Although they have spent Valentine’s Day together many times throughout their the ten years as a couple, for Gozamos editor Luz Chávez and her partner Laura this one is particularly special: it is the first year their relationship is legally recognized by the State of Illinois.
On June 10, 2011 — their 10th anniversary — with tears of joy in their eyes Luz and Laura joined the ranks of almost 2000 couples who, according to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) advocacy organization Equality Illinois, have since sealed their love for each other when Illinois became the sixth state to legalize access to civil unions for same-sex couples.
“I cried because I’ve heard the vows on several occasions, [but] I never thought about their significance until the moment I looked into Luz’s eyes,” Laura recalls.
Although some couples celebrated their union with lavish parties, the two women chose a private ceremony.
“It was a symbolic gesture,” says Luz. “As an LGBT couple, the world is often against you, and unfortunately, at the beginning of our relationship, some of the people closest to us weren’t very supportive. So, it was important to us to take this step together, to symbolize that at the end of the day, our future only depends us and our love is strong enough to survive on its own.”
After they took pictures by the lake near the Adler Planetarium and hand lunch at the Signature Room atop the John Hancock building, the pair went to Belmont Beach to recreate the moment when Luz asked Laura to be her girlfriend, ten years ago that day.
It has been seven months since the couple’s civil union. However, the two women acknowledge that every day has been special.
“Every day since the day we were civilly united has felt different,” says Luz. “Our commitment to each other is stronger.”
Although in the past the two have spent Valentine’s Day away, this year — due to prior commitments — Luz and Laura will spend a quiet evening at home, cuddling by the fireplace along with their cat Sophy and new rescue kitten Bella, secure in the love they have for each other and the knowledge that, throughout the state of Illinois, their union is recognized and respected.
However, not all couples are equally fortunate. Nationwide, only a handful of states and jurisdictions offer same-sex couples some of the rights protected under marriage, with only New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Washington, DC granting full marriage rights.
As the battle for marriage equality continues, with the constitutionality of a marriage ban against same-sex couples in California working its way through the court system, Luz and Laura both agree that should marriage equality come to Illinois, they would get married.
“The term ‘civil union’ automatically makes our union seem something less than marriage. Having marriage rights makes the statement that couples are valued in the same way, regardless of their gender,” says Luz.
Wedding bells may just ring for the Latina couple soon enough. Earlier this month, Illinois State Representatives Greg Harris, Deb Mell and Kelly Cassidy filed the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness act, a bill that once passed would provide same-sex couples access to marriage, along with the protections and responsibilities currently enjoyed by opposite-sex couples.
An earlier version of this article appears at Extra Newspaper