CHICAGO — The Supreme Court's decision to extend the right to marry to same-sex couples across the United States is being celebrated in the city.
And when Chicago's gay community celebrates, they gather at Sidetrack, 3349 N. Halsted St.
“This really is our community center in so many ways. This is where we came when HIV and AIDs became a huge threat to our community. It’s where we gather any time there’s something horrible or something awesome. And there’s nowhere else we should be today than in an awesome gay bar,” said Jim Bennett, regional director of Lambda Legal.
Bennett and other leaders within Chicago’s gay community joined Mayor Rahm Emanuel at Sidetrack on Friday to celebrate.
“Today, marriage is a right for all, and no longer a distinction for some. It has been a journey from Stonewall to the Supreme Court. We will no longer have gay or straight marriage in America, there will be [simply] marriage,” Emanuel said.
The ruling “allows America to be truer to its values,” particularly the need to respect diversity, the mayor said.
“All of us try to raise our children with a sense of values, and I can’t thank the gay and lesbian community enough for waging this battle so we finally have a set of laws that actually reflect what we are trying to teach our children at home,” Emanuel said.
The Supreme Court's decision comes just day before this Sunday's Chicago Pride Parade, which celebrates and honors the LGBT community. The decision was applauded by local leaders like Ald. Deb Mell (33rd).
Mell, who is openly lesbian and was married from 2011-2014, said she was in a meeting when she saw the news on Twitter. She said there has been a "pretty quick" shift in the country, with the first state legalizing marriage for same-sex couples in 2004 to marriage equality for all 50 states on Friday.
"It's pretty amazing to live in a time when this is legal, and I'm just really grateful for everyone who has worked so hard for this — the legal teams, the activists, the politicians," Mell said. "I'm really excited for the kids who dreamt of their wedding day, and now it can come through for them."
Mell said the growth in support came from a growing understanding in younger generations and greater visibility in society.
"I think it's personal relationships, and that's why coming out is so important. Because when you have family members and friends and clergy and teachers, and they're gay, you say, 'Wait a minute. They're not so much different from me.' And that's really the driving force," Mell told DNAinfo Chicago.
Just last week, Mell was one of five Chicago aldermen who formed the LGBT Caucus, joining Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), the city's first openly gay alderman, and Aldermen James Cappleman (46th), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and Raymond Lopez (15th). Tonight, though, there's only one person with whom she'll be celebrating.
"I'm going to be with my girlfriend, and I think we're going to get out of town for the night," Mell said.
Tunney, who is gay, took to Facebook to write about the ruling, saying many thought equal marriage rights wouldn't be afforded to same-sex couples during their lifetimes.
"We have fought hard to secure equal rights and must continue to share in the responsibility of building a great community, society and country," Tunney wrote.
But Tunney said there is still work to do as members of the LGBT community can be fired for their identity, youth homelessness disproportionately affects the community and visibility and acceptance for transgender people are only beginning to gain ground in many places. He also noted that HIV and AIDS still affects the community "and the stigma surrounding it is pervasive."
"This is a banner day for our community and we look forward to celebrating this and our many victories this weekend at the Pride Parade and other Pride events," Tunney said.
Ramirez-Rosa also applauded the Supreme Court's decision, saying "this victory is hard-won" in a statement.
“It is a humbling and overwhelming opportunity to stand as an elected official and celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling with not just the LGBQT community, not just with the people of Chicago, but with a country that has at long last declared that the fundamental right to marriage and family shall no longer be denied to my LGBQT sisters and brothers," Ramirez-Rosa said in the statement.
Maressa Spinak, 31, of Lakeview, said she plans to celebrate the news with gay friends Friday night and through the weekend.
"It's a day to be proud for this country," Spinak said. "Everyone should be treated equally and [this ruling] reaffirms what we try to stand for as a nation.
"In the last 10 years, we've seen a shift in public opinion and people are understanding that certain rights are inalienable."
Stacy Bridges, 46, of Boystown, said the Supreme Court's decision made Friday "the best day in gay history.
"The Supreme Court sent a great message that hate is no longer in this country," he said.
Rob Downey, 25, of Boystown, said it's "exciting" to be a part of the decision and to have more rights.
"People have been waiting for the right to marry someone you love for so many years," Downey said.
Downey said the news is sure to heighten the elation during this weekend's Pride Parade. Chuck Dewberry, 61, lives in Memphis but is visiting for Pride weekend. He said he lived in Chicago for 20 years.
"I'm 61 years old. I came out when I was 18. I never thought this would happen in my lifetime, so it's great to see," Dewberry said. The ruling "is just giving people more reason to celebrate. The parade is a perfect way to top it off."
Eric Wilkerson, of Edgewater, said he used to live in Arkansas, which didn't have same-sex marriage before the ruling, "so this is exciting news."
With this ruling, "there is no such thing as gay marriage. It's just marriage," Wilkerson said. "It's a huge step in the right direction, but we still have a lot left to do."
Peter Johnson, 24, of Uptown, said his day has been filled with excitement over the ruling.
"I'm grateful that for over a year Illinois has allowed same-sex marriage. Now you can go to any state and have that same recognition," Johnson said. "It gives me pride in my country."
The Northalsted Business Alliance released a statement expressing support for the Supreme Court's ruling just minutes after it was announced.
"Today is a proud day," the statement said. "Northalsted salutes the Supreme Court for their decision to embrace marriage equality. As Chicago’s Proudest Neighborhood, we are thrilled to commemorate this history making milestone. We ask those that join us to celebrate to embody the mantra of Keep Pride Proud."
Politicians, businesses and Chicagoans have celebrated the decision
Cook County Clerk David Orr wrote in a statement, "Justice delayed is justice denied. ... For too long, same-sex couples in this country have had to wait: for state legislatures to pass marriage equality; for judges to declare that withholding this right was unconstitutional; and for voters to turn back anti-equality initiatives, just so they could marry the person they love.
“Like all civil rights struggles, the fight for marriage equality has been long and contentious, but those on the front lines worked hard and kept their focus steady, as their victories increased."
Same-sex couples in Illinois were able to marry starting in February 2014, making Illinois the 16th state to legalize same-sex marriage. More than 7,500 marriage licenses for same-sex couples have been issued since then, according to Orr. More than a quarter of all same-sex marriage licenses issued in the county are issued to couples who come from outside the state, according to county officials.
The legalization of marriage for same-sex couples made the 2014 Pride Parade "uplifting," parade coordinator Rich Pfeiffer said at the time. Weddings were conducted on floats at the parade and couples spoke of their plans to get hitched in the coming months.
"It's volumes. It's ... everything that everyone's been fighting for, to be on an equal level," said attendee Kathleen Weiss, 45, of Plainfield. Weiss attended the parade with her partner, Bonita Scudella, and they talked about their plans to get married later in the year. "It means that everyone here has finally accomplished the biggest thing they can ever think of.
"You're not just a second-class citizen."
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