By Anna Lothson
It was one year ago that Colette Lueck, a village trustee, and her partner Marge finally had the option to make their relationship official.
Many same-sex couples held ceremonies and rushed to the courts on June 1, 2011 to enter into civil unions, but Colette and Marge weren't doing so without the rest of their family — Seth, their now-22-year-old son, was studying abroad that summer.
On Sept. 17, they had their day after being together for more than 30 years.
While nothing can take away from the "emotionally-charged" ceremony, Colette said, they'll never know when their day should have been.
"I think for all of us it was an incredibly impactful and meaningful event, and in so many different ways," she said about the day. "[But] what we reflected about a lot was this was an event that was at a time not of our choosing, but a time that was given to us. … That was a loss that will never be corrected."
Regardless, the day made a difference.
"It has [changed our relationship]. I think there is more of a settleness to it — a greater sense of commitment," Colette said. "I don't think either of us expected it to be different. We saw this as something we were going to do, but it absolutely made a difference."
On that date Colette took her grandmother's wedding ring, left for her nearly 50 years ago, and placed it on her own hand. Quickly, the pieces fit into the puzzle.
"That was very, very important. I look at that ring and think of what it meant to her," she said. "And Seth was ecstatic. … It was a lovely testament to have this formal recognition to what it [meant] to have us together."
Although Seth, Colette's biological son, never thought twice about being a family, they were tested more than once under the eyes of the law.
In order for Marge to adopt Seth when he was four, the couple had to undergo a home study, have friends write letters about their competency to be parents and went to court to present the case to a judge. During that time, Colette had to relinquish custody and Seth was technically a ward of the state.
"We had to explain to him why he was going to court. He was incredibly confused," Colette recalled. "I know he was just scared. Adoption [to Seth] meant someone else taking him. … It broke my heart that we had to explain that to him. It was something stressful that wasn't necessary."
Seth said there were some extra explanations needed while growing up when it came to filling out official state forms that needed parents listed. It wasn't always accepted by everyone, but he said he remained patient and explained it to people as he felt necessary.
"In some ways it was more acceptable to say I didn't have a father," Seth said. "It was more normal [to some people] than saying I had two mothers."
When the civil union was official, he said it strengthened their family in ways similar to when other couples are married, albeit with a few financial drawbacks.
Colette said the term "civil union" suffers from a common misconception with the public; many people view marriage and civil union as legally equal when in fact they are not. Because civil unions are recognized only in select states, their union holds no weight outside Illinois, and also does not qualify them for any benefits related to health care or federal tax income.
Seth gets frustrated when he hears negative rhetoric about same-sex couples, but he's discovered that engaging in dialogue instead of heated arguments is the best way to achieve change.
If people don't listen, however, he shrugs it off because he knows how lucky he is.
"I just feel pretty blessed. I think I ended up with really well-rounded people," Seth said. "They raised me to be a man who appreciates that. … I think I ended up with two very good sides of a coin."