Why Illinois is Next
By Camilla Taylor, Marriage Project Director and Christopher Clark, Senior Staff Attorney
“There are those who will say that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind is nothing but a dream. They are right. It is the American Dream.”
—Illinois poet and lawyer, Archibald MacLeish
The Land of Lincoln is accustomed to being at the center of the human rights struggle of our time. In every generation, a few brave Illinoisans chose to take a stand for what is right. They called upon their government to end inequality, and questioned ingrained practices that were accepted by most people at the time, but that worked a terrible injustice. Their voices propelled the nation forward. Our proudest native son, Springfield lawyer Abraham Lincoln once wrote “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” The Lincoln-Douglas debates, held throughout Illinois, were the crucible for our country’s imperative to end slavery.
Poet and civil rights activist Carl Sandburg, who reflected, “Nothing happens unless first a dream,” drew inspiration from his birthplace, Galesburg, where Lincoln began to challenge Douglas’ position on the morality of slavery.
The agitation of Illinois labor activists such as Albert and Lucy Parsons led, at the cost of Albert’s life, to passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Jane Addams, founder of Hull House, turned the nation’s attention to the role that mothers play in the strength and development of stable families and thriving communities. She knew that if women were to be responsible for their families and communities, they needed the vote. She championed the message that families do better when all are granted equality.
In campaigning for suffrage, Addams was joined by Evanston resident Frances Willard and Ida B. Wells Barnett, a Chicago journalist and anti-lynching crusader who helped form the NAACP. Illinois became the first state east of the Mississippi to grant women the right to vote for president, and the mobilization of Illinois women voters in 1914 transfixed the nation. Our state went on to be the first in the nation to pass the Nineteenth Amendment, and the first to pass an equal rights amendment to its state constitution.
In a later generation, it was Senator Everett Dirksen of Pekin who was key to passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He knew racial discrimination was wrong, immoral, and unjust, and had the courage to stand on principle.
And recently, President Barack Obama, who began his career as a community organizer in Chicago, affirmed that same-sex couples should be able to get married.
Each of these Illinoisans pointed the way for the rest of the nation. The 16 same-sex couples and their children in Lambda Legal’s lawsuit join this proud tradition by seeking to realize their dream of belonging to married families.
Lead plaintiffs Jim Darby and Patrick Bova of Chicago have been together for over 48 years. Darby worked in the stockyards before enlisting to fight in the Korean War. He and Bova, a librarian, met on the south side of Chicago, fell in love in 1963, and have been in a committed relationship ever since.
For Darby and Bova, marriage is central to their values and concept of family. Many of the other couples who join them in bringing suit have children. These couples seek to marry not only to demonstrate the depth of their love and commitment to each other, but to secure their children’s future and show their children that their family deserves respect.
For twenty years, Lambda Legal has been in Illinois – the only national organization specifically focused on securing LGBT rights with a consistent presence in the heartland. Illinois is our hometown and the value of equality has been taught to us since we were children. We learned in our schools that, although Mr. Lincoln was not always popular, history vindicated his courageous leadership.
Our Midwest values inform our work. Lambda Legal’s Illinois case seeking marriage for same-sex couples draws upon our values of life-long commitment and responsibility for our children. It is about the freedom to be true to oneself, to love, and to marry.
It’s time for Illinois!
The plaintiffs in our Illinois marriage lawsuit include 16 same-sex couples and their families from across the state. Their moving stories make it perfectly clear: it’s just time for marriage equality in Illinois.
Watch our campaign video, then learn more below!
James Darby, 80, and Patrick Bova, 73, have been together for 48 years and live together in Hyde Park, Chicago. James, a proud veteran, was born on the south side of Chicago, where he worked in the stockyards before enlisting in the Navy to serve in the Korean War. He served 4 years before receiving an honorable discharge. James and Patrick wish to marry to better protect each other as they advance in life.
LaKeesha & Janean
LaKeesha Harris, 37, and Janean Watkins, 38, have been together 11 years and are raising six children in their Rogers Park, Chicago home. When Lakeesha lost her full-time job and a roof collapse depleted their savings, she and Janean applied for housing assistance but faced repeated misunderstanding by administrators who didn’t know what a civil union was and were unsure if they could apply as a family. Janean and LaKeesha wish to marry to better represent themselves as a family.
Michelle Chappell, 45, and Michelle Franke, 46, of Champaign have been together 21 years. Together they are raising their daughter Rose who is 9. They want to marry to better protect their family.
Theresa Volpe, 41, and Mercedes Santos, 46, have been together 20 years and live in Rogers Park, Chicago, with their two children, Ava, 7, and Jaidon, 4. When Jaidon was hospitalized near death for kidney failure, hospital administrators barred Theresa from entering unless she identified herself as a “stepmother,” telling her Mercedes was already inside and Jaidon could only have one “real” mother. Theresa and Mercedes have been together for 21 years and wish to marry so that everyone knows they are both their children’s real mothers.
Bert Morton, 64, and Lee Korty, 53, of Springfield have been together 30 years. When Bert had a heart attack six years ago both men were frantic to be together during this stressful time and tried to explain their relationship to the hospital staff who barred Lee from Bert’s bedside. All the staff wanted to know was if Bert was married, and after 24 years together it pained him to say no.
Angelica Lopez, 36, and Claudia Mercado, 36, have been together for 14 years and live in Logan Square, Chicago with their children Isabel, 3, and Indigo, 6 months. Although Angelica and Claudia were happy to receive some degree of state recognition for their commitment to each other through a civil union, they yearn to be able to say that they are married, which evokes a legal, cultural, and symbolic meaning that is not encompassed in any other term.
Daphne & Ryan
Daphne Scott-Henderson, 41, and Ryan Cannon, 34, of Bloomington have been together for 6 years and are raising three children, Sonnet, 15, Autumn 11 and Sebastian, 4. When Ryan gave birth to Sebastian the hospital initially barred Daphne from visiting her son and refused to acknowledge Sonnet and Autumn as half-sisters. Ryan and Daphne want to marry to better protect their family.
Darryl & Jaime
Daryl Rizzo, 47, and Jaime Garcia, 50, have been together for 11 years and live in Rogers Park, Chicago, with their daughter Siena,4. When Jaime needed an emergency appendectomy at 3 a.m., he and Daryl had to wait for Jaime’s brother to arrive at the hospital to sign various forms because the hospital didn’t recognize Daryl as Jaime’s family. Daryl and Jaime want to marry to protect their daughter and themselves in case of an emergency.
Lynne & Robyne
Lynne Burnett, 55, and Robyne O’Mara, 56, of Godfrey have been together nearly 32 years. When Robyne experienced chest pains the couple raced to the emergency room. The registrar who admitted Robyne asked Lynne who she was and after a lengthy series of questions the hospital staff still didn’t know what a civil union was or understand the couple’s relationship.
Patricia & Julie
Patricia Garcia, 54, and Julie Barton, 50, of Evanston have been together 20 years. Their daughter Olivia, 15, has often questioned the couple about why they aren’t married. She was crushed to learn that her government bars her parents from marrying.
Robert & Brian
Robert Hickok, 42, and Brian Fletcher, 52, have been together 12 years and live in Oak Park with their three children, Jack, 6, Hank, 3, and Ellie, 2. Despite their civil union, Brian and Robert carry numerous legal documents with them wherever they go, including powers of attorney and confidential adoption decrees, for fear that they and their children will not be recognized as a family. Brian and Robert wish to marry to secure their children’s future and to demonstrate, both to each other and to their children, the depth of their commitment to each other.
Peggy & Donna
Peggy Burton, 65, and Donna O’Crowly, 66, of Bloomington have been together 36 years. The couple, now retired, want to better protect each other as they grow older and worry that they are vulnerable because so many people do not understand what a civil union is.
Tim & Don
Tim Rice, 50, and Don Julian, 51, of Alto Pass, have been together 18 years. The couple celebrated a holy union in their church in 1996 and 15 years later the same pastor united them in a civil union. The couple enjoyed a celebration attended by 150 guests including the village mayor and many family and friends. Even with a supportive community and family network they struggle to explain what a civil union is and it does not signify what Tim and Don mean to each other.
Anne & Laura
Anne Dickey, 37, and Laura Hartman, 34, of Rock Island have been together for 7 years and are raising a son, Theodore, 2. Although the couple entered into a civil union they knew in their hearts that it wasn’t “the real thing.” Laura and Anne belong to St. John’s Lutheran Church and are waiting to rejoice with a church celebration on the day they can marry.
Brandon & Kevin
Brandon, 31, and Kevin, 40, Bowersox-Johnson of Urbana have been together 10 years. Together they are raising their son Garrett who is 5. Before they adopted their son they celebrated a commitment ceremony to signal to their family and friends that their child was entering a loving and stable family. After they adopted Garrett, Kevin requested time off from work to which administrators replied, “but you’re the man—why are you asking for so much time off?” The couple want to marry so that others will better understand their family.
Bob & Hector
Bob Proctor, 49, and Hector Martinez, 49, of Peoria have been together 19 years. The couple could not bring themselves to enter into a civil union because it would not reflect the depth of feelings they have for each other.