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Cook County Clerk's office celebrates marriage equality milestones
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2019-11-20

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To commemorate the upcoming 15,000th marriage license for same-sex couples in Cook County—and the sixth anniversary of then Gov. Pat Quinn signing marriage equality into law—Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough hosted an event Nov. 19 at her Cook County offices.

Yarbrough presented maps showing that every Cook County city or town, and every Chicago zip code, has had six or more same-sex couples who have applied for a marriage license as of Nov. 15. As of that date, the total number of licenses had reached 14,860. Yarbrough estimated that would increase to 15,000 marriage licenses by the end on December.

"Today we celebrate and honor those who fought the good fight so we could get to these milestones today," she added.

Yarbrough invoked activist Rick Garcia, who was unable to attend due to a family emergency, and his longtime work on behalf of the LGBTQ community. She also spoke about the late activist Bayard Rustin's fight for equality at a time when many shunned LGBTQ people.

"We must fight bigotry and discrimination, wherever we find it, see it or hear it," said Yarbrough. "We need to protect marriage equality and fight for nondiscrimination laws, so people who get married on Sunday do not get fired on Monday."

She further emphasized that the community must speak out against the harassment and murders of transgender women all across the country as well as on behalf of LGBTQ youth who are bullied. Yarbrough also called on every LGBTQ person to register to vote, noting that a UCLA study found that 21 percent of LGBTQ adults are not registered.

Community leader Pat Ewert, activist Vernita Gray's widow, said it was an honor to be the first same-sex couple to be married in Illinois. Ewert recalled that, when she had to settle Gray's affairs, being able to say she was Gray's wife made a difference in the way everyone treated her throughout that process.

Quinn spoke about the marriage equality vote in the Illinois House—which he called a "key moment for democracy, not just for Illinois but for the rest of the country"—and the celebrations subsequent to that vote. The former governor also spoke about Nov. 20, 2013, when he signed the marriage equality bill into law at the UIC Forum, with thousands of people in attendance.

Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs Director and former state Rep. Linda Chapa La Via said she was proud to vote yes for marriage equality because it was the right thing to do. Chapa La Via also called on everyone to help her office identify LGBTQ veterans in the state so they can get the proper care that they deserve.

LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS activist and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis' former staffer Ben Montgomery spoke about his work in getting Black people mobilized to lobby Black Illinois General Assembly members to vote yes on marriage equality, as well the Red Ribbon Cash lottery ticket he helped get passed by the legislature. The lottery has since raised $12 million for HIV/AIDS prevention efforts.

Cook County Commissioner Kevin Morrison spoke about being the first out gay county commissioner and praised the work Yarbrough has done to make the county more equitable for LGBTQ people this past year. He said that although the LGBTQ community has achieved this milestone, the fight for full equality is not over.

Closing out the celebration, Cook County Clerk Communications Director James Scalzitti said working for the county under Yarbrough's leadership has been "a breath of fresh air" compared to his previous workplace, where they were uncomfortable addressing LGBTQ policies within their workplace. He recalled that the first thing Yarbrough did when she came into his office was ask where his husband's picture was, because all he had was a picture of his dog.

Also in attendance were activists and longtime couple Patrick Bova and James Darby; Michael O'Connor, the first Black out gay staffer for any Illinois General Assembly member, former state Rep. Connie Howard; Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya; and the first Black out gay state representative, Lamont Robinson, Jr., among other supporters.


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