Lambda Legal hosted the annual Freedom to Marry Reception at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen Wednesday night.
Attendees and speakers alike spoke of the benefits of civil unions as a stepping-stone and the push for full marriage recognition for same-sex couples.
“One year ago we were trying to figure out how to pass civil unions,” Lambda Legal Midwest Regional Director Jim Bennett said. “Now we’re talking about how do we work together to make marriage happen?”
More than 250 people were in attendence, Rosa Yadira Ortiz, community educator for the Lambda Legal Midwest regional office, said. The event featured catered Mexican food, free beer and wine, and a photo booth as well as dancing after the program of speakers.
Many in attendance were couples that had recently celebrated civil unions. Co-founders of Amigas Latinas, Mona Noriega and Evette Cardona have been together 16 years and were married June 2, 2011, in Millennium Park. Noriega has a special connection to the event. She helped organize the first formal Freedom to Marry Reception 11 years ago while she worked at Lambda Legal, where she helped open the Midwest office in 1993.
“Everyone does want their relationships acknowledged,” Noriega said. “I like being civil unioned. I enjoy that our relationship is recognized.”
Cardona said that the couple still wants marriage, though.
“We want marriage,” Cardona said. “People will say, ‘Oh, you got married last year.’ And, no, we got civil unioned.”
For that reason, some couples are holding out for marriage. Partners Frank Buttitta and Edwards Buice, founder and co-chair of Am Keshet, one of the reception’s partnership organizations, said they have decided to hold off until same-sex marriage is legal.
“I want the whole cake,” Buice said. “A civil union is the cake but marriage is the icing, and I want the whole cake.
Ortiz said while the event speaks to the importance of marriage equality, not everyone believes that marriage is for them.
In that vein, one of the invited speakers Coya Paz spoke of her untraditional upbringing and how despite the fact that she shares a house, kid, car, and a bank account with her partner she’s “not rushing to a civil union.”
Her performance piece shared how she “grew up loved” but with people “whose ideas of family are flexible” and would not fit a social conservative’s view of the ideal nuclear family.
This was the fourth year that the event was held at the National Museum of Mexican Art. Bennett said the event was originally moved to show politicians that LGBT voters were in more districts than just those covering the Boystown and Andersonville neighborhoods on the North Side.
Jorge Valvidia, director of performing arts for the museum, said the event’s continued presence in Pilsen keeps the LGBT community there visible.
“We are everywhere. Are we not?” Valvidia said.
Both Bennett and Ortiz pushed the audience to bring the marriage equality conversation back home with them, to family, neighbors or their hairstylist. At registration Lambda Legal distributed forms for attendees to pledge that they would “tell friends, family members and colleagues why marriage equality matters.”