"It wasn't easy, it wasn't easy for me," said Illinois State Representative Luis Arroyo to the crowd gathered on the second floor of the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance ( PRAA ). "But you guys made me believe that the right thing to do was vote for marriage equality."
Earlier this year, Arroyo had the choice in the Illinois General Assembly Executive Committee of sending SB10, the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Marriage Fairness Act, to the floor of the General Assembly for a vote, or killing it then and there.
"I don't want to be the one to not give you guys the opportunity to discuss this bill on the floor," he said before the committee in February. "But I will tell you, I don't think I can vote for this bill in the floor of the house because of my religious beliefs, and because of the churches in my district that I represent."
Nine months later, Arroyo voted in favor of SB10.
"I went back on my word, and I voted for marriage equality the other day, so I don't have to discriminate," he said to the crowd.
Rep. Arroyo was not alone. Every member of the democratic Latino caucus voted in favor of the bill, and on Wednesday Nov. 13 latina/o community members and activists came together to celebrate the passage of SB10, and honor their representatives at the Marriage Equality Victory Latino Reception.
"The fact they we were able to move them from passive support to active support, to me, demonstrates a coming of minds between the gay community and the Latino leaders," Association of Latino Men for Action ( ALMA ) President Julio Rodriguez told Windy City Times.
While celebratory, Rodriguez also acknowledged the work and coalition building that still needs to be done.
"For bi-national couples, the fact that they can get married now in Illinois takes away one burden, but it doesn't take all their burden," he said. "To really get the LGBT community at-large to see that the immigration issue is an issue that they should care aboutbecause it affect families, because it affects couples, because it affects childrenis the other goal of this event."
Rodriguez also said the night's event served to honor others in the community, leaders who have done this work but don't get recognized by the press, and to dispel the myth that the Latino community doesn't support gay rights.
Rodriguez cited a recent Equality Illinois study that showed over 60% of Latinos polled support gay marriage.
"It really is about telling our story, in terms of our place in the movement in Illinois," he said.
Also present at the event were Illinois State Representative Maria Antonia "Toni" Berrios, Cook County Circuit Judge Jesse G. Reyes, Director of the Office of New Americans for the State of Illinois Teresa Reyes, and Luis Roman with Lambda Legal.
"All of you did your part. You all worked and talked to the legislature and shared your stories. That's what made a difference," Berrios told the crowd during her own speech.
Jessica Carillo of United Latina/o Pride spoke about what marriage would mean for her and her partner Rocio Guerrero.
"We don't need the justification from government to say that we want to be together, and that we want to have a family." Carillo said. "But it means so much to be able to go up to my mother and say, 'yeah, I can get married.'"
In a quiet gesture, halfway through her speech the two began to hold hands behind the podium.
"At the end of the day, I'm an old-fashioned Mexican wife. That's what I want to be, that's what I was raised to be," she said. "Last Tuesday, you made that a real reality."
"So thank you on behalf of us and our family."
Community organizations ALMA, United Latina/o Pride, Lambda Legal, Affinity Community Services, Amigas Latinas, the LGBT Immigrant Rights Coalition and Illinois Unites for Marriage were responsible for holding the reception, with the space provided by the PRAA.
The reception was held in connection with a screening of "Free to Love ( Libres para amar )" a documentary by Jorge Oliver about the 2008 grassroots initiative against a constitutional marriage amendment in Puerto Rico. The screening was part of Reeling: The Chicago LGBT International Film Festival.