The law often takes a long time to catch up with society’s values and
needs. But on June 1, 2014, Illinois made a giant leap toward equality
when it passed the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, which
grants marriage rights to same-sex couples.
Among these rights
are things different-sex spouses take for granted – the right to visit
a loved one in the hospital and make medical decisions, receive
insurance and veteran benefits, inherit without a will, parent and
adopt jointly, and receive tax benefits.
When the act was
passed, couples who had civil unions had a one-year grace period to
convert their civil union to a marriage at no cost. They had the option
of making the marriage date retroactive to the date of the civil union.
was December 5, 2011 when Lauren Mudrak and Ashley Wierema met. Even
though same-sex marriage was not recognized in Illinois at the time,
Lauren says, “I feel like I’ve always wanted to marry Ashley.”
friend recommended the two women meet each other, and their
relationship began as a series of cordial emails. Ashley points to one
of Lauren’s emails that ended formally with “Best regards.”
emailed back and forth for a while, and then we met at the bar, and I
was just very taken with her,” says Lauren looking at Ashley. “I don’t
know if you were taken with me.”
“Not at all,” Ashley jokes.
the law couldn’t come soon enough, it was just in time for these two,
who got engaged six months after it passed. “It just happened to work
out that way,” says Ashley. “I think we would have proceeded with a
civil union. We would have gotten married our own way.”
a civil union would join them by law, it would deprive them of many
rights opposite-sex couples are entitled to — over 600 of them in
Illinois and 1,100 federal.
Michael Nordman is the Director of Development at Equality Illinois
which played a role in the passing of the Marriage Fairness Act. The
organization’s marriage campaign educated people on the differences
between a legal marriage and a civil union. “We did a lot of work on
forums and what rights [same-sex couples] had and what rights they
“We collected almost 12,000 signatures that we
then turned in to lawmakers in the districts where we needed support,”
says Michael. Among the names on this list were 100 executives of
Illinois and national corporations, as well as 1,200 faith leaders.
Thanks to the new law, Lauren and Ashley will have the rights promised
to all married people in Illinois when they tie the knot.
truth is, I probably hounded Ashley for six months like a professional
telemarketer,” says Lauren. “I was relentless. I told her, ‘I’m done.
Talk to me about marriage when you’re ready to pop the question or
don’t talk to me at all.’”
“She didn’t know, but I had already started planning something,” says
month later, Ashley enlisted a photographer friend’s help and made a
plan for the day after their three-year anniversary. “The night before,
I was at my holiday party talking to my coworkers, and I started
freaking out. I didn’t know what I was doing.”
The next morning
was awkward as she made a lame excuse to leave the house early in the
morning. She drove to Fabyan Forest Preserve in Geneva and walked the
entire thing, making sure she knew her game plan for later in the day.
Ashley wanted it to be a surprised, Lauren had given her a warning: “My
stipulation was that I couldn’t be homeless looking.” Ashley treated
Lauren to a manicure while she was at her work party the previous
evening, and before their walk, she suggested Lauren dress for dinner
in case there wasn’t time after their walk.
“How many geese do
you think are over there?” said Ashley, trying to distract Lauren so
she could look around for the photographer.
“It was so stupid. I should have known,” says Lauren, “but I know how
many geese were there.”
wanted to propose in front of the wrought iron swirls and concrete
pillars of the park’s gates, but when she paused and said, “This is a
cool gate,” Lauren said, “Yeah, cool,” and tried to keep walking.
Despite her nerves, Ashley stopped Lauren and proposed. Lauren’s months
of hounding were finally over.
some exploring, their plan is to have an intimate ceremony with family
and close friends followed by a pig roast at Hawthorne’s Backyard in
“We figured we’re non-traditional as it is; why
not do something non-traditional?” says Lauren. “We chose a pig roast
because it was unique and fun and represented the kind of party we
wanted to have by abandoning a lot of traditional norms.” The couple
plans on treating guests to sand volleyball, wiffle ball, bags, and
Planning aside, both women knew their priorities: “We thought first and
foremost to get married,” says Lauren.
reason to keep it simple is because down the road if we decide to have
kids, that’s really expensive,” says Ashley. “I think what’s important
to us is that our family is there.”
Although they haven’t chosen their outfits quite yet, Lauren knows
she’ll wear a dress.
“I’ll probably wear a dress shirt and pants with a bowtie and
suspenders,” says Ashley.
doing a non-traditional outfit,” says Lauren. “I’m sticking to
something more conventional.” They’re excited to blend their different
styles for an overall look that speaks to their personalities.
the couple was looking at venues, there was an extra step they had to
take. “We reached out to the venues to see if they were same-sex
friendly,” says Ashley. “Ninety percent said, ‘Yes.’ The others we
didn’t hear back from.”
“Straight couples don’t have to call and
say, ‘Hey, are you straight-friendly?’ It’s just an awkward
conversation to have,” says Lauren.
To avoid aggravation,
wedding planning guide for same-sex
couples. “We tried to identify LGBT-friendly florists, bakers,
jewelers, and venues,” says Michael. “We created a whole list of
individuals who would officiate LGBT weddings.”
that most vendors have been very accepting of the Marriage Fairness
Act. “One of the important things that came out even before the law
passed was how much revenue would be created in Illinois from same-sex
marriage.” A study conducted by the Williams Institute of UCLA
estimates anywhere from 54 to 103 million dollars in new spending in
the first three years.
“Not only are they accepting,” says
Michael, “but they market directly toward it. It’s a good way to put
their best foot forward, and it’s a great way to help [couples]
celebrate. We always get outreach from new clergy who want to be part
of the list. All faiths and all religions are represented.”
venues Lauren and Ashley visited reflected this positivity. “People buy
from who they like at the end of the day,” says Lauren. “Vendors know
While the change in the law allows every couple to live
out their own love story, there’s still progress to be made. “There are
still issues because there’s not a national law yet in effect,” says
Michael. When couples travel, they don’t retain their marriage rights
in states or countries where it’s not recognized. This can be a problem
if one partner is injured.
“We are very vigilant about any types
of bills or laws that would come down to strip away these rights,” says
Michael. “In the last session there were four bills that came up to
repeal. In a lot of states they allow religious exemptions to refuse
service. They’re not currently allowed to do that in Illinois.”
is currently focused on achieving equal treatment.
step, once you get certain laws, is to work toward equal treatment.
Educate people on their rights and keep them engaged to protect them,”
Ashley and Lauren have found only support for
their upcoming nuptials, especially from their family. “I think that’s
the most important thing to us,” says Ashley.
Lauren agrees. “I think we’re very blessed and fortunate and loved.”
Since this article was published, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex
marriage is the "law of the land." CSW celebrates marriage for all!