"There are those who will say that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind is nothing but a dream. They are right. It is the American Dream."
—Illinois poet and lawyer, Archibald MacLeish
The Land of Lincoln is accustomed to being at the center of the human rights struggle of our time. In every generation, a few brave Illinoisans chose to take a stand for what is right. They called upon their government to end inequality, and questioned ingrained practices that were accepted by most people at the time, but that worked a terrible injustice. Their voices propelled the nation forward. Our proudest native son, Springfield lawyer Abraham Lincoln once wrote “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” The Lincoln-Douglas debates, held throughout Illinois, were the crucible for our country’s imperative to end slavery.
Poet and civil rights activist Carl Sandburg, who reflected, “Nothing happens unless first a dream,” drew inspiration from his birthplace, Galesburg, where Lincoln began to challenge Douglas’ position on the morality of slavery.
The agitation of Illinois labor activists such as Albert and Lucy Parsons led, at the cost of Albert’s life, to passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Jane Addams, founder of Hull House, turned the nation’s attention to the role that mothers play in the strength and development of stable families and thriving communities. She knew that if women were to be responsible for their families and communities, they needed the vote. She championed the message that families do better when all are granted equality.
In campaigning for suffrage, Addams was joined by Evanston resident Frances Willard and Ida B. Wells Barnett, a Chicago journalist and anti-lynching crusader who helped form the NAACP. Illinois became the first state east of the Mississippi to grant women the right to vote for president, and the mobilization of Illinois women voters in 1914 transfixed the nation. Our state went on to be the first in the nation to pass the Nineteenth Amendment, and the first to pass an equal rights amendment to its state constitution.
In a later generation, it was Senator Everett Dirksen of Pekin who was key to passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He knew racial discrimination was wrong, immoral, and unjust, and had the courage to stand on principle.
And recently, President Barack Obama, who began his career as a community organizer in Chicago, affirmed that same-sex couples should be able to get married.
Each of these Illinoisans pointed the way for the rest of the nation. The 16 same-sex couples and their children in Lambda Legal’s lawsuit join this proud tradition by seeking to realize their dream of belonging to married families.
Lead plaintiffs Jim Darby and Patrick Bova of Chicago have been together for over 48 years. Darby worked in the stockyards before enlisting to fight in the Korean War. He and Bova, a librarian, met on the south side of Chicago, fell in love in 1963, and have been in a committed relationship ever since.
For Darby and Bova, marriage is central to their values and concept of family. Many of the other couples who join them in bringing suit have children. These couples seek to marry not only to demonstrate the depth of their love and commitment to each other, but to secure their children’s future and show their children that their family deserves respect.
For twenty years, Lambda Legal has been in Illinois – the only national organization specifically focused on securing LGBT rights with a consistent presence in the heartland. Illinois is our hometown and the value of equality has been taught to us since we were children. We learned in our schools that, although Mr. Lincoln was not always popular, history vindicated his courageous leadership.
Our Midwest values inform our work. Lambda Legal’s Illinois case seeking marriage for same-sex couples draws upon our values of life-long commitment and responsibility for our children. It is about the freedom to be true to oneself, to love, and to marry.
It’s time for Illinois.