While same-sex couples have been able to marry for several months in some Illinois counties — such as Cook County, which includes Chicago — this week marks the start of statewide marriage equality, and couples all over the state have been celebrating.
Some county clerks’ offices opened Sunday to issue marriage licenses as the marriage equality law took effect, but most waited for the start of business today. The law, passed by the legislature last fall and signed by Gov. Pat Quinn in November, was originally set to go into effect June 1. But in December, a Chicago judge ruled that same-sex couples in which a partner had a life-threatening illness could marry immediately, and in February she said all couples in Cook County could do so. After Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued an opinion that month that same-sex marriages could begin statewide, about 15 other counties began issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples, but the remainder of the state’s 86 counties delayed until June 1.
In Madison County, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, the line to obtain marriage licenses began forming today at 8 a.m., half an hour before the clerk’s office opened, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Susan Schultz and Debbie Dial were the first couple to get one, and they took their vows before the clerk.
“I’m elated,” Dial told the Post-Dispatch. “I turned on the radio and heard Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ this morning. I blasted it. I teared up. Finally, we’re equal. Finally.”
The marriage equality law also allows couples in civil unions, which Illinois has offered to same-sex couples since 2011, to convert them to marriages and, if they wish, backdate them to the date of the civil union. Shannon and Michele Fagiano of Lake County, a suburban area north of Chicago, said changing their civil union to a marriage would be significant.
“I used to say ‘my wife, domestic partner — whatever box you have to check,’ but now I can say ‘wife,’” Michele Fagiano told the Chicago Tribune.
And although marriage has been available to same-sex couples in Chicago for months, the city certainly joined in the celebration of statewide marriage equality. Unity Church in the Rogers Park neighborhood hosted a nondenominational wedding ceremony Sunday for 40 couples, same-sex and opposite-sex, some with licenses, some without, and some renewing vows, reports Windy City Times. Some brought their children to the ceremony, which was witnessed by hundreds of guests.
“This is a huge celebration of love,” said Rev. Heidi Alfrey, the church’s senior minister, according to Windy City Times. She added, “Unity was started over 100 years ago, based the idea that God is not outside of us judging but inside of us and is of love and life.”
Windy City Times publisher Tracy Baim addressed the crowd, saying, “This is an amazing day. Soak it in; it is one you’ll remember all your lives, for the allies here as well as for the LGBT community. This is truly something we owe to millions of people who came before us. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, who we lost this week, ‘We are all phenomenal people’ here today and we’re on the backs of many we’ve lost, including Vernita Gray, who [with her partner Pat Ewert] was the first able to get a marriage license here in Illinois.”
Among other Chicago celebrations, United Latino Pride hosted the weddings of four couples Sunday at the Chicago Urban Arts Society, and 15 couples married today at the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art, in an event officiated by Lambda Legal Midwest director Jim Bennett and cohosted by LGBT rights group Equality Illinois, the Times notes.
Watch video of the Unity event below.