Nearly all the television cameras had left by the time Edgebrook’s Mary Cameli and Sue Sporer arrived Friday afternoon at the Cook County Bureau of Vital Records and quietly took their place in line.
Barely two hours earlier, there was hoopla aplenty as Charlie Gurion and David Wilk made history as the first same-sex couple in Cook County to obtain a marriage license in the wake of a federal judge’s ruling that makes it legal immediately for everyone — not just those with a life-threatening illness.
They were followed closely by Carolyn and Sara Kujawa, who stepped to the microphones as the first female couple to obtain their license, and finally Theresa Volpe and Mercedes Santos, the first to actually wed.
Volpe and Santos took their vows in front of a throng of reporters with County Clerk David Orr presiding, and to my mind it was fun, exciting and momentous — words you don’t normally associate with goings-on in the basement of the Daley Center.
But after the excitement died down, I wanted to see what would happen next, which is when Camelli and Sporer warily approached the counter to get their license.
“Is it really going to be this easy?” Sporer said to Camelli, her partner of 29 years, nearly three decades of experience telling them nothing is ever that easy for gay and lesbian couples.
But it was that easy, and minutes later they were matter-of-factly on their way with a piece of paper that heterosexual couples have long taken for granted but which these two had almost given up hope of ever obtaining.
That’s when I knew the wall was down. From here on out, this is what it should be like for same-sex couples in Cook County — and soon in all of Illinois.
No obstacles, no extra hoops, no special fuss, no media gantlet.
In a matter of a couple of hours, marriage equality had become the norm. The fourth and fifth couples to apply for their marriage license will soon blend with the 4,000th and 5,000th.
It all seems to be moving so fast, unless you’ve been waiting 29 years for the opportunity to express your love in a way that most people just assume is their birthright.
That’s why Cameli, 50, and Sporer, 59, dropped everything as soon as they heard the news that U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman effectively allowed Illinois’ new gay marriage law to start immediately, instead of June 1, by declaring unconstitutional the state’s ban on such marriages.
Cameli, who works downtown as a lawyer for the federal government, and Sporer, who works in the suburbs as a computer programmer-analyst, hustled to the Daley Center.
“We’re kind of superstitious, like, what if something happens before we get there,” Camelli explained afterward when I sat them down in a coffee shop.
That’s why they also called their minister and hastily arranged to wed Saturday at the Unitarian Church of Evanston.
“It’s been so long coming,” Sporer said.
They met through work at the former accounting giant Arthur Andersen, starting there on the same day and finding themselves in the same training class, as well as on the same train downtown from the south suburbs.
On their first date, they had a flat tire. Sporer marveled at how calmly Cameli handled the situation.
“No drama. She said we’ll drive to the gas station and get it fixed. I was hooked,” Sporer said.
As to her attraction to Sporer, Cameli said, “Sue is the kindest soul I know.”
I suggested they probably had been forced to be secretive in those early years together, when attitudes toward gay and lesbian couples were just starting to change.
“The corporate motto at Arthur Andersen at the time was, ‘Think straight. talk straight,’ ” Cameli said as we broke up laughing. “You couldn’t write it.”
So, yes, they were discreet. But they built a life together and eventually found their families to be very accepting. Bought a house in Edgebrook in 1999. Obtained a civil union in 2011. Never seriously considered going elsewhere to wed.
“We always took the position that we shouldn’t have to leave where we live to get married, and so we waited,” Cameli said.
Now the wait is over.
I asked if it felt any different holding that piece of paper that legally entitles them to wed.
“It feels like more security,” said Cameli, who now can make her federal pension and benefits available to Sporer.
“It feels like a safety net that just wasn’t there before,” said Sporer.
To echo all the couples we met Friday, it feels right.