by Rev. Scott Aaseng, Unitarian Universalist Church of Quincy, Illinois
Rev. Khleber Van Zandt didn't think he or anyone else from First Unitarian Church of Alton would make it to Springfield for the March for Marriage Equality on October 22. Then at church two days before the event, he was talking with a 71 year-old member of the congregation who was apologizing for being a little grumpy. The member commented that it had been an emotional time in their life. Rev. Van Zandt suggested that perhaps he had said something that had made the member upset. "No," the member replied, "it's because I'm this close to being considered equal to you. I've been down in the bottom of the closet for 71 years, and it's finally time I came all the way out so I can marry the person I love." Both Rev. Van Zandt and the member made it to the March, along with five other members from Alton.
Stories like this were the heart of the day as 300 UU's from 23 congregations - from Carbondale to Stockton, from McHenry to Quincy - gathered in Springfield to march for marriage equality and launch the Unitarian Universalist Advocacy Network of Illinois (UUANI). Buses full of UU's left from Chicago, Evanston, Palatine, Naperville, Rockford, Peoria, and Bloomington starting at 6 am, and met in Springfield, where we birthed UUANI with songs and stories, leadership elections and lunch, and a rally and march at the state Capitol.
About 100 of us gathered first at Abraham Lincoln UU Congregation in Springfield. Peggy Patty from ALUUC led off by saying we should not underestimate the impact of our presence. "We are marching for Justice for all citizens of this country, some of whom are unable to...take the chance of being SEEN at this march" for fear of losing their jobs or their housing or even their lives. Cindy Pardo from First Unitarian (Chicago) gave an impassioned response to the question, "Why are we here?" in terms of civil rights and our UU principle of the worth and dignity of every person. Then Karen McMillen from Unity Temple (Oak Park) got up and said simply, "I'm here so I don't have to explain to my 2 year-old son why his mommies are married in one state and not in another." As she sat down, we all applauded with tears in our eyes.
Over a soup and sandwich lunch graciously provided by the Springfield congregation, we got to know UU's from other congregations and share why we were there and what we hoped for. Also with us were 5 young adults from the Ujima homeless shelter in Chicago, one of whom serenaded us on the piano.
UU's were out in force at the Capitol, with at least a dozen Standing on the Side of Love banners and scores of yellow shirts. Four members of the Unitarian Church of Hinsdale met with their state legislator and helped clear up some of her misconceptions about the marriage equality bill. Meanwhile, dozens of UU's continue to make calls from phone banks at their home congregations.
Sharing stories, making connections, building relationships, growing spiritually, deepening our values, creating partnerships, and putting all that into action that makes a difference - that's what UUANI is all about.
If you'd like to get connected, contact your congregational liaison or any UUANI Board member:
Rev. Scott Aaseng (Quincy) firstname.lastname@example.org
Jamie Boyce (Unity Temple/Oak Park) email@example.com
Dale Griffin (Evanston) firstname.lastname@example.org
Kaiya Iverson (DuPage/Naperville) UUKaiya@comcast.net
David Kraemer (Rockford) email@example.com
Peggy Patty (ALUUC/Springfield) firstname.lastname@example.org
AJ Segneri (First/Chicago) email@example.com
Editor's note: Marriage equality was passed in Illinois on November 5, and the governor has declared his intention to sign the legislation on November 20.