Lambda Legal at the Illinois State Fair

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August 15, 2012
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Jim Bennett (center) at Lambda Legal's booth in the Illinois State Fair

State fairs are a staple of our American culture—well, at least it was for me. Everyone should go to their state fair at some point in their life. The Illinois State Fair (in Springfield through Sunday) is no different, and I’m proud that Lambda Legal, along with our sister organization Equality Illinois, is part of the first LGBT-focused booth in the fair’s history.

Being a Springfield native, I can say with confidence that the fair has not changed too much since I was a kid. Families come from all over for the 4H and farming competitions, eat novelty foods (the corndog was invented at the Illinois State Fair), enjoy carnival rides and, of course, visit the Dairy Building to see the famed butter cow. (It really is quite impressive.) So to be part of the “I Love Marriage for Same-Sex Couples” booth is beyond exciting. In planning our presence here, I asked myself, how would we be received? Would anyone sign our pledge to support marriage for same-sex couples? Would the response to our case seeking the freedom to marry in Illinois be greeted with the same enthusiasm we were used to getting in Chicago?

I’m thrilled to say that being at the Illinois State Fair has resulted in the most moving experience I’ve had at Lambda Legal, which is saying a lot! We’ve had so many kind and productive conversations with mothers, pastors, youth and sometimes entire families.

There was a mother with two kids who insisted they stop at our booth, and as she reached for a pen, said to her children, “We’ll get to the rides. I need to sign this now. We think everyone should be treated fairly, no matter who they love. That’s what our family values are.” There was another woman who came to our booth and said, “I actually think gay marriage is against the Bible. But this is America—everyone should have the same rights as everyone else. People can go to their government offices to get married. They don’t need to go a church. It’s not a religious thing, it’s a right.” I even spoke to a pastor who was openly supportive of civil unions, but not marriage. After talking with me for a while, he said, “You’ve given me a lot to think about. Thank you.”

Springfield is where I grew up. Even though I haven’t lived there for years, I still know my neighbors and even some of the local merchants. However, after talking with fair-goers about the work we’re doing at Lambda Legal and marriage for same-sex couples, I think I know my hometown better than ever. The time is right for Illinois to join the list of states that give all their citizens the freedom to marry. It’s just time.

Check out the photos from our booth on our Facebook page.

Sign our pledge to support the freedom to marry in Illinois.