Gay Marriage the Focus at Equality Illinois Justice for All Gala Co-Chaired by Chef Art Smith and Jesus Salgueiro

Governor Pat Quinn declared it "an historic week in Illinois" and on Valentine’s Day, it became just that when the Illinois Senate passed the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act on a vote of 34-21.  (If the bill becomes law, Illinois will become the 10th state to allow same-sex couples to marry).  At the recent Equality Illinois Justice for All Gala, co-chaired by Chef Art Smith and his partner/husband Jesus Salgueiro, Quinn issued a call to arms for supporters of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.  "This year we're going to pass and make a law called marriage equality in Illinois," Gov. Quinn said. "When people band together and work together using the power of democracy, we can make sure we pass a landmark law. And I hope everybody works together in these next few weeks so we get the votes in the Senate (which we did), to get the votes in the House, and make history in Illinois."

On the night of Saturday, February 9 in the Chicago Hilton, the biggest black-tie gala for LGBT equality in the Midwest was a combination celebration of the coming vote and a call to action.  "To all those who said 'it’s not gonna happen,' it is happening," Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, told the crowd.  "The freedom to marry is unstoppable; in the Land of Lincoln, it is inevitable!"  The bill has been endorsed by more than 300 members of the clergy and top Illinois business leaders, and, according to polls, the freedom to marry has the support of a majority of Americans and a majority of Illinoisans.

In addition to Quinn, gala attendees included Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is part of the national group Mayors for the Freedom to Marry.  Scores of other federal, state and local officials attended the event, including U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, Lt. Gov Sheila Simon, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, and the bill's legislative sponsors, state Senator Heather Steans and State Rep. Greg Harris.

Among the 1,200+ attending guests, the organization hosted local business leaders who included Hillary and Danny Wirtz, Col. James Pritzker, Laura Ricketts, and other Chicago notables.  At the gala, Senator Steans was honored with the Equality Illinois Freedom Award for her indefatigable work on behalf of equality.  Equality Illinois also recognized United Airlines with the Business Leadership Award for the company’s long history of commitment to the LGBT community. (Photos by Mystic Images Photography),  (

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