For 11 years Lambda Legal has hosted a Freedom To Marry reception in Chicago. The free event held on Feb. 22 is open to the general public to raise awareness about the marriage rights under state and federal laws that are not afforded to same-sex couples.
Lambda Legal has been organizing around marriage equality for more than 10 years. Each year, the Freedom to Marry reception has been a marker for many in the LGBT community of the progress or lack thereof around the issue of marriage. Since the civil-unions bill passed in Illinois last year, it has been reported that close to 4,000 same-sex couples have held ceremonies across the state. Recently, Maryland and Washington joined six other states to allow gay couples to marry and the Obama administration announcement last year that the Department of Justice would no longer defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act ( DOMA ) .
The National Museum of Mexican Art ( NMMA ) in Pilsen has been the venue of choice for the past four years. "We moved here because when we began the civil unions fight we had some Reps and Senators telling us that they could support us if they had gays or lesbians in their district, but they just didn't," explained Jim Bennett, Midwest regional director at Lambda Legal.
When the civil-union bill went into effect in Illinois June 1, 2011, Lambda Legal partnered with Equality Illinois to create a "Illinois Civil Union Tracker." The database has allowed both organizations to approximate how many couples have taken advantage of the new law as well as collect other demographic information. Lambda Legal used this database to invite couples to a VIP reception an hour ahead of the event.
One of those couples, Shanelle and Tenisha Moffett, participated with over 30 other couples in a public civil-union ceremony at Millennium Park last summer. "Event though we are in a lesbian relationship, I still have old school values, I still believe in marriage," said Shenelle. She added that it was important for her to have a civil union because it allowed her family and co-workers to take their relationship more seriously.
Jennifer Kirk and Cecilia Flores attended the cocktail reception because they wanted to get more information. Both got a civil union last November and still have many questions. "We don't really know how to go about certain situations, like filing taxes and what other benefits we get as a couple now," said Kirk.
Rosa Yadira Ortiz, community educator at Lambda Legal, introduced Johana Morelli, who spoke about the importance of educating straight allies. Morelli's brother and partner have a daughter together and are in a civil union. Morelli said she was not informed about the the rights that they didn't have and says that this is part of the problem. "A lot of people don't know. I think there probably are not so many people that are opposed; it's more ignorance," she said.
Playwright Coya Paz entertained the crowed by reading a piece on non-traditional families. Guests enjoyed food by Las Dos Fridas, desserts by Sweets by Lulu and a complimentary open bar.
Photos by Kat Fitzgerald ( MysticImagesPhotography.com )