In the glow that is Illinois’ legalization of same sex marriage on June 1, many blessing ceremonies, group nuptials and traditional church weddings have, or will occur, this summer for couples who are new, or long-time residents of Oak Park.
Wednesday Journal recently sat with a few.
Going to the chapel
Oak Parkers Tom Gull, 54, and Tim Flesch, 56, first met singing in a Catholic church choir. Two years later, in 1988, they became a couple, and in August the two men will exchange vows, rings and favorite tunes during a traditional church wedding by an Episcopalian priest at a parish in Chicago.
Tearing and cheering the long-time couple on will be a modest showing of family and friends.
“The day the same sex marriage law passed the House in Illinois, I felt like a little kid,” says Gull, who does development work for a nonprofit museum. “I couldn’t work anymore that day. I was too excited. It was like the last day of school, like I could not stay in my seat.”
For Tom, as the youngest of seven kids, and with him having gone to his five sisters’ weddings, as well as the nuptials for his nephews, he says “they were all happy occasions, but I always felt like I was being left out because I could never have that.” Gull says he first proposed to Tim when marriage became legal in California.
Having been in a committed relationship for just over a quarter of a century now, they say their wedding will be a simple religious ceremony that renews their commitment to each other, as well as result in a societal validation of their relationship.
“We have been together for so long, and it does feel good to have the recognition by the government for this, and our family is very happy for us,” says Tim, who works in the insurance industry. “This will also entitle him to my pension, and if I need to go on his insurance, so for a lot of legal reasons this is a good thing.”
The reality of holding a marriage certificate, they say won’t change anything with their immediate families, adding that over the years their moms have recognized their anniversaries with cards acknowledging their love for one another.
“I am Catholic, and I didn’t want to get married on the sidewalk, in the street, or in the backyard,” says Tim. “I wish I could get married in my own church, but it’s not possible. That change will have to come from within, and we will have to be patient.”
Finally saying yes
When Jim Kelly, 67, and Bruce Broerman, 69, watched Gov. Pat Quinn sign the same sex marriage bill at the UIC Pavilion last winter, what the couple of 26 years and proud “papas” of two children and five grandchildren saw was the governor signing a paper on a desk Abraham Lincoln had used to pen one of his inaugural addresses.
It was in that emotionally impactful moment that Bruce finally accepted Jim’s long-standing marriage proposal, and they began planning the small, secular ceremony that will start and end under a “party” tent in their Oak Park backyard in August.
A long-time friend, who is a minister, will officiate, coaching them through the exchanging of rings and vows, with a small group of friends and family looking on.
“Bruce had been married for 13 years [to a woman], and when we started our lives together in 1988, his daughter Stephanie was finishing her junior year in high school and his son Martin was finishing sixth grade, so these kids have been part of my life, and I have been part of their lives, for a long time,” says Kelly, an involved Oak Parker who continues to contribute to the quality of life in Oak Park.
Doing this now, Jim adds, will not only be a symbolic gesture, but in the moment of officially making the commitment in public, he expects it to have an emotional impact, as well as bring “a profound sense of arriving at something that had not been achieved before,” he says.
In addition to the entitlements being legally married affords, getting married in the traditional sense will be a public proclamation, because “I do not feel like we are riding a trend…this for me is symbolic in the highest sense,” Jim says.
“When I think about all the things I want to say to Bruce, that are not different than things I have said to him before, to put it in a form of a declaration, and then receive recognition from society… what marriage is a right of passage and what it confers is recognition, status…and I want that for us.”
In planning the affair, Bruce quips “well, we didn’t have to put out much for our wedding gowns,” and the couple shares a laugh.
Instead, Jim and Bruce will wear matching Guayaberas Mexican wedding shirts,and exchange rings a favorite jeweler in Mexico has crafted especially for them, while a small group of friends and family cheer them on.
“Every poll indicates that the arc of history is leaning toward justice,” says Jim, “and by another generation, this will be a non issue.”
Loving that it’s legal
Elizabeth Ritzman, 59, and Cheryl Haugh, 63, initially were married by their minister at Hyde Park Union Church in Chicago in 1993.
At that wedding, related to that moment in time, 40 people were invited, as same sex marriage was not yet legal, and “we were concerned about losing custody [of the children], or negatively impacting the congregations where I served as a counseling minister,” Elizabeth says.
For her, as a Christian and a religious person, Elizabeth says “the legal piece of that catching up to the other is meaningful, and should have accompanied that service back then.”
So, in early August, she and Cheryl, a chiropractor who has co-parented her three children since then, will renew their vows in a similar, religious ceremony in Oak Park. Adding color and cute to the service will be their flower-petal-tossing granddaughters, bedecked in long white princesstutu’s with pink sashes.
Afterwards, a large outdoor reception with family and friends is planned.
“We considered ourselves to already be in a marriage because we got married in a church by a minister, just didn’t get a certificate from the County Clerk,” Elizabeth says.
Among the hundreds of entitlements they will now receive as a married couple, they say, is a break on their health insurance premium.
“Cheryl is on my insurance, but I do pay more in taxes on that, than I do for the health premium for her,” Elizabeth says. “It’s about $300 for the taxes, so that will be a savings for us. We have been married for a long time now, so we are not going to get re-married. We are not going to get finally married. We are going to getour civil rights attached to our marriage.”
Choosing to be upfront and honest with their children from the start, a social snag came when their daughter Sophia, then a second grader at Beye School, told a classmate she had two moms, and he reacted badly.
“I called the school, and her teacher was understanding and proactive about talking to our daughter’s class about it,” says Cheryl. “Sophia’s response was to be proactive, so she brought us for show and tell. That was rough. We were scared. But from the kids we had burning questions like ‘what is your favorite color’ and ‘what is your favorite letter.'”
Still, life did go on, and a big change in status for them did come.
“The human story here is that we have been married for 20 years. The technical story is that we don’t have our rights until [we get legally married],” says Elizabeth. “The romantic part is an everyday thing. That has been going on from the start.”
Going with Grace
On June 2, in the packed sanctuary at Grace Episcopal Church in Oak Park, Bob Vogler, 62, and his life partner, Tony Dobrowolski, 62, exchanged vows during the regular church service.
Residents of Oak Park for 22 years, Bob, a church organist, and Tony an actor and jewelry designer, had engaged in a commitment ceremony in 1995, afterwards poising themselves for a day they longed for, but thought would never happen.
“We decided to get married as close to June 1 as possible, because June 2 was my birthday, and I figured that getting married on that day would be the best birthday present I could get, because I thought that us getting married would never be possible, and I was stubborn enough to not want to get married until it was legal where I lived.”
At the wedding, which was one of the first to occur in a church in Oak Park, Tony’s stepson and his grandchildren were part of the wedding party, as “best people” and “junior best people,” he said.
“We have always been active in this parish, and religion has always been part of my life,” says Bob. “Getting married in a church with a priest doing our vows was a validation, and more of a public statement than just going to the justice of the peace.”
Now, a few weeks after their wedding, Tony says he still feels like he is walking on air.
“This is something people can’t take away from us, and that feels nice,” he says.
Tony says they will go on a trip, or honeymoon, later in the summer, and as far as the wedding went, it was simple and inexpensive, and did not break the bank, he jokes.
“We wanted this to be about family, and celebrating the wedding, as opposed to how many thousands of dollars did we spend on a wedding and everything,” says Bob. “He’s been the one and only person I wanted to be with. Part of this is the acceptance of that.”