While light rain began to fall early Saturday evening, some 75 protesters gathered in the heart of Boystown for a rally and march that called for the repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and a renewed push for same-sex marriage equality in the state of Illinois.
The rally was intentionally scheduled just over a week after Illinois' new civil union law became effective. The law allows same-sex couples and others to enjoy the benefits associated with marriage within state boundaries. Outside of Illinois, however, a discrepancy continues due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), legislation passed under the Clinton administration in 1996 that strictly defines marriage, from a federal perspective, as between one man and one woman.
Judy Heithmar, a member of Join The Impact Chicago (JTIC), one of the organizations sponsoring the rally, told Huffington Post Chicago countering the recent "hoopla" that painted the civil union passage as an achievement of equality for the LGBT community was a major motivation behind putting on the event.
"People just aren't aware of the fact that we're still denied 1,138 rights that DOMA prevents us from getting," Heithmar said. "Our purpose with this event was to make people aware of the reality that we're still second-class citizens and that equality has not been won and is far from won in Illinois. We're going to be out in the streets until we have that."
Lauren Fleer, another JTIC member, recently married her partner of nine years in Iowa, where marriage equality was approved in early 2009. She said the Iowa official who approved their union asked why they, as an Illinois couple now permitted to enter into a civil union, had crossed the border into the Hawkeye State for a marriage license.
"I think it's generally presumed that civil unions are the same thing as marriage and that's a mistake," Fleer said. "They gave us civil unions because they didn't want us to have marriage. We have one set of laws for all the straight people and now we're going to give you a separate and lesser set of laws for all you same-sex loving people and that's unacceptable."
Another protester, Gay Liberation Network's Brent Holman-Gomez, spoke to how DOMA has prevented him from sponsoring his partner of more than a decade, a foreign national, for citizenship. If they were a heterosexual couple, they would have the option of marriage and a civil union does not similarly create a path toward citizenship.
"Our lives, our caring, our vulnerabilities that we open up to each other must be respected. Caring for each other is not a political game," Holman-Gomez said.
Following a brief rally held in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven located at the corner of Halsted and Roscoe, protesters took to the streets and marched, with police protection, down Halsted, west on Belmont, north on Clark and east on Addison as dusk fell. Marchers chanted slogans like "This is what democracy looks like" and, in a message tailored toward less politically engaged members of the community, "Out of the bars and into the streets." At least a dozen passersby appear to have done exactly that, as the size of the protest appeared to have increased somewhat by the march's end.
Ryne Poelker, a speaker representing both JTIC and the International Socialist Organization, encouraged protesters to resist the urge to be patient in waiting for progress on the repeal of the DOMA law and called for continued engagement with the issue.
"If history has taught us anything, [it's that] justice is not brought through patience. Justice is brought by impatience," Poelker said. "Today our names are on the moment and when your name is on the moment, you have two options: You either act selfish, don't care, don't do anything, remain silent and know your place. The other option is to end the silence."
Though President Barack Obama earlier this year stated his belief that DOMA is unconstitutional and would no longer be defended by the U.S. Department of Justice, the law remains on the books. Republican members of the House of Representatives moved to hire a legal team to step in and continue to defend the law in several ongoing court cases.
Legislation repealing DOMA -- the Respect for Marriage Act -- was introduced in both houses of Congress in March but has thus far failed to gain much traction. In the House, the bill has 111 co-sponsors and in the Senate, only 25 have lined up behind the measure to date. Among Illinois lawmakers, Senator Richard Durbin (D) has cosponsored DOMA repeal, as well as five Democratic members of the House, Danny Davis; Luis Gutierrez; Jesse Jackson, Jr.; Mike Quigley and Jan Schakowsky.
Other organizations who co-sponsored the rally also included LGBT Change, Bisexual Queer Alliance Chicago, News & Letters Committee and the All Saints Episcopal Church's Justice Circle.
The Morning Email helps you start your workday with everything you need to know: breaking news, entertainment and a dash of fun. Learn more