Updated: December 7, 2013 6:33AM
As Danielle Cook and Suzie Hutton drove down to Springfield from Bloomington for the third time this year, they tried not to hope for too much.
“For our hearts, we had to keep our expectations low,” Cook told us Tuesday afternoon as the debate on gay marriage began in the Illinois House. “We’re going to be heartbroken again if it doesn’t pass.”
But it did. With one vote to spare. And Cook found herself in tears, her head bowed in disbelief as lawmakers voted to make her home state the 15th in the nation to allow same-sex couples to wed.
“It just feels right,” beamed Hutton, Cook’s partner of 11 years.
After so much waiting, so much hoping, the couple, Hutton a teacher and Cook a school administrator, clearly were stunned that their day had finally arrived.
“Today is politics, the courts are legal, but for us this is just personal,” said Hutton, 44, as she hugged her shocked and red-faced partner while jubilant friends streamed by. “This is simply about living our lives honestly.”
With Tuesday’s votes — first in the House and then a quick vote in the Senate, which had already passed an earlier version of the bill on Valentine’s Day — couples across Illinois can finally begin that journey.
“We can now go back to our friends, our family and feel equal,” said Cook, 51.
And that’s all this was ever about: seeking the right to live their lives fully and to be respected in a state that scores of same-sex couples have chosen to call home.
The push for gay marriage in Illinois was never about eroding religious freedoms or about demonizing opponents as bigots, as many opponents contend. Nor was it about hurting anyone else’s marriage, as Rep. Jack Franks made clear before announcing his yes vote.
“I can’t think of a single way that same-sex marriage minimizes my marriage,” said Franks, a Marengo Democrat who has been married for more than 20 years.
The drive for marriage equality was about letting families live their lives as equals, about creating a more just society for all.
Civil unions in Illinois, passed in 2010, were a start but an inadequate one. They relegate same-sex couples, people we call neighbors, teachers and co-workers — and the people many of us see in the mirror — to second class.
On Tuesday, 61 House lawmakers and another 32 in the Senate said Illinois was better than that.
On Tuesday, the Illinois Legislature — led by Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Greg Harris, who heroically shepherded this bill to passage in the House — said separate is never equal.
For Marquell Smith, the vote was a culmination of work that began after he was discharged from the Marine Corps under the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. Smith fought to repeal that policy and then turned his attention to gay marriage, forming a coalition of African-American groups in Chicago to support that work.
Tuesday’s vote brought a great sense of relief: “Now I can go on with my life,” said Smith, one of dozens of advocates who packed the House gallery. “Now I can focus on other things.”
For Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a North Side Democrat, the vote was intensely personal. A mom of three in a same-sex relationship, she told her colleagues on the floor: “You will never regret doing the right thing. The right thing is to tell my family and ones like us that we are valued, that we are equal.”
And for Hutton and Cook, Tuesday’s vote means they finally can get back to normal. Asked how they intended to celebrate, their only immediate plan was to return to their regular lives.
“Tomorrow we just go back to work,” Cook said. But, she added with a smile: “We’ll be much happier.”