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At Last: A Civil Union in Illinois

On June 3 my wife, Vanessa, and I participated in the mass civil union ceremony that took place at the Chicago History Museum, which was put together by The Civil Rights Agenda. A little over fifty same-sex couples participated in the ceremony, which took place, outside, on the steps in the back of the museum. It was amazing to see so many same-sex couples together celebrating their love and unions with each other and with complete strangers. Some couples had only been together for a few years, while other couples had been together for over fifteen years. Just before the ceremony, Vanessa and I chatted with a couple that was together for thirty years and counting. These two gentlemen met thirty years prior and have been together ever since. “It was love at first sight,” one of them said. You could see their love for each other glistening in their eyes.

On the back of the stairs of the museum each couple stood. At first we faced the crowd of family and friends, who were proud to celebrate our special day with us. After kind, loving words were said, and the family and friends clapped and cheered for the couples, it was time for what everyone was waiting for. Each of the couples turned to face the top of the stairs. The judge and several religious, gay friendly, officiants spoke words of love, support, and kindness. After their kind words and a blessing from family and friends standing at their seats, the time had come. Before the judge, the many other couples, and family and friends, we said our vows to each other. Each couple faced each other, held hands, and looked into each other’s eyes while saying the vows. In that moment, I neither saw nor heard no one but Vanessa. It was a moment I will forever remember. There were tears and there were huge smiles from each of the couples after the vows were said. It was official.

When the ceremony was over, each couple made their way back inside the museum to have our licenses signed by either a judge or a religious officiant of choice. After the judge signed our civil union license, and we exchanged rings, it was time to party. The reception area was beautifully decorated with white floral arrangements and white linen. There was a dance floor with a DJ. There were open bars, donated from different local bars and nightclubs in the gay community. Hors d’oeuvres were passed around while photographers freely took photos of the joyous event. We mingled with our guests, other couples, and people we were meeting for the first time. There was even a “first dance” for the couples. “At Last” was the song of choice. It was appropriate for the occasion. At last gay couples of Illinois were finally getting some legal rights.

After the first dance, we continued to sip our cocktails and enjoy the evening. Vanessa and I, including our family and friends were the last to leave. We shut down the place. For us, the night wasn’t over. We all headed over to Joie De Vine to continue the celebration. Eventually, after a few more drinks and some late night pizza delivery, we called it a night.

It has been a month since the ceremony. Even though our union is only legally recognized as a civil union by the state of Illinois, we consider ourselves married. We may not be legally married, but we are a married couple. What is marriage? Marriage is a union between two people in love, pledging themselves to each other. It is a union between two people who cannot live without the other; it is a union with an undying devotion to one another. So, with that said, we are married. It’s still sad to know that in the year 2011 we have only come this far, that we are still struggling to fight for our rights to legally marry. While other countries are legalizing and have legalized marriage, what’s taking the USA so damn long to catch up?

I often stop and think of the gentlemen that have been together for thirty years, and how they had to wait so long to finally be legally recognized as a couple, to obtain some of the rights that heterosexual couples freely receive. It’s bittersweet when you actually think about it. It’s also scary to think that if Vanessa and I were to move out of Illinois, depending on wherever we may one day move to, that our union may or may not be recognized. I try not to think about it, but it’s constantly there in the back of my mind. I hope that some day in the near future, before I die, that same-sex couples can legally marry in all fifty states. That we can all say, “at last!” But, for now, I’ll continue my wishful thinking and be thankful for the union my wife and I are so very lucky to have.

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About Erica

Growing up Erica knew she’d be one of two things: 1. A lesbian 2. A writer. Lucky for her, she turned out to be both! After graduating from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Creative Writing, she moved back to the Midwest. In Chicago she found a community, a home, and her wonderful wife. Besides writing for The L Stop, Erica spends her time script writing. She hopes to, one day, write and produce good quality films and plays. If you ever see Erica around, feel free to say hi. She loves meeting new faces.

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