Ceremonies mark first day of same-sex marriage law in Illinois

Written By Brian Slodysko Posted: 06/02/2014, 07:45am

Holding hands beneath thousands of soapy floating bubbles, forty couples locked lips during a group wedding ceremony in Rogers Park to celebrate the first day of marriage equality in Illinois.

Most, but not all, of the couples were gay and lesbian. 

“This is the best experience of my life,” said Douglas McMorrow, as he held the hand of his new husband, Kevin Herndon, 53. They live in Uptown and wore matching baby blue bow ties.

“We’re so grateful for all the people who worked so hard to make this possible,” said McMorrow, 51.

Three songs immediately followed the ceremony: “At Last,” “All You Need is Love” and “Happy.”

The ceremony was held under sunny skies at the Unity in Chicago Church, 1925 W. Thome Ave.

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Also getting married there Sunday were Rachel King, 50, and Shari Hemesath, 49. King said everyone keeps telling her to expect the same hardships, heartaches and struggles any straight marriage would entail. “And that’s what we appreciate, that we’re being acknowledged in every community as equals,” she said.

At ceremonies large and small, gay and lesbian couples across Illinois celebrated Sunday as same-sex marriage went into effect statewide.  

In Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, United Latino Pride held an event titled “My Big Queer Latino/a Wedding.”  On the North Side, Democratic lawmakers who ushered the law through the State House held a beachside ceremony in Edgewater. 

The law, approved last November, made Illinois the 16th state to legalize gay marriage. Sunday marked the first day county clerks across the state are required to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples who seek them. 

“It’s amazing to think there are some who never thought they’d see it in their lifetime,” said state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, who marshaled the new law through the House.

Though the event in Edgewater was symbolic — no one actually got married — couples wept and embraced during a series of emotional speeches. An a cappella quartet called the Harmonious Hunks sang The Star-Spangled Banner. And sangria and a toast were shared following a blessing by the Rev. Carol Hill of Epworth United Methodist Church, who made it clear that she would be happy to wed anybody who would step forward.

The law may have gone into effect Sunday. But 16 counties — including Cook — started issuing marriage certificates earlier, after a federal judge ruled in February that it was unfair for any couples to have to wait until June.

Shortly before the close of business Friday, the Cook County Clerk’s office said 1,635 same-sex couples have been married.

Same-sex couples can get married in 19 different states and Washington D.C., according to the group Freedom to Marry, which advocates for same-sex marriage across the United States. Most of the states that enacted such laws are clustered on the West Coast, in the Northeast and in the Upper Midwest, according to the group.   

Pastor Michelle L. Sevig, of Holy Trinity Lutheran church, said she had a commitment ceremony with partner Julie in 1999.

But while friends, family and their church recognized them as a committed couple, they were not seen that way by the government, Sevig said.

Standing with two of her three children, she said her family was now on equal footing with others. 

“Now there are no more qualifiers. She is my real wife,” Sevig said. “Back in 1999 people weren’t talking open about gay marriage or marriage equality. My career was at risk if I came out publicly.”

Harris said it was remarkable how much public opinion on gay marriage changed over the last decade. In 2004 gay rights were a “wedge” political issue that Republicans used to win elections, Harris said.

 “People are now looking back saying ‘why did we care?’” Harris said.

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