Evanston officials reflect after a year of same-sex marriage in Illinois


Julia Jacobs, Assistant City Editor

Evanston issued the most same-sex marriage licenses of Cook County suburbs in 2014, which is credited to the city’s diversity, progressive culture and close proximity to Chicago, said Mark Muenzer, the city’s director of community development and LGBT liaison.

Evanston issued 142 marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Cook County’s first year of legal same-sex marriage, according to a report released Feb. 18 by the county clerk.

“I’ve spoken with same-sex couples in Evanston, and they like being in Evanston because they know that there are other same-sex couples,” Muenster said. “They often have children and want to be in an environment where having parents of the same sex is supported.”

Ald. Mark Tendam (6th), the city’s first openly gay alderman, said the progressive nature of the community as well as the high quality of schools and other public amenities have made the city a magnet for LGBT couples moving north from Chicago.

“I don’t know any gay couple or lesbian couple in the city that isn’t part of a neighborhood and isn’t warmly received by neighbors,” Tendam said.

The election of two openly gay city officials, including Tendam and Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board member Richard Rykhus, also sends the message that Evanston is an accepting city, Tendam said.

In 2014 Evanston was one of only two Illinois cities analyzed, the other being Chicago, to score a 100 out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index system. Some of the qualities reviewed included non-discrimination laws, relationship recognition, employee equality and fair law enforcement. In November, Evanston appointed Muenzer as its LGBT liaison after city staff realized the lack of the position was holding it back from a perfect score from the HRC. The Evanston Police Department appointed its own LGBT liaison in December 2013.

Since the county clerk was cleared to issue marriage licenses in Illinois at the end of February 2014, 6,508 same-sex couples have married in Cook County, the clerk’s report said. The state has issued at least one license to a couple living in every Chicago zip code except two, and 113 out of 127 of the suburban Cook County municipalities.

“It shows that the LGBT community is everywhere,” said Michael Ziri, the director of public policy for Equality Illinois, the state’s largest advocacy group for the LGBT population. “They’re our neighbors, they’re our friends, they’re our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. … This is a part of the process towards full equality, towards lived equality.”

There was an instance in LGBT history when Evanston proved even more progressive than Chicago, Tendam said. In 1988, Chicago City Council passed a human rights ordinance protecting lesbian, gay and bisexual people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation, but Evanston was the first city in the state to extend those protections to transgender individuals in 1997.

“I think that lets people understand that we are engaged, we are progressive, we desire good people of all kinds to be here,” Tendam said.

Tendam and his husband were officially married in December, but the formality was mostly for tax purposes, he said. The couple was originally joined into a civil union on the first day it became legal in Illinois in June 2011 in a ceremony officiated by Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and Judge Larry Axelrood.

In his position as Evanston’s LGBT liaison, Muenzer said he will continue to help community organizations become more involved in LGBT issues, bring LGBT policy to the forefront and promote the work of Northwestern groups in the city.

“Evanston is known for promoting all types of diversity,” Muenzer said. “LGBT people along with other minorities want to know that they can live their life the way they want to live their life without obstacles.”

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