Client Profiles - Freedom to Marry in Illinois

May 29, 2012

Tanya Lazaro and Elizabeth "Liz" Matos »
Lynn Sprout and Kathie Spegal »
Ross "Randy" Walden and Robert "Bob" Carey »
Michelle Mascaro and Corynne Romine »
Tim Kee and Rick Wade »
Carlos Briones and Richard Rykhus »
Suzanna Hutton and Danielle Cook »
Kirsten and Tanya Lyonsford »
Ed Hamilton and Gary Magruder »



Tanya Lazaro and Elizabeth "Liz" Matos live on Chicago's far Northwest side with their two children, Jaiden (2), and a newborn daughter, Sophia. Like many Chicago families, their choice of a home neighborhood was guided by family connections – the couple lives in a two-flat shared with Tanya's aunt, just three blocks from the home where Tanya's mother grew up. When they walk Jaiden to the park or around the neighborhood, they often encounter friends and acquaintances that Tanya has known for her entire life.

Since meeting more than fifteen (15) years ago, Tanya and Liz have built a life together, based on what they describe as their "shared values and a common commitment to one another and their family." Tanya knows a lot about commitment and service – after finishing college, she took a job teaching in Chicago Public Schools. After a year in the classroom, she decided she wanted something that was "easier," so she joined the Chicago Police Department, where today she is a Detective in the Violent Crimes Unit. "It is remarkable that Tanya risks her life serving and protecting the people of Chicago, but Illinois does not fully recognize the family we have built together," says Liz.

Liz's family is from Puerto Rico, the youngest of 6 children, she was the only born in Chicago. Today, she works as a senior software analyst at a software company that supports trading firms in downtown Chicago.

Liz and Tanya focus their lives today around their two children. They describe Jaiden and Sophia as their "greatest source of joy and satisfaction" for the two of them, a description on which most young parents would agree. Tanya and Liz are fortunate to be able to arrange their work schedules so that they work staggered shifts so that one of them is always home with the children. Their home is filled with toys, books and other items for children – making it easy for anyone visiting to see their priorities in life on display. They are a couple who put family first.

When Illinois approved civil unions, Tanya and Liz talked about seeking the legal benefits of such a union. In the end, they decided that a civil union was not enough for them. "We didn't want to get a civil union just to have some legal benefits and protections," says Tanya. "We love each other; we are committed to one another – anything short of marriage just does not recognize that love and commitment."

Liz and Tanya look forward to the day they can get married.

Lynn Sprout and Kathie Spegal are all about family. Enter their home in a quiet Champaign neighborhood and you see the signs of their love for family everywhere – photos, knickknacks and mementos of family gatherings. When their family gathered for Easter this Spring, there were 22 children, grandchildren (aged from 22 to 6), spouses and guests. They are looking forward to a new grandchild this June. Though these children come from Lynn and Kathie's previous relationships, their families are completely integrated. The family has grown so large that Kathie and Lynn simply are no longer able to host all the guests and visitors in their house, so they have instead have to plan their get-togethers when they can do them outside.

Lynn is a registered nurse and works at a federally qualified health center. She met Kathie in October in 2001 at church, where Lynn was attending a support group after losing her long-time partner Linda, after an extended illness. Linda's death was very difficult for Lynn. She lost her job at a local hospital after they denied family leave to care for Linda, and faced challenges to her ability to make decisions about Linda's body and have their family recognized in an obituary after Linda passed away. Worst of all for Lynn, she says, is that "my children were harmed. Linda was very important to my children. But because our relationship was not a marriage, they were treated like they'd suffered no loss at all."

"I don't want that to ever happen again."

After meeting in the support group (which they still attend together), Kathie and Lynn began to see one another and fell in love. On June 14, 2003, with family and friends, they celebrated their love and lifetime commitment at the McKinley Presbyterian Church in Champaign – the place where they met. The ceremony was joyous for Lynn and Kathie, since they were able to proclaim their love for one another publicly.

Kathie, a case manager, wants to insure that she, Lynn, and their children never have to go through anything as agonizing as Linda's death again. She'd hoped that Illinois' civil union law would make things better, but she has learned that "civil unions just are not enough." Kathie notes that civil unions are just "less than marriage" and observes that they are reminded of that in many small ways – forms that don't allow for a civil union, people who don't understand what it is, and acquaintances who are not certain how to respond to the fact that she and Lynn have a civil union.

"We are in love," says Kathie. "We want to be married. That is what people in our family who are in love do."

Ross "Randy" Walden and Robert "Bob" Carey Ross "Randy" Walden and Robert "Bob" Carey live in Springfield, Illinois where Randy works for the Army National Guard and Bob works for a major power company. Randy has a Ph.D. in Health Administration. His work for the military is not a surprise since Randy is a veteran of the United States Army, where he received a number of letters of commendation, a good conduct medal and an overseas service ribbon for his work as a Russian translator.

Bob and Randy had their first date at a local Mexican restaurant – a place they still frequent to this day. They soon will celebrate seven years together as a loving, committed couple. They share many interests together. They care for rescue dogs and cats and share a deep love of the outdoors, spending many weekends camping near Springfield and across the Midwest. Randy and Bob also are active in their local synagogue. They are welcomed at their house of worship, and Randy has been asked to serve in positions of trust and authority for the congregation.

For Randy, meeting Bob was part of a process of recovery after he lost his long-time partner Curt to cancer. That experience made all too clear the harm that can arise from not having one's loving relationship recognized.

As Curt was battling cancer, Randy was always present and involved in his care. When things turned for the worst, Randy took Curt to a local Springfield hospital. Hospital personnel regularly quizzed Randy about his relationship to Curt, and ignored Curt's health care power of attorney naming Randy as the person to make decisions for him. On numerous occasions, hospital staff asked Curt's parents to make medical decisions. Each time, they would politely explain that Randy was the one to ask about such matters. The pattern continued over the three days Curt was hospitalized.

Denied the right to stay overnight with Curt, Randy left all his emergency contact information with the nurses and pleaded with them to call him if Curt's condition worsened. Randy was distraught about leaving Curt alone. One morning, when he was unable to reach Curt, Randy phoned the nurses' station. In a whispered voice, the nurse told Randy that Curt had not been doing well all night and that he had better come to the hospital. When Randy reached the room, Curt woke long enough to say "I love you" to Randy. These were the last words he ever spoke.

Bob and Randy fear that their relationship could be ignored, because their civil union isn't well understood or given the respect of a marriage. They look forward to the day they can finally marry.

Like a lot of couples in our busy society, Michelle Mascaro and Corynne Romine met at work – when they were both in a chaplaincy internship at Rush Presbyterian Hospital. Since that time, in early 1991, Corynne and Michelle have created a loving, giving relationship that now incorporates their three children, ages 14, 12 and 11. For Michelle and Corynne, one of the most painful things about not having their relationship honored as a marriage in Illinois is the impact on their children of learning that their parents cannot marry.

"As our children mature, we are trying to teach them important life lessons about honoring relationships and respecting the family unit," says Michelle. "It is difficult to communicate a message about the importance of marriage when we are denied the right to enter into one." Corynne and Michelle recognize the importance of marriage, having seen it through their parents. Corynne notes that her parents have been married for more than a half century, and has seen "how marriage and the commitment of marriage helps a family cope with the ups and downs that are simply a part of life."

Michelle and Corynne had a private celebration and affirmation of their love at their home in 1995. After making that commitment, they began a family, adopting the first of their three children. Today, they spend as much time as possible with the children – and spend a great deal of time attending to events at their children's school, church, sports teams and other activities.

After Illinois approved civil unions, Corynne and Michelle were not certain about seeking that status. They wanted to be married. After six full months, on January 6, 2012, Michelle and Corynne, along with their children, traveled to downtown Chicago to obtain a civil union. The date was significant to them – for it marked the 20th anniversary of their living together as a couple.

Corynne and Michelle know that their civil union addresses some concerns about benefits, but neither feel it is sufficient. When they take one of their children to an appointment or go to the doctor themselves, they often are confronted with forms that ask if they are "married, single, divorced or widowed." Even after the passage of civil unions, the forms remind them their relationship isn't understood or accepted and is easily ignored.

For themselves and their children, Michelle and Corynne want the chance to publicly affirm their commitment in marriage.

Like most small town residents, Tim Kee and Rick Wade spend a lot of time engaged in community activities. Having been together for 15 years now, they are well-recognized and regarded in their hometown of Marion. Though they kept their relationship secret when it began, travelling to St. Louis and environs on their first several dates, they no longer try to hide that they are a couple.

For Rick and Tim, tradition and stability is critical. They live in a house built on land that was Rick's great-great-grandparents' homestead that was passed on to Rick by his grandmother, a house that they have made into their home. Tim was born and raised in nearby Johnson City where he now teaches in the elementary school Previously, Tim taught in the high school in Johnson City. Rick is an office manager for an optometry practice.

Among the values that Tim and Rick have in common is their faith. Today, they attend (and are active in) the church in Johnson City where Tim was baptized and confirmed. Faith plays a critical role in their relationship and in their life. They attend church whenever and wherever they travel. And, they find the congregation to be an extended family, consoling them in bad times and celebrating them in good times.

On June 2, 2011, Rick and Tim went to the Williamson County courthouse to get a civil union. The experience, by and large, was rewarding. Since they were only the second couple to receive a civil union, the County Clerk insisted on coming out to help them – saying that she needed to learn the forms and the process for herself. But they realize that a civil union is not equivalent to being married.

"No one grows up hoping to be 'civil unionized'" says Tim. "At the end of the day, it's just not the same as being married. We want our love and our relationship to be recognized as a marriage – it is only then that we can stop explaining to others the differences between a civil union and a marriage."

In 2010, Tim helped to organize a 5k race to raise money for the school. Rick volunteers his time to help Tim make the event a success. Only marriage fits Rick's understanding of his relationship with Tim and their place in their community. "Tim and I do our part in our community. We'd like to be seen as another average couple who love one another and want to spend our lives together."

On a quiet side street in Evanston, Carlos Briones and Richard Rykhus live with their 7-year-old son Ty'rith (Ty). A couple for eleven years, Richard and Carlos held a commitment ceremony for 120 family and friends in July 2005. "We wanted to tell the world that we are committed to one another," says Carlos. "It was important to make a statement that our love was permanent, lasting."

During a visit to Richard's parents a few months later, Carlos and Richard were married in Canada. Now, they make a point of calling one another "husband."

"I think it is crucial for me to identify Carlos as my husband," says Richard. "The word 'partner' never has worked for me – it sounds so transactional. We are not in a business relationship. We are in a life-long committed relationship."

Carlos, who teaches philosophy at a local college, says that early in each semester, he lets his students know that he is married. Still, Carlos says, "I find that I have to force myself to use the word 'husband' to describe Richard. It is not that I don't think of him as my husband. But I always feel that I have to add an explanation that we were married in Canada, and the marriage isn't recognized in Illinois. That seems wrong."

Richard was reminded that his marriage isn't recognized recently when he found himself in a hospital emergency room. Even after he told her that Carlos and he were married, a nurse wrote Carlos' name on Richard's wristband as "partner." Although in pain, Richard stopped the nurse and insisted that she write "husband."

"It may seem like a small thing," Richard adds. "It is not. I want my love and my relationship to be acknowledged and respected."

Carlos and Richard share a love of education. Recently, Richard saw that he could make a difference in the local elementary schools by running for the local school board. He was elected, and now finds the work to be rewarding and fulfilling. His position also gives the entire family a chance to give back to the community.

Richard and Carlos want their marriage recognized – especially as their son Ty matures. Carlos says that occasionally they will ask Ty what he wants to do when he grows up. Inevitably, like many 7-year-olds, Ty reports that he wants to marry the latest female pop singer. "That is normal," says Carlos. "We grow up wanting to marry the person we love. For me that is Richard."

When they first met, Suzanna Hutton and Danielle Cook could not imagine that they would be spending the rest of their lives together. Teachers in Bloomington, Illinois, Suzie says that she and Danielle were almost "complete opposites." After more than a decade together, now they want to have the dignity of being recognized as married in their home state. They have celebrated their love and relationship with friends and family members through a commitment ceremony. And, in June of 2011, they entered into a civil union.

Danielle and Suzie both feel that the civil union "falls short" of being married, sometimes because it is not respected and often because it is not understood by others. Suzie notes, for example, that when she goes to a doctor's office, a dentist office or another professional service, she is exasperated by the forms she is asked to fill out.

These forms ask the patients or customers to designate whether they are married, single, widowed or divorced – the expected and easily recognizable choices. But, Suzie notes, a year after civil unions became the law of the land in Illinois there is no place to record their civil union relationship status.

Maybe more troubling is that many people – even well-educated and well-intentioned people – don't always know how to react to someone with a civil union. In the schools where Suzie and Danielle both now work, teachers gather to welcome new staff and celebrate births and weddings. At the end of the of the 2010-2011 school year, a well-intentioned staff member stumbled over trying to announce that "Suzie was getting a...having a...civil union something." In the fall of 2011, a staff member at Danielle's school also had trouble wording the civil union announcement. Not knowing what to do and without any advance planning, Suzie and Danielle reached for the same tool – humor. They both followed the mixed response by saying that now their relationship was "civilized." The line was met with laughter.

"Our relationship status should not be the source of laughter," says Danielle. "We love and care for one another. We share good news and bad news, happiness and sadness. We deserve to be treated with the dignity that only marriage affords."

"That is why being married matters so much," she adds.

For Suzie, being married also matters. "Both of my parents are Methodist ministers," she says. "I know that they want me to be married to the person that I love, to the person that I am going to spend the rest of my life with."

"Marriage is just the expectation that we were raised with – and I want it for myself," she adds.

The picture speaks volumes. One look at the photo of Kirsten and Tanya Lyonsford with their two children, Andrea and Zachary, and you know they are a family that belongs together. Tanya and Kirsten have known they were right for one another since almost the first moment that they met, during a September 1999 mandatory diversity training program for AT&T, for whom they worked at the time.

During a game called "Diversity Bingo," Tanya and Kirsten both chose the gay/lesbian box. That public revelation led to a date, a strong friendship and then a deeper relationship. In October 2002, Kirsten and Tanya held a commitment ceremony – a Christian wedding ceremony – including family, friends and colleagues. For Tanya, it was moving that her 84-year-old grandfather not only attended (even though he didn't know she was a lesbian until he got the announcement), but that he made a point of saying that he was there to represent Tanya's late grandmother. It was painful, however, that after that ceremony and all its joy, Kirsten and Tanya heard some say that their celebration was nice "but not legal."

Tanya and Kirsten bought a home in Aurora in 2002. They now have been joined in that home by Zachary and Andrea. Even the casual observer notes that Kirsten and Tanya are attentive parents – they focus their attention on their children, read regularly with them, take Andrea to running club and other activities and attend church with the two children weekly.

To show others that they are a couple, Kirsten and Tanya have legally changed their last names so they are the same.

"We are a family," says Kirsten. "We love one another. We love our children. We have built a life together where we are responsible to one another and for one another. "

"We simply want the ability to marry, to share that respect and recognition with every other married couple who shares the joys and pains of going through life together," she adds.

"It also is important for Andrea and Zachary that we are able to marry," says Tanya. "We brought them into our family, because we wanted them to have the security of a loving and stable family that cares and loves one another."

"We want to be able to tell them as they mature that their parents are married, and that the entire world recognizes the love and bond that we feel," she says.

Walk into the home that Ed Hamilton and Gary Magruder have shared (in fact, built together) in Plainfield, and one easily spots their shared passion. The walls of the home are filled with art work that Gary painted. One entire room is given over to a massive compact disc collection of music and a large piano. Books can be found everywhere. The home has an easy, comfortable feeling of things being settled, peaceful.

It should. Gary and Ed have been together for more than 48 years – without interruption.

They met at the party of a mutual friend in 1964 and began what Gary describes gleefully as a "courtship." Gary grew up in Kankakee County and spent time on his grandparents' farm as a youth, so he was impressed when Ed took him to the theater and to the opera. After a few months, they found an apartment together and remained inseparable.

Both Ed and Gary are retired educators, and both still love teaching and sharing their knowledge with others. During many of their years, they describe the difficulty of living almost "double" lives – one at school where they never talked about their relationship (they taught at different schools) and the other at home.

At the urging of friends, Gary and Ed travelled to Canada in January of 2004 – on the 40th anniversary of their meeting – to be married. Gary smiles in telling about saving the lapel flowers from the wedding. They want their marriage, which is the pinnacle of their nearly half century relationship, to be recognized in Illinois.

After civil unions were adopted in Illinois, they went to the Will County courthouse to get a civil union (not realizing that their marriage already qualified them as having a civil union in Illinois). Ed and Gary were struck by the differences in the experience between their wedding and the perfunctory nature of getting a civil union. The clerk at the Will County courthouse acted as if they were getting "a fishing license." That struck Gary, especially, as being different from how they felt at their wedding.

Ed, almost 75, and Gary, nearly 70, recognize that having their marriage recognized will help insure that they are able to care for each other through the duration of their life and protect the remaining spouse after one passes on.

Most of all, they simply want to spend their "golden years" recognized as married in Illinois. After 50 years, it is "about time" they say.

Statistics image