WEST ROGERS PARK — Hundreds of witnesses are expected to attend a group-marriage event at Unity in Chicago church June 1, when Illinois' marriage equality law goes into effect statewide.
Organizers say they expect two dozen couples — both same-sex and opposite-sex — to tie the knot in the church's garden, at 1925 W. Thome Ave.
"So much went into this day," said Jenn Henry, 38, who plans to marry her civil-union partner Leslie Henry, 45, during the ceremony. "All over the country, all over the state of Illinois, so many people worked so hard to achieve marriage equality; It’s truly a historic day."
Same-sex couples have been marrying in Cook County since a federal judge ruled licenses could be issued, but many couples in other parts of the state and in civil unions have been waiting for the law's official enactment.
Benjamin Woodard discusses the West Rogers Park event ahead of the June 1 ratification of the marriage equality bill:
Jenn and Leslie Henry met at Unity, a nondenominational church accepting followers of all religions, in 2010. At a mutual friend's barbecue shortly after, they hit it off.
"It just happened to be when Jenn got there she offered to get me something cold to drink," Leslie Henry said. "We’ve been inseparable ever since."
They held their civil-union ceremony in 2012 in Unity's garden, where next month they'll legally become wife and wife.
Even though they say they've been married "in the eyes of the Lord" for more than a year now, June 1 holds meaning, too.
"To be legally married to my wife, it's something that we deserve," Henry said. "This is our right, and we want to celebrate it."
Brian Fallon, 50, also plans to make his civil union with partner Fred Mahaffey, 65, a legal marriage.
Fallon said he met Mahaffey at Unity in 2000. In 2003, they held a commitment ceremony there, then 10 years later held a civil-union ceremony.
On June 1, their marriage will become wholly legal.
"Both of us feel like it's important to do everything that we can to — I don’t want to say legitimize — but have our relationship be recognized as nothing special but the norm," he said.
Fallon said he would also be supporting the other participating couples, including straight, soon-to-be newlyweds and couples who will be renewing their vows after 60 years.
Mike Basile and Heather Blaise, both Unity members, will be hitched during the ceremony.
The two met at college in the '90s, then reconnected in 2008. They have three kids together.
Blaise, whose twin brother is gay, said she first came to Unity because of its inclusiveness.
"I think it’s really important for my kids to see" marriage can be for everyone, she said.
There's also another perk of group weddings: "I don’t have to worry about planning," she said.
In all, more than two dozen couples — gay, lesbian and straight — are expected to take part in the ceremony, which begins 4 p.m. June 1 and is open to the public. More than 300 witnesses have signed up so far to attend.
The so far healthy response from the community hasn't surprised the Rev. Heidi Alfrey, senior minister at Unity.
"I think Chicago is one of the wonderful cities that has so much openness to diversity and equality," Alfrey said. "So ... we’ve just really allowed [the ceremony] to be about love."