On June 2, 30 couples, including Patrick Bova and James Darby, will take part in civil-union ceremonies in Wrigley Square at Millennium Park on the corner of Randolph and Michigan.
It was July 17, 1963 at 10:30 p.m., Darby said, when they met. It was outside Woodworth's Bookstore in Hyde Park and as Bova was looking in the window Darby drove up on his motorcycle. They clicked right away and began dating immediately.
Bova was attending the University of Chicago's Graduate School in Education and Library Science and Darby had already graduated from Roosevelt University and was just about to start teaching at Gage Park High School. After a whirlwind courtship of about two months they moved in together in September 1963 and have been together ever since.
Bova was born in 1938 and moved here from Erie, Pa., in 1960 to attend the University of Chicago after he finished his undergraduate studies at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. For the next 38 years, Bova worked for the National Opinion Research Center as their librarian and data archivist before retiring in 1998.
Darby, born in 1932, is a Chicago native having graduated from Englewood High School. He was drafted, joined the Navy and was a communications technician second class on the aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Midway for much of his tenure in the service. Graduating from Roosevelt University with the help of the G.I. Bill in 1963, he then received a master's degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He spent his 30-year career as a Chicago Public School high school teacher instructing students on a variety of subjects before retiring in 1992.
Bova and Darby became activists as they continued to work in their respective careers, primarily around LGBT veterans' issues. Darby founded the Chicago chapter of the American Veterans for Equal Rights (formerly GLBVA) in 1991. Over the years he has served on its national board in a variety of capacities and is the longtime president of the Chicago chapter. Darby has also been the secretary of the Mayor's Advisory Council on Veterans Affairs for the last 16 years. Bova has been at Darby's side every step of the way, doing this volunteer work.
They have also lobbied with the Equality Illinois contingent in Springfield on a variety of LGBT issues and marched in the Memorial Day and the Pride parades for many years.
Traveling to Washington D.C., they visited the Congressional Cemetery to participate in a ceremony honoring technical sergeant and Vietnam War veteran Leonard Matlovich, who came out as a gay serviceperson in 1975 while still in the Air Force. Matlovich was the first highly publicized gay service member to fight the ban on gays. Darby's Navy uniform is currently on display at the Out in Chicago exhibit at the Chicago History Museum along with a picture of his arrest and a plaque explaining his LGBT activism history.
It was while they were at the cemetery in Washington D.C. in 1995, after a day of lobbying Congress, that Darby asked Rev. Darlene Garner of the MCC Church to marry him and Bova. She agreed to officiate, and did the ceremony right on the spot. An impromptu reception was held at the restaurant Kramerbooks & Afterwords with friends who came to the cemetery for the Matlovich ceremony.
How did they feel when the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal was signed into law? Bova talked about the Republican's efforts to stall the bill officially becoming the law of the land but he hopes that their efforts can't come to fruition and the repeal becomes final over the summer. "I couldn't believe it was actually happening, Darby said, adding, "There was so much negativity about it the previous week with the obstacles that were put in the way. ... Now after all these years ... it's almost over."
Both men attended the ceremony at the Chicago Cultural Center earlier this year where Gov. Pat Quinn signed the civil-unions measure into law. Darby was asked to take part in the ceremony with other LGBT veterans, and they recited the pledge of allegiance. At the close of the ceremony their state representative, Barbara Flynn Currie, handed Bova and Darby pens that Quinn used to sign the bill.
Darby said he was ecstatic when the civil-union bill was signed into law and "couldn't believe that it finally happened." "It was a great accomplishment towards full marriage equality, Bova said, adding, "It's a 'separate but equal' situation but I'm very happy."
When asked what they expect on the day of their civil-union ceremony Bova poked fun at their 47 years of dating and said it was high time that they got hitched while Darby was looking forward to other people giving them toasts during the reception. Both said they will be exchanging rings in front of 10 friends, seven of whom are straight individuals.
Bova said, "It's quite gratifying that our straight friends are very happy for us and want to be a part of the day." Darby added, "I'd love to wear my uniform [like others have suggested]but, unfortunately, I've loaned it to the Chicago History Museum."
The City of Chicago Commission on Human Relations' Advisory Council on LGBT issues and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Eventsin partnership with the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, Lambda Legal, Equality Illinois and the Alliance of Illinois Judgesare co-sponsoring the event.
Cook County Clerk David Orr, Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Timothy C. Evans and Cook County Circuit Court Judge Tom Chiolawho, in 1994, became the first openly gay candidate elected to the benchand other members of the Alliance of Illinois Judges will be the officiates of the ceremonies.
Notables such as Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel are slated to attend. If there is inclement weather the ceremonies will be moved to the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, where a private reception sponsored by Lambda Legal and Equality Illinois will follow for the couples and their guests. The ceremonies are open to the public and all who would like to attend are invited to witness this occasion.