10 Years Since Marriage Equality

Just a decade ago, Illinois signed into law the right to marry for gay and lesbian couples. 

Even before the legislature approved the measure signed by the Governor, the ACLU of Illinois was challenging the ban on gay and lesbian marriages in state court. This lawsuit was filed on behalf of nine couples from across Illinois who came forward to share their lives and demand equality. 

As we mark a decade since marriage equality came to our state we caught up with some of these couples to ask what they remember about being part of the movement for the right to marry, and what is happening in their lives today. We thank them for their bravery in making the anniversary we now celebrate a reality. 

Client couple holding a sign
Carlos and Richard

For us the right to marry meant that we could legally be a fully-recognized family with our son. We felt so honored to be able to join the fight in a formal manner and just remember bawling when we listened to the legislators vote live on the radio.  Recalling that moment brings back many tears of happiness.  And it feels good to know that our state victory most certainly helped influence the federal decision to confirm this right for all gay and lesbian couples across the country, even in states which never would have provided this affirmation.

We're still married, living in Evanston and our son is now 19 and the tallest in our home.  We talked about this and marriage has simply meant security to us, knowing we were legally equal.  It also has meant social equality. Although we had married in Canada and used the term "husband" previously, it felt different knowing that nobody could deny that we were, in fact, married in Illinois.  We couldn't imagine if we were still fighting for this right and remain grateful to the ACLU of IL for all your work to make this happen!

Client couple getting married in front of ACLU-IL logo
Danielle and Suzie

My wife, Danielle, and I knew we wanted to marry in 2004, so we had a commitment ceremony.  Civil unions allowed us to start moving towards equality, but it definitely did not feel equal, and having the separate term was a constant reminder that our relationship was not the same.  When Danielle and I joined the ACLU to advocate for marriage equality, the responsibility and honor of this work traveled with us in every conversation we had.  As we joined with other plaintiffs, we found ourselves telling and retelling their stories, carrying their hopes and joys with us.  As we talked to legislators and the media, we thought of all the couples in the state of Illinois who stood with us, who supported us.

As we sat in the chamber and watched the vote pass, we cheered, knowing that we had finally won the freedom to marry.  The vote didn't change the way my wife and I felt about each other, but it did change the way we felt about our place in our community.  As soon as we were able to marry, the ACLU offered to host our wedding at the ACLU office in Chicago with Ed Yohnka as our officiant.   In 2024, my wife and I will celebrate the 20th anniversary of our intention to be a couple.  We hold each anniversary as sacred, but to this day, the ACLU and Ed hold a special place in our hearts. 

Client couple holding thie dog
Kathie and Lynn

I remember the Chicago Pride Parade, travelling to the Capitol in Springfield, and being interviewed by the local TV station to advocate for marriage equality. We felt the importance of the issue when we were on the front page of the local paper after going to the County Clerk's  office trying to get a license. Having a neighbor (hetero) come over and congratulate us was surprising and heartwarming.

Today, we are immersed in family goings on and are expecting our great grandson number 2 in a couple of weeks and number 3 in March. Being able to file taxes together is great. Lynn has retired and I am working half time at WILL radio. We are here for each other-older age brings physical challenges.

Client couple holding a sign
Rick and Tim

We look back on those days with much fondness and pride. Meeting other couples and hearing their stories showed us we weren’t alone in our hopes for equality. Did we think of ourselves as a part of history? No, we thought of ourselves and people who finally felt equal to other couples, but we knew we had to do whatever we could to get all of our stories told. We felt  a tremendous amount of support from the ACLU and we were amazed that we could be associated with such an important organization.

We celebrated 26 years together in May and proud carry the label of a “old married couple,” which is something we never dreamed of having. While the fear of losing that right is always close during the election cycle, we know we’re prepared to do what we can to remain that way. Our current household numbers us, 4 dogs, 2 cats, a pig, turtle, rabbit, turkey, goat, beta fish, 70 chickens and 2 ducks. We work in our community to continue to protect the rights of all lgbtqia+ individuals.

Find out more about our 20 years of LGBTQ+ advocacy in the Illinois Legislature