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Wait is over: Gay couples can wed in Cook County



Mercedes Santos kisses her new wife TheresVolpe as she poses for photograph after their marriage ceremony Cook County Clerk's Office

Mercedes Santos kisses her new wife, Theresa Volpe as she poses for a photograph after their marriage ceremony at the Cook County Clerk's Office on Friday February 21, 2014. Melissa Klauda/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 23, 2014 6:14AM

Power cables snaked across the wedding “aisle,” uninvited passersby stopped to gawk and the couple exchanged their vows beneath the chilly glow of fluorescent strip lighting.

Those inconveniences mattered little to Theresa Volpe and Mercedes Santos, who on Friday became the first gay couple in Illinois to marry under a federal ruling that declared it unfair for any couples to have to wait until June, when the state’s gay-marriage law was originally supposed to go into effect.

“We live a very happy life together and we’ve worked hard as a couple to raise our family,” said Volpe, 43, moments after exchanging vows in the basement of the Daley Center, as dozens of invited and uninvited people watched. “This means a lot to us. Our children now can look at their family and know they are as equal as their cousins’ families that are married ... and that’s what’s important to us, is our family.”

Giddy same-sex couples began rushing to the Daley Center Friday to apply for marriage licenses, after U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman issued her ruling.

“There is no reason to delay further when no opposition has been presented to this Court, and committed gay and lesbian couples have already suffered from the denial of their fundamental right to marry,” Coleman wrote.

In November, Illinois became the 16th state to legalize gay marriage. A month later, Coleman ruled that same sex-couples in which one or both partners has a life-threatening illness don’t have to wait until June to marry. Nine couples have so far taken advantage of that exception. Technically, December’s ruling applied only to Cook County, because Coleman’s decision stemmed from a suit filed against the Office of Cook County Clerk David Orr. Friday’s more expansive ruling also only applied to Cook County, but gay-right advocates were optimistic that other counties would soon follow suit.

Behind a banner that read, “Marriage Equality Begins Today,” Orr told a throng of reporters that he would be issuing same-sex marriage licenses immediately. Orr’s downtown office was to stay open until 7 p.m. Friday — two hours later than usual — to accommodate couples eager to marry right away.

“This is a day that’s been a long time coming,” Orr said, calling it a historic day “in the sense that everybody can now be married equally, at least in the county of Cook.”

And a short while later, Volpe and Santos — each holding a bouquet of dark-blue hydrangeas and plum-colored orchids — took their vows.

“Theresa, do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded, um, wife ... ?” Orr said, later apologizing to Santos for referring to her as “spouse,” instead of wife, during the vows. It was an indication, perhaps, of the novelty of gay marriage in Illinois. At one point, the couple’s 3-month-old son, Lennox, began to howl. Volpe’s mother soothed the infant, taking him away from the glare of the TV cameras.

Earlier Friday, Charlie Gurion, 25, of Palatine, and David Wilk, 30, of the Avondale neighborhood, became the first same-sex couple to apply for a license.

Gurion, who proposed to Wilk in August in Paris, first saw Friday’s news on Facebook and persuaded Wilk to head to Orr’s office.

“We were actually planning to have our marriage in September,” he said, “but things apparently are going to be pushed up a bit.”

Wilk was so excited, that at one point, he leaned over the counter to give the clerk helping him a kiss.

Praise for the ruling came quickly.

Patricia Tucker, one of the plaintiffs in the federal court case was overjoyed to hear the news. She and Ingrid Swenson, another plaintiff, have a civil union.

“We’ve been married in our heads, now we’ll have a piece of paper to prove it,” Tucker said.

She said she and Swenson will begin planning a wedding soon.

“We were waiting to hear, so as soon as I get in touch with Ingrid we’ll go ahead and make a date,” Tucker said. “I’m assuming sooner than later.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a statement that said in part: “Today a federal judge affirmed that love does not discriminate and that all gays and lesbians in Cook County should have the right to marry. Chicago welcomes all couples to get married here to celebrate their love and to have the bonds of their family acknowledged under law.”

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn called for other county officials to follow in Cook County’s steps.

“Every county across the state should enjoy the same freedom without having to wait until June,” he said in a statement.

Quinn signed the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act into law last year.

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