Mell plans to marry in Iowa, despite civil unions bill

December 10, 2010

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(David McNew/Getty Images)
Same sex wedding cake toppers may be coming to Illinois.

Illinois State Representative Deb Mell says she plans to marry fiancée Christin Baker in Iowa, despite the likely passage of a civil unions bill next year.

“We’re thrilled and grateful, obviously,” Mell said about the law. “But we really want that marriage license.”
 
The Illinois Senate passed a bill last week that would approve civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. Governor Quinn has said he will sign the bill, which is expected to land on his desk sometime in January of 2011.
 
Mell comes from one of Illinois’ political dynasties; her father is 33rd Ward Alderman Dick Mell and her sister is Patti Mell Blagojevich. She is also a lesbian who has openly discussed her personal stake in the issue of gay marriage. “I’m not even thrilled about civil unions,” said Mell during a talk at the Chicago History Museum in September. “I’ll be quite honest - I want access to the institution of marriage.” Mell got engaged to her girlfriend Christin this year, and announced the engagement from the House floor.
 
Some gay rights advocates are celebrating the likely passage of the law, calling the bill a practical compromise in a political climate that may not have produced a gay marriage bill. Others, like WBEZ.org’s Vocalo blogger Achy Obejas, call the victory bittersweet, arguing that the new law will grant gay couples “all the rights of marriage except one: the ability to call their union what it really is.”
 
Mell voted in favor of the civil unions bill, despite whatever reservations she may have had. Speaking with great emotion in her voice, she urged her colleagues to vote “yes” for the measure during the debate on the floor of the Illinois House. “I assure you we are a family and we deserve the same rights that you enjoy,” she said. “Today with your yes vote, Christin and I can become family under the law.”
 
Mell says she and Baker plan to marry in Iowa, where she went to college and where gay marriage became legal in 2009. And in the audio excerpt posted above, Mell explains why marriage is fundamentally different to her, her partner and their families, and shares the story of their engagement. The story is taken from her September talk at the Chicago History Museum, which was moderated by Laura Washington. The protagonists may be unorthodox, but it’s a classic proposal story, right down to the part where she hides the ring in the crème brulee.
 
Dynamic Range showcases hidden gems unearthed from Chicago Amplified's vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Rep. Mell's talk at the Chicago History Museum took place in September of 2010 and was recorded by Chicago Amplified. Click here to subscribe to the Dynamic Range podcast, and click here for the full conversation with Rep. Mell.
 
Correction: an earlier version of this story misspelled Ms. Baker's name.