Cook County expects same-sex marriage licenses to hit 15,000 mark by end of year


James Darby remembers the moment he first saw the man who would one day be his husband.

“I was so taken aback by how beautiful he was that I whistled at him,” Darby said, imitating the wolf whistle he hoped would entice Patrick Bova on that hot July day.

But a friend chastised him, saying “we don’t whistle at guys on the South Side.”

“And I said ‘I don’t give a s—, look at how good looking he is,” Darby remembers.

That was 1963. The two men were eventually able to marry, but it would take more than half a century.

Darby and Bova were the lead plaintiffs in a 2012 suit against the Cook County clerk’s office, challenging its refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The following year, the state legalized marriage equality.

After a “long engagement,” Darby and Bova were married in June 2014 — the month marriage equality went into effect — after spending more than five decades together.

And today, they are just one of 15,000 same-sex couples expected to have taken their marriage vows in Cook County by the end of the year.

On Tuesday, Darby and Bova were part of a group commemorating the sixth anniversary of Gov. Pat Quinn signing marriage equality legislation into law and celebrating the county expecting to hit the milestone of 15,000 marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples by the end of the year.

James Darby, left, and Patrick Bova at Tuesday’s celebration.
Rachel Hinton/Chicago Sun-Times

“It’s pretty amazing for the state of Illinois and for the city of Chicago and for us, too, because when we were younger it was out of the question,” said Darby, 87. “I never thought anything like this would ever happen.”

In Chicago, 8,308 marriage licenses have been issued to same-sex couples since 2013, according to figures from Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough’s office. Evanston is second with 245 licenses issued in that time period.

Quinn said the day the bill passed was a “solemn day” as well as a historic one because Illinois was the first in the Midwest to legalize same-sex marriage.

Gov. Pat Quinn (center) attends the wedding of Patrick Bova, left, and James Darby in 2014. File Photo.

Gov. Pat Quinn (center) attends the wedding of Patrick Bova, left, and James Darby in 2014. File Photo.
Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

“It made, I think, our state one that was a leader when it comes to liberty and equality,” the former governor said. “The Supreme Court decided a year or two later that liberty in our constitution means that every person in every state has the right to marry the person they love.”

Along with Darby and Bova, other LGBTQ activists and politicians attended the celebration, including Cook County Commissioners Kevin Morrison and Alma Anaya and Linda Chapa LaVia, director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Pat Ewert and her wife, the late Vernita Gray, were the first same-sex couple to be married in November 2013 after Quinn signed the legislation. It had not actually went into effect, but a judge ruled they could marry early because Gray was terminally ill. She died months after the two married in March 2014.

For Ewert, the Tuesday commemoration brought back “amazing memories.” She said her wife was “awesome” and “a character.”

Vernita Gray, left, and Pat Ewert, right, in 2013. File Photo.

Vernita Gray, left, and Pat Ewert, right, in 2013. File Photo.
Courtesy of Starbelly Studios

“Vernita used to say when she was coming up the words ‘gay’ and marriage’ were never used in the same sentence,” Ewert said.

And Ewert said being her wife made the legal process easier after Gray’s death.

“I will tell you that when I had to settle her affairs, and I had to make those telephone calls and say ‘I am Vernita Gray’s wife, I need for you to send me or take care of —,’ it made a difference. It made a difference in the way people treated me and a difference in what I was able to accomplish. So I know she’s smiling down and I know this means a lot to her,” Ewert said.

Yarbrough said people have come from 47 states and a dozen countries to be married in Cook County. Though there have been strides forward, she said more needs to be done to protect LGBTQ people.

“These are our fights like racism and voter suppression are,” Yarbrough said. “Some people might say marriages isn’t so important — it’s so middle class and class arrangement, but it’s a big deal. And if Joe Biden was here, he’d say it’s a big ‘f’n deal.’ It’s a big deal. Whether it’s the family you were born into or the family you’ve made your own. The only people who believe marriage is not important, never had it denied to them.”

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