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Openly gay Ald. James Cappleman to get hitched

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) his partner Richard Thale celebrate end Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s inaugural ceremony last month. | Al Podgorski~Chicago

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) and his partner Richard Thale celebrate at the end of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s inaugural ceremony last month. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: August 3, 2011 7:03PM

James Cappleman isn’t the city’s first openly gay alderman — but he’s soon to become the first to get hitched while in office.

Cappleman, who replaced retired Ald. Helen Shiller in the 46th Ward in May, is expected to be among the thousands of Illinoisans to take advantage of the state’s new civil unions law.

Cappleman and his partner of 19 years, Richard Thale, are talking about an October ceremony. They haven’t yet picked out a venue and, having recently wrapped up a grueling aldermanic campaign, there has been little time to consider where they’d honeymoon.

“We want to keep it nice but simple,” said Cappleman, 58, during a recent interview with the couple in their Uptown condo. “Nothing really extraordinarily extravagant.”

The law that took effect earlier this month allows civil unions, not marriages, among same-sex couples, though it also recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Illinois now is among six states that allow same-sex couples benefits similar to those granted married couples.

If Cappleman seems a tad low-key in contemplating an event that has been denied to him for so long, remember that his resume includes a five-year stint as a Franciscan friar before eventually deciding the life of chastity, poverty and obedience weren’t for him. He also spent 20 years as a social worker before beating out property-tax lawyer Molly Phelan in the April runoff for alderman.

“Just to be clear, James was not a friar when we met,” said Thale, 54, who describes himself as the “quieter one” in their relationship.

But then Cappleman hardly seems the rebellious, rule-breaking type. He’s the aldermanic candidate whose most memorable phrase during the campaign was his promise to follow only “evidence-based best practices.”

Even before the campaign, there wasn’t much time for fun — although both men say they’re big Harry Potter fans.

Until Cappleman took office, it wasn’t uncommon for both men to have every evening of the week booked up with some community event or other.

On occasion, when conversations gets stuck in the community-service groove for too long, Thale’s relatives will ask him to talk about something else.

“I get that every once in a while — ‘You’ve got to dial it down,’” Thale joked.

Twice during an hourlong sitdown, Cappleman apologized that he and Thale aren’t a more exciting couple — but it isn’t exactly an apology. He wants people to see the couple as extremely normal people.

“It’s important as a gay couple, that if we really want to promote same-sex marriage and have society see it as not that different from other relationships, we’re going to be out about it,” Cappleman said. “Anything to do to promote more equality in the city and the country, we’re going to push for it.”

Cappleman said he never made his sexual orientation a campaign issue, although it did come up from time to time in conversations with potential supporters.

“I still remember one touching moment for me,” Cappleman said. “I was making phone calls to voters, and a woman in her 70s asked me if I was married. I said, ‘No, I’m not married, but I have a partner and we’re in a relationship.’ She said, ‘That’s nice.’ So it’s just not an issue.”

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