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Engaged Cappleman Staffers Fighting for Gay Marriage in Illinois

By Adeshina Emmanuel | October 18, 2013 10:08am
Pushing for Marriage Equality
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Illinois Unites for Marriage

UPTOWN — While Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said he's headed to Washington state in November to wed his longtime partner, Richard Thale, Cappleman's chief of staff Tressa Feher and his political strategist Lauren Peters are set on marrying in Illinois — and determined to fight for marriage equality in the Land of Lincoln.

"We want to get married in Illinois," Feher said. "We thought about going somewhere else, but for our relationship and family, we decided that we did not want to go out of state — it's a very personal decision, and one we did not take lightly."

Feher expects to give birth to the couple's first child in November. The couple, which bought a condo in Uptown in 2012, doesn't know if the baby is a boy or girl, and has a few names picked out but is keeping them private for now, Feher said.

 Ald. James Cappleman (r) and his partner Richard Thale (l) plan to wed in Seattle in November.
Ald. James Cappleman (r) and his partner Richard Thale (l) plan to wed in Seattle in November.
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Facebook/James Cappleman

Feher and Peters recently were chosen as "Couple of the Week" by Illinois Unites For Marriage, a campaign pushing for marriage equality in Illinois.  

They appeared in a video for Illinois Unites and are featured in a paid advertisement for the organization that urges lawmakers Downstate to bring same-sex marriage to Illinois during the fall veto session from Tuesday until Nov. 7.

The Supreme Court ruled this year that married same-sex couples are entitled to federal benefits. And more states, including nearby Minnesota, passed laws allowing same-sex marriages this year. Meanwhile, a gay marriage bill sits stalled in the Illinois Legislature.

"Think about the families, and think about the lives that this affects," Peters says in the video. 

Feher said the couple wants lawmakers to "know that this is in their hands, and that they have an opportunity to make it right."

One reason Feher was drawn to Peters, she says in the video, "was that she wanted to have a family and she wanted to have kids, and I did, too."

The couple met in 2007 when they were both in Washington, D.C., working for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. They developed feelings for each other over time and became a couple in 2008.

About a year after that, Feher told Peters she was moving to Chicago for a career change and to be closer to her father, who had recently suffered a heart attack.

Peters followed her back to Illinois, where Feher got a job as a legislative aide for then-state Rep. Deborah Mell, and Peters began working on Cappleman's campaign.

Peters asked Feher to be her wife in 2011, and Feher accepted. But before the couple could plan their civil union ceremony, Feher received grave news: She found out she had breast cancer and would have to undergo a double mastectomy.

Feher said in an interview with Illinois Unites that she "had heard so many horror stories of partners being turned away from hospital rooms, being unable to make decisions for their spouse and not being allowed to support them."

Fortunately for the couple, hospital staff did not turn Peters away from the recovery room, and she was able to be at the bedside of the love of her life as Feher recovered.

But "having cancer is a true horror, and wondering if Lauren would be allowed to be by my side was an unnecessary worry,” Feher said.

Couples in civil unions don't have "any of the protections or responsibilities federal law provides to married couples," according to the Illinois branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"These include Social Security survivors’ and spousal benefits, federal veterans’ spousal benefits, immigration rights associated with marriage" and other rights, according to the ACLU.

Feher's boss Cappleman said he was headed to Seattle in November to marry Thale, his partner of 22 years. He said in a Tweet, "We need the federal protections and don't want to risk the wait."

Feher and Peters are committed to "doing whatever is asked of us to get the word out," about the need for passing a gay marriage law in Illinois, Feher said.

"However," she said, "we are both staying close to home since my due date is in 3 weeks!"