Same-sex couples celebrate marriages in Will County
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org June 2, 2014 3:06PM
These three couples were the first three in line at the Will County Clerk's office Monday morning âÂ the first day same-sex marriage licenses were available. Pictured are David Luecht (from left) and Mark Frost, of Joliet; Patricia Ferchland and Fara Bingham, of New Lenox; and Russ Lipari and Ron Steinacher, of Shorewood. They are all friends who went together to convert their civil unions to marriages and celebrated afterward by going out for breakfast together. | Susan DeMar Lafferty/Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 4, 2014 6:14AM
Madonna Mikaitis cried. Raymond Cam’s hands shook as he filled out the paperwork. John Stachulak admitted to being “so nervous.”
After being in relationships for 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years in the case of some gathered Monday in Will County, it was, in their words, a “momentous day,” a “historical day” and a day they thought they would never see in their lifetime.
Same-sex marriages became legal in Illinois as of Sunday, and before Will County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots opened her doors at 8:30 a.m. Monday, three couples — all close friends — were the first to get in line.
“I can’t believe it,” Russ Lipari said as he hugged his friends after they all got their marriage licenses. “All those trips to Springfield, all those letters we wrote ... ” he said, referring to the effort it took to legalize same-sex marriages.
New Lenox couple Patricia Ferchland and Fara Bingham were technically the first to arrive, at about 7:45 a.m., but allowed Lipari and Ron Steinacher to go first since they had been together the longest — 38 years. They were followed by David Luecht and Mark Frost, of Joliet.
“We were childhood sweethearts,” Lipari said, explaining that he met Steinacher when both were music majors at Eastern Illinois University. Both are retired music teachers.
“If you get a prize, like a new car or a new toaster, just remember we were first in line,” said Bingham, joking with Lipari.
Everyone was smiling, congratulating each other, and posing for pictures.
The three couples celebrated by going out for breakfast together, but planned no special celebrations beyond that. All had civil unions and commitment ceremonies when civil unions became legal in 2011, and all long had advocated to have the same rights as other married couples.
For Luecht, having the marriage license was an “affirmation.”
“You’re stuck with me now,” he said jokingly to Frost, as he waved the marriage license in the air. He was previously married with two children. But when his relationship with Frost started, he said, “I did not have the same benefits, the same rights and protections as I did when I was married.”
There are 1,086 actual laws and benefits that will now impact them, Luecht said, such as sharing Social Security benefits, filing joint federal tax returns and making medical decisions.
Bingham said when Ferchland was in a serious accident in 1996 and needed to be resuscitated, she was not allowed in her hospital room and could not make medical decisions on her behalf.
Moving to another state where same-sex marriages were legal was “not an option,” Frost said. “We love our community and have a great support network here.”
That was obvious on Monday morning.
There was a steady stream of same-sex couples, many of whom knew each other. There was one heterosexual couple getting a marriage license as well, but on this day, they seemed like the odd couple.
Within the first hour, clerks converted seven civil unions into legal marriages, and the date of their marriages will now revert back to the date of their civil unions.
“It’s awesome. It’s wonderful,” said Derrick Berlin, of Shorewood, now legally married to Richard Velez. “It’s a very momentous day. I cannot express my emotion. We are now at the same level as everyone else.”
Mikaitis cried as she left Voots’ office with her now legal spouse, Evelyn Jones, of Monee. They met at work 22 years ago.
“I never thought this would come true,” she said.
Many planned to hyphenate their names now that they are married.
One marriage license was issued to the soon-to-be-wed Stachulak and his partner Steve Cano, of Steger.
They were in line at 6:30 a.m. at the Will County courthouse — a few blocks away — and didn’t find out they were at the wrong place until the courthouse opened at 8:30 a.m. They arrived fourth at the county clerk’s office.
They didn’t mind — they still had the first marriage license that was not a conversion from a civil union.
“We wanted it all to be legal. We wanted a real marriage and a real wedding,” said Stachulak, who has been with Cano for 13 years. They are planning a ceremony and reception for 120 guests in their back yard.
“A civil union didn’t seem real to me. It was not legal enough, not serious enough,” he said.
Cano and Stachulak, and a few other couples, also feared there would be anti-gay and lesbian protestors outside the clerk’s office but were relieved to see none.
That’s why Ferchland and Bingham said they decided to be “brave” and wear their “Love Conquers Hate” T-shirts.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Stephen Marchetti, of Lockport, who was finally legally married to his partner of 40 years, Raymond Cam. “In my formative years, to be gay was considered a mental illness.”
Monday also was the third anniversary of their civil union, but they planned no special celebration.
“It’s not about the celebration,” Cam said.
“We always considered ourselves married,” Marchetti said, adding that their “marriage” outlasted many others in his family. “It’s wonderful.”
Twenty-two same-sex couples got marriage licenses to convert their civil unions into marriages Monday in Will County. Nine couples who were not in civil unions also got marriage licenses.