PI Original Ellyn Fortino Friday November 8th, 2013, 12:21pm

Chicago's LGBT Community Celebrates Marriage Equality Victory In Illinois (VIDEO)

The anticipation of hearing wedding bells was in the air Thursday evening as members of the LGBT community gathered in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood for a marriage equality celebration. Progress Illinois was there for the celebratory rally.

The anticipation of hearing wedding bells was in the air Thursday evening as members of the LGBT community gathered in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood for a marriage equality celebration.  

The state legislature on Tuesday passed the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, SB 10, making Illinois the 15th state to legalize same-sex matrimony. The marriage equality bill passed through the House Tuesday by a 61-54 vote. The Senate, which originally passed the bill on Valentine's Day, quickly approved minor changes to the measure once it arrived in the chamber.

Gov. Pat Quinn is set to sign SB 10 into law on November 20 in Chicago. Same-sex couples will be able to legally wed starting June 1, when the law takes effect.

At Thursday's celebration, at the corner of Halsted and Roscoe streets in the heart of Boystown, a number of LGBT couples told their friends to save the date for their summer wedding.

It's estimated that marriage equality could provide a boon for Illinois' sluggish economy. The legalization of same-sex marriage may generate between $54 million and $103 million in new spending in the state over the first three years, according to a report from the Williams Institute.

Rain McDowell, 24, and her partner of more than a year, Sarah Tusins, 23, announced they would be saying "I do" shortly after the law goes into effect.

McDowell said she was "overwhelmingly overjoyed" that the right to marry will soon become a reality for thousands of same-sex couples in the state.

"From 10 years of doing this, and being so discouraged, to see something actually happening, and to say, 'Yes, I'm one of those states where I can get married. I can get recognized.' That's just so amazing. It's the most amazing feeling, especially being so young." McDowell said. "I can only imagine what's it like for people who are older who have been doing this fight for many, many years. For me, just the pride and the joy that I feel being young, it's incredible."

Tusins added that she hoped Tuesday's marriage-equality victory would help break down a number of barriers LGBT couples currently face.

"When a heterosexual couple gets married, they're married. If they move in together, it's no big deal. If they have to get on each other's banks accounts, it's no big deal," she explained. "For us, we have to go through all sorts of red tape to get housing, to get on bank accounts, just because we're the same sex."

Civil unions were legalized in Illinois back in 2011. But LGBT advocates argued that civil unions were unequal following the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision to strike down a portion of the federal 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). That recent decision paved the way for gay couples to receive federal benefits in states where same-sex marriages are recognized.

Long-time LGBT activist Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network, also announced Thursday that he and his partner, Aldo Hernandez, will be tying the knot.

Thayer stressed that it was the grassroots organizers, not the politicians, who helped make marriage equality a reality in Illinois.

"Yes (politicians) are the ones who did press the buttons down in the Illinois House a couple days ago, but they're not the ones who really did it," he told more than 50 people at Thursday's gathering. "The polls have been in favor of equal marriage rights in the state for quite a long time, and yet it was the Illinois House that was the impediment to the passage of SB 10, specifically the House Democratic caucus." 

Although the Senate gave preliminary approval of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act earlier this year, the measure was never called for a vote in the House before the spring session ended in May. State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), who sponsored SB 10 in the House, regrettably said the bill had not garnered enough votes for approval.

After the House fumbled on the bill, it looked as if the measure did not stand a chance in the fall veto session, explained Thayer.

"Yet in two weeks we turned that around," he noted.

Thousands of marriage equality supporters rallied and marched in Springfield on October 22, the first day of the fall veto session, to ramp up pressure on House lawmakers to take action on the bill.

"We put the squeeze on them. We put the squeeze on [House Speaker] Mike Madigan and we said that, 'If you do not pass this bill, it will be a failure of the House Democratic caucus and a failure of Mike Madigan,'" Thayer said. "Guess what? Mike Madigan finally got his ass in gear and he passed SB 10 because of you."

Here's more from Thayer:

Marquell Smith with the Inclusive Community Project, an organization working within communities of color to achieve full LGBT equality, acknowledged that the push for same-sex marriage in the state was a divided campaign at its start. The movement was successful, however, once the LGBT community united with labor, faith groups, youth organizations and people from all different walks of life, Smith explained.

Going forward, it's crucial that the community stays united and doesn't forget about the 35 remaining states that are still waiting on marriage equality, he said.

Those at the victory celebration made a point to stress that although the LGBT community has much to rejoice about, the fight for equal rights is not finished.

LGBT youth in the state are disproportionately homeless, schools often lack LGBT-affirming curriculum and there are too few services and resources for LGBT seniors, Thayer explained.

"We still need these kinds of social equality, not just legal equality," he stressed. "We need to take that next step in this state. We do not want to stop halfway."

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