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Chicago celebrates high court decision for marriage equality
by Carrie Maxwell
2015-06-26

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Elected officials, community leaders and others gathered at Boystown spot Sidetrack June 26 to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court's five-to-four decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case granting marriage equality across the United States.

Among the elected officials in attendance were Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel; Illinois state Reps. Greg Harris, Kelly Cassidy, Sara Feigenholtz and Ann Williams; state Sen. Heather Steans; and Alds. Tom Tunney, James Cappleman, Deb Mell, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa and Raymond Lopez.

Amid cheers from the crowd, Art Johnston, longtime activist and co-owner of Sidetrack, welcomed everyone to the celebration.

"This victory may seem too much of the world—as though it arrived as suddenly as a bolt of lightning—but the people in this room know that this took years and years and decades and decades to come, and now it's here," said Johnston.

While introducing Jim Bennett, Midwest regional director of Lambda Legal, Johnston noted the work that Lambda Legal did to move marriage equality forward both here in Illinois and across the United States.

Bennett spoke about the history of Sidetrack as both a bar and community center. He also talked about the desire of LGBT people to be treated just like everyone else in all areas of their lives, including marriage. He also noted that James Darby and Patrick Bova, whom he calls the "first couple of Illinois," were in attendance.

Brad Balof, general manager of Sidetrack, explained that the reason why this celebration took place at Sidetrack is due to its long history as a beacon for the LGBT community in Chicago at a time when no politician would openly speak to LGBT people. He also noted the other LGBT victories that occurred both in Chicago and Illinois prior to this Supreme Court ruling.

Emanuel said that he couldn't be prouder of this moment and noted the Supreme Court's decision on June 25 that upheld the Affordable Care Act. He also thanked everyone for their activism and hard work that made this marriage ruling possible.

Harris noted that he, like a lot of people this week, checked SCOTUSblog every morning to see if the ruling was released. He recognized the many people that made this moment happen including faith, business and political leaders on both sides of the aisle as well as those living in rural, suburban and urban areas who never gave up on the idea that marriage equality was something that could be achieved.

Steans spoke about how the language in the 14th Amendment led to this affirmative ruling.

"One of my sons identifies himself as a member of the community and he can do so in a very open and welcoming way here in Chicago knowing that people are fighting for his rights and everyone here's rights," said Steans. "This has been a journey that I'm honored to be a part of."

Cassidy said that she felt a sense of gratitude and excitement when she heard the ruling that morning. She also noted the many people who weren't in the room—including the late state Rep. Larry McKeon, the late John Pennycuff, the late Bill Kelley and the late Vernita Gray. Cassidy spoke about her sons being the reason why she fought for this and how her sons faced people who told them their family wasn't equal.

As for the work that still needs to be done regarding LGBT equality, Cassidy said "today it's gratitude, tomorrow it's back to work."

Vernita Gray's surviving spouse, Pat Ewert, also addressed the crowd. "This is amazing. Those of you who knew Vernita knew she never missed a party and so today when we are celebrating … I want all of you to take a minute and think about Vernita and the things that she brought to our community and what our community has accomplished," said Ewert. Gray and Ewert were the first same-sex couple to legally marry in Illinois, in late 2013, a short time before Gray died.

"I'm so happy for the people in the states who didn't have the right to marry like we did," said Darby. "This means a lot to the service members who live in those states because until today they didn't have all the rights that their straight counterparts had including housing and/or services within the military bases where they are stationed and now they will be able to get access to those things due to this ruling."

"When we travel to Indiana or Michigan we won't be so dependent on our paperwork which proves that we are married," said Darby's husband Bova. "We also have powers of attorney drawn up and we shouldn't need that in those states although we will still carry our paperwork because I don't think what happened today is going to settle things for lots of people so there might still be some issues. The notion of marriage for gay people is very, very important and it's always been the reason why we are here, for those couples who dreamed of eventually getting married and now they can."

"It's really exciting to be here to celebrate this ruling," said She100 Co-founder Amy Bloom. "I never thought this would happen at least not in my lifetime, but at the same time with everything that's been going on with marriage equality across the country this was something that needed to happen. We're all equal and we should be treated equally."

"This is an historical event and I think this will cause a change in our culture," said Paul Fairchild, a longtime community activist. "It will be very interesting to see how this changes our movement."

"I'm very happy about today's ruling and as an activist I like to take moments like this to celebrate and at the same time note that there is a lot of other work we have to do to achieve full equality," said Kim Hunt, executive director of Affinity Community Services. "I think this is a great day and a step in the right direction for equality."



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