After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and announced their ruling on the challenge to Proposition 8 in California, this showed up on a friend's Facebook page:
"I was telling my kids about the historic importance of today's Supreme Court rulings. My daughter asked if we were talking about gay people as in people who are really happy or the other kind of gay. I told her that today they are likely one and the same."
Based on the atmosphere at an impromptu local celebratory gathering that night, I think my friend was absolutely right. After years of struggling — both personal and political struggles — the efforts of gay and lesbian Americans and their allies to achieve full equality took a giant step forward. Some 50 or so local residents and leaders gathered at that celebratory event. And there were likely hundreds, if not thousands, of similar celebrations going on all across the country.
Members of the Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association (OPALGA) are among those who are gay — in the "really happy" sense of the word. This local grassroots organization has had several really happy milestones in the journey to equality.
1989: The village of Oak Park's Human Rights Ordinance was amended to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment (by the village and village contractors), housing and public accommodations.
1994: The village extended Domestic Partnership benefits to same-sex partners of village employees. That same year, the action was affirmed by public vote via a citizen-led referendum. This was the first affirmation of its type by citizen vote to pass in the country.
1997: The Domestic Partnership Registry for same-sex couples in Oak Park was established. This was the first of its kind in Illinois and became a model for other communities to develop their own.
2011: The state of Illinois began granting Civil Union status to gay and lesbian couples.
Even with this list of happy milestones, and last week's historic rulings, the journey is not over.
The next big challenge is full marriage equality in the state of Illinois. With any luck — and a lot of hard work — that could come this fall. OPALGA is grateful for the support of our local state representatives, La Shawn Ford and Camille Lilly and state Senator Don Harmon. Our hope is that the Supreme Court rulings will set the stage for other legislators who have been on the fence to now move to the right side of history and support marriage equality in the state.
Our hope, too, is that the rulings will send a positive, supportive message to gay and lesbian teens who may still be struggling with their sexuality. Supporting gay and lesbian youth has been and remains one of our key focus areas as an organization. This year, in fact, OPALGA is looking into using the funds raised from the annual Oak Park Area Leadership Awards Gala to establish a scholarship for local high school students.
So, yes, the Supreme Court rulings last week made us happy. But the journey to full equality — and happiness — continues.
Greg Raub is co-chair of the Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association.
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