriage. From now on there is only marriage in Illinois,” Emanuel said.

The victory for same-sex marriage followed an exhaustive lobbying effort that intensified over the last several months.

Perhaps the biggest legislative advocate for the law, state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, the bill’s House sponsor, was the last to speak before Quinn.

“When our constitution was written, those who wrote it understood that liberty and equality were not destinations, but they’re journeys,” Harris said.

Harris at one point faced criticism from his own supporters after the bill wasn’t called for a vote before the spring session ended in Springfield last May. Harris and a coalition of lawmakers helped push through the legislation during the fall veto session.

On Wednesday, it was clear things changed. A crowd surrounded Harris after the ceremony, with fans asking for his autograph.

The only gay couple to speak from the podium was Jim Darby and Patrick Bova. Partners for five decades, the men have been a steady presence throughout key moments of the same-sex marriage debate in Illinois, including in Springfield and on the legal front in Cook County Circuit Court.

For Darby and Bova, it isn’t just the ability to be married. Now, Bova says the two can get assurances they will get full, equal access to veterans’ rights.

What that means for them: The two want to be buried next to each other at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery.

“We have never wanted special rights or extra rights, we’ve always wanted to be treated with the honor and respect that’s afforded to anyone else that serves this country,” Bova said. For years, Bova said he’s quietly looked on at family and friends who celebrated anniversaries and wished the same for himself and the love of his life. “Today is the day when we can look back on our five decades together and say: ‘We can finally be newlyweds,’ ” said Bova to laughter and applause.

Jeffrey Mumford, who attended the signing with his partner of 10 years, said he wanted to witness history after a long battle to legalize gay marriage in Illinois.

“I think as citizens, I think we should all have the same rights and really the same benefits and opportunities as everyone else.”

Mumford’s partner, Ryan Schommer, said the two plan to wed after having already exchanged promise rings. “We’re just really excited now that this is actually taking place we can actually make the plans a reality,” Schommer said. “It’s a big deal to us.”

Chai Wolfman stood in the back of the forum, waiting for her picture to pop up on the big screen. She had seen it earlier.

Wolfman and her partner of 13 years personally lobbied state Rep. John D’Amico, D-Chicago, to vote for the same-sex marriage bill in Springfield earlier this month.

“Our rep was undecided for a long time, so we met with him. He ended up voting for it, so we’re just very excited about that,” Wolfman said.

Wolfman has twin 3-year-old girls with her partner. They had a civil union and now plan to get married in Illinois.

“It’s amazing … it’s hard to really describe how awesome it is. It’s just emotional,” Wolfman said. “It’s something that we didn’t think would happen. It’s amazing to see that you can work hard and see this happen.”



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