We know it happened before June 26th, 2015, and we know it’s happened since: county clerks, legislators, even chief judges refusing to acknowledge same-sex couples and denying them the right to marry. Much of this has occurred in southern states, though some recent activity has seen it creep closer to home, including right next door in various Missouri counties. Opponents of marriage equality are not going down without a fight.
June 26th, 2015 was, of course, the date which the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) hand down its historic ruling that allowed for same-sex marriage in all fifty states. Much like Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, and Loving v. Virginia in 1967, which struck down segregation in public schools and made interracial marriage legal nationwide, respectively, there have been reactions ranging from the profound to the profane.
Thankfully, we here in Illinois — especially central Illinois — have been fortunate enough not to have to contend with troublesome lawmakers, judges and legislators when it comes to the fight for marriage equality. It’s easy to take for granted our good fortune, and so I thought it prudent to acknowledge many of those who have helped make this a much smoother ride than it has been for others.
Nearly twenty years ago I remember attending LGBT Pride festivities in Chicago and seeing then-Treasurer (later Comptroller) Judy Baar Topinka in the parade – a welcome ally in the cause for equal rights. Our current State Treasurer, Mike Frerichs, has been a mainstay in the Chicago LGBT Pride Parade in recent years and, as State Senator, voted to make same-sex marriage legal in Illinois. Recently retired State Representative Naomi Jakobsson also voted in favor of marriage equality, as did current State Senator Jason Barickman, former chair of the Champaign County GOP.
Champaign County became somewhat of a mecca for same-sex couples looking to tie the knot, as cooperation between County Clerk Gordy Hulten, State’s Attorney Julia Rietz, Civil Chief Barb Mann, Judge Tom Difanis and others worked to ensure that same-sex marriages could be performed here not long after they were made legal in Cook County in early 2014. Champaign County was the first county in Illinois to have marriage equality following Cook.
Former Champaign Mayor Don Gerard was one of the first municipal leaders to sign-on to the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry petition. Current Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen declared June 3rd of this year to be Gay/Straight Alliance Day in the city of Champaign. In fact, the voters of Champaign have been electing openly gay leaders since the 1990s, and Urbana since the 2000s.
The support for marriage equality and LGBT rights in Illinois has, in general, been astoundingly strong, especially when compared with many other states. Here in central Illinois, we’ve been especially fortunate. The support from elected and appointed leaders, community members and organization, crosses party lines, age groups and religious boundaries. So many have done so much. There’s still a ways to go, but it’s good to know that, for the most part, we’ll be working together continuing to make good things happen.
Photo of State Treasurer Mike Frerichs at the 2013 Chicago Pride Parade by Gerald Farinas