Waiting is hardest part for those watching Illinois’ same-sex marriage vote

May 24, 2013

(WBEZ/Tony Arnold)
Maggie Moran (left) and Amanda Marquez prepare for their June civil union ceremony, regardless of whether the Illinois state legislature approves a bill allowing same-sex marriage.

For months, members of the Illinois State House have been waiting to call same-sex marriage for a vote. Sponsors say they don’t quite have the votes needed to pass the bill yet. But all that waiting has consequences.

Imagine what Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood would be like if same-sex marriage is approved in Illinois.

Imagining is Chuck Hyde’s job. “We’ve been kind of on-the-ready,” Hyde said.

Hyde manages the bar Sidetrack in the heart of Boystown on Halsted Street.

“We decorate big. Our events are big. It’s a fun bar. And it can hold a lot of people,” he said. "More than 1,200 people, actually."

I caught up with Hyde just as construction crews were wrapping up a renovation of the interior of the bar. It has several rooms, a few bars and an outdoor patio; the kind of place Hyde is hoping people will come to to celebrate bachelor or bachelorette parties. Or wedding receptions.

Hyde was hoping construction would be done in time so he could host a celebration in case the state legislature voted in favor of same-sex marriage.

Instead – he’s been waiting.

“There were a number of weeks back that we thought it might be very close and we were kind of waiting by the phone. Literally, the vote’s going up, the vote’s not going up,” Hyde said. “And if it was going to happen, we were ready. We had ordered champagne, we had glassware ready. We were ready for the balloons. We had posters. We had all kinds of things. We had some signs and we were going to let the world know that we were thrilled and throwing a party. And ready to celebrate.”

Hyde said the champagne is still in a cooler, waiting.

He said he was underprepared when same-sex civil unions passed in Illinois two years ago. The demand for a party when that passed was bigger than he anticipated.

So he’s trying not to leave anything to chance this time around.

That means, though, he’s been on edge for more than three months. The Illinois State Senate approved same-sex marriage in February. Since then, it’s lingered in the House of Representatives. Supporters say they’ve been waiting to call it for a vote because they don’t have the necessary 60 yes votes.

As wedding season arrives, those in the wedding business have had a lot of uncertainty about what their summer will look like.

“All of the wedding industry is following it very, very closely,” said Beth Bernstein, a Chicago wedding planner who operates SQN Events.

Bernstein said she helped plan a midnight civil union ceremony for six couples who wanted to file as soon as possible two years ago.

But since civil unions passed, things have plateaued.

“I don’t think it provided the lasting effect of the business that we thought we may see,” Bernstein said.

She’s seeing many couples waiting for word from Springfield before planning their wedding.

But for Amanda Marquez and Maggie Moran, waiting is not appealing.

Their Logan Square apartment has neatly organized shelves lined with books and tv show dvds.

Close by is a small pile of purple, green and blue origami paper stars.

“So this is going to make us look really bad, really tacky,” joked Moran. “We’re actually using the rainbow (as the colors of the wedding). But we’re not going for the whole rainbow effect. So we’re doing like half of the tables are warm colors and then the other half of the tables are cool colors.”

Moran and Marquez are having a civil union ceremony on June 22nd. If the proposed bill passes, they could apply to have that civil union turned into a marriage.

Marquez said she doesn’t want to wait on the government for other things, like buying a house or having kids, so why wait for the legislature.

“Not knowing exactly when, you know, how things will go in Springfield, when it will happen, we just moved forward,” Marquez said.

Moran said it will be heart-wrenching if same-sex marriage fails in Springfield. But she said it would be more heart-wrenching not committing to Marquez. She said that’s too much to put on one vote.


Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.