Nearly 200 people rallied at the Thompson Center in the Loop Saturday to demand action on pending legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois.
The demonstration, put on by local LGBT rights activists and organizations, called on lawmakers in the Illinois General Assembly to approve full marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples, and decried efforts by the Roman Catholic Church and conservative organizations to derail the bill’s progress in the legislature’s lame duck session ending Jan. 8.
Rick Garcia, a longtime LGBT rights activist and Equal Marriage Project director at The Civil Rights Agenda, told the crowd — assembled at the corner of Clark and Randolph streets — to demand state lawmakers to get the job done on the bill and warned opposition not to get in the way of its momentum.
“Do not fuck with us,” Garcia said, to a roar of applause from demonstrators, who he thanked. “The Civil Rights Agenda and our team is behind you and is working our little butts off to make sure that Illinois is the next state that recognizes all of our families.”
Garcia and other proponents of the bill pledge to keep fighting just three days after a coalition of lawmakers, advocates and backing organizations announced that the legislation will have a better chance of passage in the upcoming General Assembly instead of during the lame duck session with a mix of departing lawmakers.
Absent members of the Illinois Senate threw off plans for a full vote in the chamber Thursday, but Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) and Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), the bill’s chief sponsors in the House and the Senate, respectively, plan on reintroducing it shortly after the swearing in of the new General Assembly Jan. 9.
Several other community leaders and activists took to the microphone to make personal appeals for the state’s recognition of same-sex nuptials, including 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman and his husband; 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti; Andy Thayer of the Gay Liberation Network; Matty Zaradich of All Saint’s Episcopal Church Social Justice Group; Lair Scott of Queer Fest America; and others.
Thayer, like Garcia, riled up the crowd by arguing that the progress the LGBT community has made so far is not due to “clever arguments” or pleads to the state legislature for approval, “It’s because we have changed the culture,” he said.
“We have changed the culture, so when Cardinal George comes out with his latest ridiculous blast, people are more inclined to laugh at him rather than to follow him,” Thayer said. “And that was the response overwhelmingly this week, and that is because you all have gotten into the streets and have changed the culture by coming out at work, by coming out to your friends and coming out to your family — come what may.”
In addition to calling on the community to continue the fight for marriage, Thayer countered arguments by those who deem marriage as not important for gay and lesbian couples. They are missing the point of marriage — it’s about being treated as equal, he said.
“You dehumanize us by denying us that right,” he said. “No human being is illegal if you are LGBT, so that’s why this right to marry is important to every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender person, young or old, whatever your color, whatever your religion, whether or not you want to be married — because we will not be denied our humanity. We demand it.”
Thayer also seconded Garcia’s warning to the Illinois Legislature and to the United States Supreme Court: “If you deny us our full equality, then F – you!”
Rachel Miller, an activist from Join the Impact Chicago, said that gays and lesbians simply want marriage because they are in love, and that she wishes her love “wasn’t political.”
“So many big lobbying groups in this country waited on marriage equality … But activists didn’t wait,” Miller said. “People didn’t wait. People went out and filed lawsuits and they got arrested in marriage bureaus and they protested and they paraded and they petitioned for years and years and years. They didn’t want to wait.”
“And who are these activists?” Miller asked. “They were people in love and that’s who we are. We are activists and we are people in love.”
Ald. Cappleman and his husband Richard Thale, told the crowd they would like their civil union to be “upgraded” to a state-recognized marriage.
“Fifty-five years ago, when I was 5 years-old, I remember walking into Sears and sneaking up to a water fountain that was labeled, ‘For Colored People Only,’ and I was kid that didn’t understand it, but I wanted to taste what was different about this water,” Cappleman said. “It was different. It was lukewarm and it was a water fountain that was really built for children. That was the water we had for people who were not white.”
With that, Cappleman contends that separate rights –such as civil unions — are not equal.
All of the speakers, at one point or another, urged the community and its allies to call their legislators and urge them to vote for the bill immediately.
“This is about coming together as a community and getting people who are really passionate about this issue and mobilizing them to reach out to their legislators,” said Anthony Martinez, executive director of TCRA, who has worked alongside with Garcia in efforts to lobby legislators for ‘yes’ votes.
Now is the time for marriage equality in Illinois, he said.
Towards the end of the rally, the crowd invoked a longtime direct action chant.
“What do we want?”
“When do we want it?”
“Now!” roared the crowd.