Buddy Bell, Dale Fecker, Dan Ware, Danielle Karczewski, Jeff Graubart, Erica Chu, and Nick Ferrin had infiltrated into the Bureau shortly before the protest and when clerks refused to issue Bell and Fecker a marriage license, Bell yelled "We demand equality," which was the signal for the others to begin sitting in.
Meanwhile, about 400 protesters rallied outside the Bureau and then marched to the Bureau's doors with a chant that's been popular here since last spring, "Obama, Obama, let mama marry mama." (The bipartisan counter-point chant was "McCain, McCain, he's just insane.")
While the Chicago protesters saw their action as a way to help sway the California Supreme Court to throw out Proposition 8, local issues played a role as well. Despite having a state government completely dominated by the supposedly gay-friendly Democratic Party, Illinois doesn't even have civil unions, let alone marriage equality. Moreover, like dozens of states, Illinois has its own "Defense of Marriage Act"; yet the state Democratic Party leadership won't even offer a promise to junk the anti-gay legislation.
Towards the end of today's rally, Matt Reichel, a Green Party congressional candidate for Rahm Emmanuel's old seat, addressed the crowd and supported full marriage equality. It was noted that Democratic San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome came out for issuing same-sex marriage licenses after a pro-equality Green mayoral candidate nearly beat the Democratic favorite just the sort of shake up that Illinois's smug Democrats could use.
Today's legal protest ended when the marriage license bureau closed at noon. Many protesters then decided to march to a nearby protest against school closings Pride flags in hand. As a GLN spokesperson put it, "We can't in good conscience ask non-gay people to support our issues unless we ourselves are willing to actively support others organizing against injustices." They doubled the size of the crowd at the protest and made many new friends in the process.
Meanwhile, the sit-in protesters were not arrested at noon when the marriage license bureau closed. Employees at the office indicated that they were prepared to wait them out past 10 PM if need be, but the protesters refused to budge.
At about 4 PM police arrested them for Criminal Trespass, a Class C misdemeanor. The last of the sit-in'ers dubbed the Marriage Equality 7 was released from police custody at 2:15 AM to a van-load of Dunkin Donuts, bagels and 7-hour-old coffee.
Here are brief statements from the sit-iners describing why they took yesterday's action:
"Instead of celebrating the vibrance and resilience of human love, too many people worry about its direction. I found our sit-in at the Cook County Marriage Bureau meaningful. We have to stand up for the recognition and respect for the integrity of each beating heart." -- Buddy Bell
"In all honesty I had mixed feelings about participating in today's events. But I believe I would have regretted not taking this opportunity to stand up and speak up for the cause of equal marriage rights. Someone should stand up and challenge the County Clerk's office and put pressure on our elected officials through raising public support, so why not me?" E. Chu
"The denial of full marriage equality and the 1138 rights, privileges, and responsibilities inherent therein to same-sex couples is a great American injustice of our age. Marriage, as regulated and rewarded by all levels of government, cannot be a catalyst for discrimination against any group of citizens. Laws governing all Americans but based solely on the antiquated doctrines of a specific religion, or even a consensus of many religions, cannot stand in a freedom-loving democracy. Only full marriage equality for all adults on a Federal level with no distinction whatever made between any two unions will guarantee the dignity and and equal protection of the laws promised in the U.S Constitution." -- Dale T. Fecker
"The law divides society into groups and assigns one group rights while giving lesser rights to the other group. The laws violate the equal protection guaranteed for ALL citizens under the Constitution."
-- Nick Ferrin
"I was arrested in the 1970s for equal marriage and decided that with the passage of Proposition 8 and the Supreme Court ruling in California coming up, it was important to do it again." -- Jeff Graubart
"I feel that the fight for equal rights is bigger and more important than myself. That's why I wanted to be a part of an action that requires me to go above an unjust law and calls for people to do the right thing through more drastic means." -- Danielle Karczewski
"There have been few times in my life when I felt so strongly about something that I have been willing to sacrifice my own safety and comfort for a higher cause. This is one of those times. The time is right for action to ensure equal marriage rights for all people. All who are in tune with the spirit of the age cannot be still when action is required." Dan Ware