Gay couples celebrate right to marry

Jun 3, 2014

Same-sex couples throughout Illinois can tie the knot for the first time this week. Dozens of counties around the state began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples Monday. But state law imposes a one-day waiting period before they can actually get hitched. Illinois Public Radio's Alex Keefe spent Monday morning in the suburbs with some couples preparing for their big day.

Barbara McMillan and Roseann Szalkowski have now been together long enough that it’s hard to interview them individually.

MACMILLAN: "We decided to get..."

SZALKOWSKI:.."commitment rings, after we were together about a year. So we’ve been waiting that long."

KEEFE: "So this is, like, maybe 13 years?"

BOTH: "Yes, yes."

That’s a total of 14 years for the couple from Roselle. And they do a lot of this - finishing each others’ sentences - as we sit outside a coffee shop in suburban Wheaton, just across the street from the commuter rail tracks.

It’s just after 7 a.m. on Monday, their marriage day, as Szalkowski explains why they wear these commitment rings on their right hands.

"And when we got the civil union, we said we’re gonna keep these rings on our right hand, because it’s not marriage. So today, that’s our ceremony - we’re gonna move our rings to our left hands and look like every other married couple."

They’ve been fighting to look like every other married couple for a while. On Valentine’s Day, they’ve made a tradition of going to the DuPage County Clerk’s office, and asking for a marriage license - and getting turned away because same-sex marriage was illegal. After several years, they even got to know the staffers...

"And they would say, well keep coming back! And some day, we’re gonna give this to you, ya know? And that felt good, but we knew that, if we did keep coming back that there would be a day when we would be able to do it."

For same-sex couples across Illinois, today is the first day they can actually marry in all 102 counties. More than a dozen counties granted licenses before the June First start of the new law, following a federal court order.

But the vast majority waited until Monday morning to begin handing out new marriage licenses to gay couples, or converting civil unions for couples like McMillan and Szalkowski. When they show up at the DuPage County Clerk’s Office, just before 8 o’clock, there isn’t exactly a rush...

"Really? Where is everybody?" asks McMillan.

As they wait for the doors to open, supporters from a gay rights group hand out pink and white roses to the couples. At 8 AM, there are still only two...

McMILLAN: "So somebody is here ahead of us."

MANCINI-CONWAY: "It’s so exciting I probably won’t remember anything about this, that’s how exciting it is."

David Mancini-Conway and his partner, Dan McGuire are first in line. And after 23 years together, McGuire says there are pragmatic reasons for transferring their civil union to a marriage.

McGUIRE: "We’re gonna go see our tax preparer on the way home..."

MANCINI-CONWAY: "...and finally file, ‘cause we did an extension in anticipation of our being married...You know, guys are practical about these things."

But for Catherine and Jevelyn Verbic, who emerge from the clerk’s office, marriage license in hand, it was pure emotion.

"I was in there crying," says Catherine.

"She was crying," says Jevelyn.

"I was so excited! I was so excited," says Catherine.

The couple from Naperville has been together 28 years. Jevelyn’s a nurse, though Catherine can’t work due to her multiple sclerosis which is one reason the couple says they wanted the legal protection of a marriage.

"Not because we have to have a piece of paper to be married, but to be able to take care of each other," says Jevelyn.

"My main reason is I want the piece of paper so I can shout to the world, look I can wave it and say, “Look at me! Ha ha ha! I’m married!” Just get treated like everybody else," says Catherine.

Inside the clerk’s office, the staff recognizes McMillan and Szalkowski from those years of unrequited Valentine’s Day visits. But this time, after a few signatures...

"And now, you are officially married now, so there you go. Congratulations"

After they switch their rings - from the right hand, to the left - I ask them, what feels different?

McMILLAN: "It’s, um -"

SZALKOWSKI: "It’s a piece of paper that -"

McMILLAN:  -"it says marriage. You know? It really says marriage. It’s like, wow! It really says marriage!"

Our interview gets interrupted by another staffer in the DuPage County Clerk’s office, a woman who’s so happy for Barbara McMillan and Roseann Szalkowski she actually tears up a bit when tells the couple how she’s gonna miss seeing them around the office next Valentine’s Day.