CHICAGO — Nearly 15,000 same-sex couples have wed in Cook County since Illinois legalized marriage equality six years ago, an achievement advocates and elected officials celebrated this week.
Then-Gov. Pat Quinn signed the marriage equality law in 2013, two years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled all states must allow same-sex unions.
Tuesday marked the sixth-year anniversary of the legalization.
“LGBT activists have been fighting for equality for a very long time,” Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough said during a news conference. “It wasn’t easy, and it certainly wasn’t simple.”
On Nov. 27, 2013, Patricia Ewert and Vernita Gray became the first same-sex couple to marry in the state. When Gray died in March 2014, their legal marriage made a tangible difference while Ewert settled her late wife’s affairs.
“It meant a lot to me for many reasons,” Ewert said. “I only had Vernita around for a few short months after our marriage, but I’ll tell you that when I had to settle her affairs, and I had to make those telephone calls and say, ‘I am Vernita Gray’s wife’ … it made a difference. It made a difference in the way they treated me, and it made a difference in what I was able to accomplish.”
Six years after that first legal wedding, same-sex couples from across the Midwest have traveled to Cook County to obtain a marriage license.
As of Nov. 15, the clerk’s office had issued 14,860 to same-sex couples, some of whom traveled from Louisville, Indianapolis, Milwaukee and other cities, according to an analysis by the clerk’s office. This year, the clerk’s office has issued an average of 114 marriage licenses to same-sex couples every month.
“These are our fights like racism and voter suppression are,” Yarbrough said. “Some people might say (marriage) isn’t so important— it’s so middle class and class arrangement, but it’s a big deal.”