BELMONT CRAGIN — When friends put out the call to show lawmakers in Springfield what gay marriage might look like, Claudia Mercado and Angelica Lopez didn't think twice.
They piled into their car with their two small children at 6 a.m. Wednesday to make the 3½-hour trek to Springfield with a mission: to show lawmakers that, plain and simple, they're just another family.
"We were there to show them same-sex couples are just as ordinary as everyone else, and show that we do have families that we care about just like everyone else," Mercado said.
Mercado and Lopez are natural spokeswomen for the cause.
The two entered into a civil union the first day they could in June 2011, and on Feb. 7 of this year celebrated 15 years together.
They have a 4-year-old daughter, Isabel, and a 2-year-old son, Indigo. Lopez, 37, gave birth to them with help from a sperm donor, and Mercado, 35, adopted them.
"We want them to grow up and know their parents were married," Mercado said.
Though she and Lopez are in a civil union, Mercado said it still feels like something is different.
"I still can't call Angelica my wife because we're not really married," she said. "It's really not the same thing. It's not the same thing at all."
The gay marriage bill introduced by state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) passed the state Senate 34-21 last week on Valentine's Day. It now sits in a House committee awaiting a vote.
On Wednesday, same-sex couples and families from throughout the state flocked to the Capitol to find their representatives and talk to them.
What they didn't expect was that anti-gay groups had organized their own rally, including the suburban Illinois Family Institute, which makes fighting gay marriage and civil unions one of its main issues.
"We believe that all state and corporate 'domestic partners' policies that reward unnatural relationships erode marriage and the natural family (mother, father and children) as the proper foundation of our society," the group said on its website. "We support the enactment of a constitutional amendment in Illinois that will further protect marriage from being redefined by activist courts."
Lopez and Mercado said they were surprised to find the anti-gay marriage crowd when they arrived at the Capitol, but said both sides were polite and respectful.
"What I found overall was people were cordial to us, even though they were aware that we were their opposition," Lopez said.
The family didn't end up running into their own representative, Rep. Toni Berrios (D-Chicago), but said they still thought the day was a success.
"They saw our family, they saw our children, and I think that in and of itself was important," Lopez said. "I believe many people have an opinion about our family because they don't know us."
A spokesperson for the representative initially said Berrios would not state her stance on the bill until it is out of committee and she can review the final language, but in a tweet, Berrios said she is an "aye vote" on marriage equality.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect Rep. Toni Berrios' support for marriage equality.