Fresh off the train back from the state senate in Springfield, the significance of this week finally dawned on fourth-year Mary Ella Simmons.
“It’s one of those amazing moments. State senators, they wear ordinary clothes, they live in normal, modest homes. But they fundamentally changed lives this week with the same-sex marriage bill,” she said.
Simmons was one of nine students who attended an Institute of Politics (IOP) trek to the state capital yesterday, the capstone day of a landmark legislative session.
The Illinois House of Representatives and State Senate passed a bill on Tuesday legalizing same-sex marriage, making Illinois the 15th state to do so. Governor Pat Quinn will sign the bill into law at a ceremony on November 20, and it will go into effect next June, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Supporters of the bill are heralding it as a milestone victory for same-sex couples across the state, and the bill will have a wide-ranging impact right here at the University.
First-year Alex DiLalla, who is gay, has seen both sides of this issue. After his home state of North Carolina passed an amendment last year restricting rights for same-sex couples, DiLalla redoubled his advocacy efforts for marriage equality upon entering the College.
“Having your state codify a denial of a part of your identity into the state constitution really fires you up...to make sure that never happens again in another state,” he said.
As the marriage equality leader of UChicago’s chapter of Organizing for Action, DiLalla organized phone banks for students to target state representatives that were opposed to or ambivalent toward marriage equality. Prepared for a drawn-out campaign, he was elated to learn the news on Tuesday.
“I was walking out of Bartlett, checking my phone. I saw this news update. I stopped and let out a ‘what the expletive.’ But that surprise quickly turned to happiness,” he said.
The bill will grant new rights to same-sex couples both intending to get married and already in civil unions, and will recognize marriages authorized in other states.
The University’s human resources department has provided equal benefits coverage to same-sex couples since 1992, following Weddstock, a campaign where queer activists staged weddings in protest of the University’s refusal to recognize domestic partnerships.
Despite these measures, being located in a state that previously did not allow same-sex marriage has resulted in enduring costs for same-sex couples at the University.
Last autumn, Carl Streed (A.B. ’07) was considering returning to Illinois to complete his medical residency. But, in what seemed like a choice between being able to marry his fiancé, who is also an alumnus of the College and of the Law School, and returning to Illinois, he chose the former.
Streed is now in residency training at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, where same-sex marriage passed in 2012. But he said that Tuesday’s ruling “puts Illinois back on the map.”
For Darren Reisberg, IOP executive director, the bill means that he and his partner will be able to upgrade their civil union certificate.
“As of June 1 next year, we fully intend to trade in our certificate for a marriage license. By virtue of that, we will have the same federal benefits that married couples have,” he said. “I moved to Illinois in 1999 and have loved living in Chicago and loved living in Illinois. It makes me very proud to see Illinois taking this step.”
But not all members of UChicago’s LGBTQ community are celebrating the bill. Second-year Kris Rosentel, an LGBTQ advisory board member, said he does not support same-sex marriage.
“Mainly, I think marriage is a historically misogynistic institution that queer communities should not strive to be a part,” he said in an e-mail. “When I heard marriage equality passed in Illinois...I wondered what could’ve been done if the effort, money, and momentum that went into advocating for the marriage equality bill had instead gone to a more pressing LGBTQ issue like homelessness or healthcare.”
But biology Ph.D. student Daniel Rabe (A.B. ’07) did not hesitate; for him, this ruling was a clear victory for the movement.
“I, along with many friends from the University of Chicago, had dreamed of getting married in Bond Chapel,” he said in an e-mail. “Until this week, that would not have been possible for the many LGBTQ students and alumni. With the passage of marriage equality in the state of Illinois, this dream can now become a reality.”