It's time for marriage equality in Illinois

January 17, 2013

As our lawmakers get around to passing the legislation that the majority of Illinoisians already favor, as Pat Quinn and Rahm Emanuel voice their support, and as thousands of couples await an increasingly protracted decision on making their love legal, I have one message for Illinois.

It’s time.

It’s time to honor the two-year anniversary of civil unions in Illinois and become the tenth state to grant all couples equal protection under the law. It’s time to join the wave of states that have passed equal marriage legislation in the past few months—states like Washington, Maryland and Maine—and declare that we Illinoisans don’t discriminate on the issue of love. It’s time to show Americans that Maine 's vote for marriage equality—the first time in history that voters have stood behind same-gender marriage—wasn't a fluke. When almost half of Americans live in states that allow some form of recognition for all couples, it’s time to show them that a majority is coming. It's time to give couples in Minnesota, Michigan and the 27 other states with no forms of protections for same-gender partnerships further hope for change. It’s time to show that them we make it better—together.

Our friends, colleagues and loved ones have struggled mightily to be treated equally in their families and communities, for protection in their workplaces, and for society's acknowledgement that their identity isn’t a disorder. It’s time for our Congress to act as a witness to that movement and be a testament to that fight. It’s time for them to put aside petty, bipartisan squabbling and not allow the interests of hate groups, who seek to divide our communities for profit and publicity, to keep them from doing what’s right. It’s time for our representatives to listen to their businessmen, their religious leaders, their economists, their teachers, their neighbors and even the state’s GOP chairman and work as an agent for the social change their electorate demands.

Although Illinois is known more often for wind than for justice, it’s time to show America that our state is a force for good and affirm the principles we were founded on, the ones that made our cities great. It’s time to honor the work of our great community organizers—from Saul Alinsky to Barack Obama—who strove to make our state a better place for all of its citizens and who stood up for the marginalized and oppressed. It’s time to put our people—all of our people—first.

Whenever I find whatever sad soul is doomed to be with me for eternity and trick him into marrying me, it’s time that I know that I live in a state that believes I have that right—whether I decide to exercise it or not. It’s time for Illinois to realize that I have the right to choose who I want to be with and how I want to define that relationship—whether it’s with a shiny ring and City Hall, a commitment ceremony with swans and sherpas or just a simple Facebook relationship update that says I’m off the market. As an adult, it’s time I have the ability to decide what family is right for me—whether I want a husband and kids or a loving common law partner, like Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. I want to grow old with someone and be able to legally be by his side forever—whether that’s picking food out of his beard when he’s too tired to care anymore or being able to be with him in the hospital when it’s his time to go.

When we decide to pass marriage for everyone, it’s time for my mother to cry and hug me tight and ask when I’m finally going to settle down with a nice someone, and it’s time for me to start dodging that question for the next fifteen years. It’s time for my friends to wear the same bad wedding-party gear that straight folks have had the pleasure to suffer through all these years—toule, chiffon, hideous cuff-links—and relive all the mistakes of our high school prom photos. It’s time for Illinois to go to the prom again, but this time forever. It's time for unbridled happiness to light up my Facebook news feed and for me to be sickeningly jealous of my married queer friends and secretly hate them for being so adorable together. It’s time for all of us to be the Kristen Wiig at the wedding and to have to wear that terrible bridesmaid dress. It’s also time for me to start untagging those photos now.

After all the champagne bottles have been popped and the relationship statuses have been changed, it’s time for Illinois to realize that the fight for our families and relationships isn’t over with one bill. Yes, it's time to let everyone who wants to be married get hitched--but it's also time to focus on the people who need more than that, the folks who have waited just to be included in the social justice conversation. It’s time to talk about queer people of color; at-risk youth; bisexual invisiblity; the yearly violence that’s become a symbol of our community; the schisms in our community between black and white, young and old, east and west, urban and rural, trans and cis; and everyone in between. It’s time for the discourse to be a larger reflection of our diversity and give other people a chance to speak. It’s time for us to start working together to build a community that protects us all.

As same-gender couples await patiently the news—the headline they’ve been waiting decades to read—it’s time for them to be able to take the next step. It’s time for all of us to move forward with them.

Nico Lang blogs about LGBTQ life in Chicago for WBEZ.org. Follow Nico on Twitter @Nico_Lang or on Facebook.