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Chicago Marriage 7 Leave Court victorious

by Jonathan Lewis and the Chicago Marriage 7 - March 19-25

GLN permalink posted March 23, 2009

The “Chicago Marriage 7” – a group of lesbians and gays who on Valentine’s Day, staged a government sit-in where they were refused a marriage license – emerged victorious after all charges against them were dropped.

The Cook County State’s Attorneys Office indicated that it was not going to “pursue the matter.” The judge issued a “SOL” order for each defendant, which means the case has been stricken from the records. However, after the court date, the Chicago Marriage 7 and a small group of supporters issued a call for continued actions until full equality is achieved.

Valentine’s Day is all about love, so it was appropriate that seven activists associated with the LGBT rights groups Gay Liberation Network and Join The Impact Chicago participated in a “Freedom To Marry Day” action. They staged a sit-in at the Cook County Office of Vital Records to demand marriage equality for same-sex couples.

The seven participants – Buddy Bell, Erica Chu, Dale Fecker, Nick Ferrin, Jeff Graubart, Danielle Karczewski and Dan Ware – refused to leave the office voluntarily until a marriage license was issued to a same-sex couple. Although the clerks said they were supportive of the cause, no one issued a license, stating that Illinois law forbids it. At that point, the seven sat down on the floor, began singing and quoting from the Illinois Constitution.

The Vital Records employees and police allowed them to remain even after the official Saturday noon closing time. At 4 p.m., when the employees needed to go home and the seven still refused to leave, police finally arrested them, holding them in police custody for a period of nine hours. Their court date was set for Monday, March 9.

On that day, the seven met for brunch and traveled together on the CTA to the courthouse. They posed for “mugshots” and shared their feelings about the experience.

Buddy Bell: We are at a time in history where bills, court decisions, and ballot measures that have to do with queer rights are being put forward at an unprecedented pace and in every election cycle. The vast majority of recent political fights have to do with same-sex marriage, but the right to marry is not the only thing at stake in these battles. When marriage questions are decided in favor of the gay community, government actually sends a direct message to the citizens that LGBT people are worthy of respect. It sends the opposite message when the question is decided in the religious right’s favor. As individuals, we should not give a hoot what the government tells us to think, but we also must realize that the message sent will have ramifications for gay struggles across the board. Whether I think I will ever take advantage of same-sex marriage rights or not, I know that having those rights will help to blaze a trail toward other important rights for people like me.

Erica Chu: When the seven of us were sitting in at the Office of Vital Records, we sang the protest song “We Shall Overcome,” and the line for one of the verses is “We are not alone.” When the group of about four hundred protesters from the outdoor event marched down to the office to lend their support to our action, it was an important moment for me because I took note that we seven individuals were really and tangibly “not alone.” When we talk about seeking equal rights for all couples under the Illinois law, we are talking about a much larger group than seven, four hundred, or even the thousands who marched through the Loop. Chicago is a big city, Illinois is a big state, and the US is even larger. If we who live in such a progressive city do not stand up and speak out for LGBTQA rights, what chance do those living in more conservative and rural areas have? This issue is something very important to me because for many years, I lived in Nebraska, where even basic tolerance for LGBTQA identities is not common. Many would say that Prop 8 is a matter for Californians, but it’s a concern for us all because if we who can stand up and demand our rights fail to do so, we let ourselves down and those who aren’t able to stand with us.

Dale Fecker: I believe that this year is pivotal in the LGBT rights struggle and that drawing wider attention to the discrimination our community experiences is the first step in winning equality. I encourage community members and straight allies to seek out their local activist groups and show Illinois lawmakers and the rest of the country that now is the time for justice for LGBT people. President Obama’s campaign made big promises to our community in exchange for our nearly unilateral support. We must be diligent in holding the President and his administration to their promises and go one paramount step further by demanding full marriage equality for every citizen as the only constitutional option. There is no reason that such a wonderfully diverse community in a heartland blue state such as Illinois should not take its place among the leaders in LGBT equality. In my mind, Illinois is the great gay hope.

Nick Ferrin: Government ought to give rights, not take them away. Religion is one thing; civil law in the United States is an entirely different entity. Forcing the entire citizenry to adhere to certain religious tenets that only some of the citizenry believe is wrong. When the government moves to limit or remove rights from a group of citizens it acts against the principles this country was founded on. George Washington said America “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” At least in theory, it’s supposed to. Unfortunately, this has not always been true. Today, with the marriage laws as they are, excepting a few states, America IS the persecutor. Passing Prop 8-like measures is not the right direction for this country!

We are stronger when we are united, when we accept each other for who we are and learn to live with each other despite our personal differences. This country was meant to be for all and we better try to make it so. People who love each other need legal protection. Dividing society into groups based on who and what people are, giving one group certain rights while giving lesser rights to the other group is wrong. Anyone can do what we seven did if they get together and commit to it! It is a big hope of mine to see hundreds of thousands if not millions of people committing responsible, sensible acts of civil disobedience to express their view to the government until these needs are met.

Jeff Graubart: As a gay rights activist in the 1970s I went to jail a number of times, for a sit-in at the marriage license bureau as well as other acts of civil disobedience for lesbian and gay rights. In the 30-plus years since, we have made tremendous progress, but now we find ourselves engaged in the final battle. If we win marriage equality, we will have achieved equality in the eyes of the law; a great victory for LGBT people and a home-run for freedom and equality everywhere. However, if we lose to “the dark forces,” these fundamentalists will begin to chip away at other rights we won in the past four decades – rights won over their objections. This is especially bad in the midst of an economic depression where the search for scapegoats often turns deadly. Everything rides on this fight. I know that all seven of us feel we have done something that will make a difference. Next time, we hope a thousand will join us. We must win and we will win!

Danielle Karczewski: Our action is one of the proudest accomplishments of my 22 years. I think there has been a new fire burning in the hearts of LGBT people and our allies across the country since the passing of Proposition 8. I remember that, on that Tuesday in November, I was so torn between the joy of seeing Barack Obama elected to the presidency and the heartbreak of watching equal rights being stripped away from our brothers and sisters in California. So much anger and pain came from the passing of Prop 8, and so one of the things that sold me on this action was that it gave me a place to turn that anger into something constructive and meaningful. Breaking the law in the name of justice carried the kind of intensity that was needed to satisfy the part of me that wanted to do something to help, even though I’m halfway across the country. If our action can inspire just one more group of seven people to stand up to inequality through civil disobedience, and then another, and then another, then I will consider our action a real success.

Dan Ware: The perilous times we are living through have prompted me to consider what I truly believe in, and how far I am willing to go to take a stand for my ideals. I have witnessed fundamental American principles (like habeas corpus and privacy of communications that I always thought were absolutely guaranteed) swept away with the stroke of a pen during the last administration. It has made me acutely aware of the reality that I am a second-class citizen who has no legal basis for my relationship with my life partner of 14 years.I believe that if I get sick and go into the hospital, my partner should, by law, be able to come and visit me and participate in my healthcare decisions. I believe that if we both must go into a nursing home, I should be able, by law, to cohabit with the person I love. I believe that if I die, there should be an assumption on the part of the state that, by law, my partner inherits my property. I believe that whichever one of us lives longest should be entitled, by law, to the retirement benefits of the other. These rights, and many others, are granted to heterosexuals, but explicitly denied to me, by law. If I truly believe these things are basic human rights, I have no choice but to put myself out there on the front lines of the struggle for equality. My constitutional right to equal protection of the laws is being violated. Action is necessary.

Gay Chicago Magazine Interview with Danielle Karczewski:

03-26-2009 - Gay Chicago Magazine - Everyone's Got a Story [picture]


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