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Same sex couples outside Cook County weigh options ahead of June deadline

(Hilary Higgins )
March 31, 2014|By Tracy Swartz, @tracyswartz | RedEye

ROCKFORD  In the seven years that Ashley and Vanessa Kramer have been together, they have weathered glares as they held hands.

Some people also have called Ashley, who sports a short haircut and prefers androgynous clothing, “sir.”

Once, they were kicked out of a northern Virginia mall for kissing, they said.

But on one February morning, they encountered one of their toughest obstacles in trying to become the couple they have longed to be: Chicago traffic.

The Kramers woke at 3 a.m. to battle a slow-moving expressway to wait for hours for the Cook County Clerk’s office to open. Then finally, after years of watching legal battles ensue over same-sex marriage and an 85-mile trip from Rockford, the Kramers tied the knot on Daley Plaza alongside two other couples.

Traffic was the last barrier to marriage the couple was willing to endure. The Kramers, who were among the first same-sex couples to wed in Cook County, said they didn’t want to delay nuptials until their home county, Winnebago, begins offering licenses June 1 in accordance with state law.

Cook County began issuing same-sex marriage licenses in late February after a federal court ruling said couples could tie the knot before the state law takes effect in June.

“It just happened really quickly,” said Vanessa Kramer, 23, who said they were “kind of holding our breath and hoping” as the Illinois legislature greenlit same-sex marriage in November.

“When the opportunity presented itself, we really didn’t see a reason to wait,” said Ashley Kramer, 25.

The Kramers are one of 604 couples who were issued same-sex marriage licenses in Cook County as of March 21, according to the Cook County Clerk’s Office. Of these licenses, 78 couples traveled from outside Illinois, 63 are from the collar counties—Lake, McHenry, Kane, DuPage and Will—and 107 ,  like the Kramers, live in Illinois but outside the Chicago area.

Some counties are choosing to wait until June to issue licenses. But after a long legislative road to same-sex marriage, couples who live outside Cook County told RedEye they didn’t want to wait until June to wed so they trekked to Cook County for their ceremony.

Sean and Kenny Hurst of Mokena, about 35 miles southwest of Chicago, already had their civil union last year at the Joliet courthouse in front of about 20 attendees. But on St. Patrick’s Day, the Hursts had a casual wedding at the Daley Center.

“Since we had our civil union, I’ve called him my husband,” said Sean Hurst, 23. “I just don’t want to have to wait any longer for the rest of the world to get that.”

The Hursts met two years ago through relatives and friends and said they knew immediately they wanted to get married. Kenny, 27, loves Sean’s pasta meals. Sean chokes up when he describes how he and Kenny are best friends.

The Hursts plan on having a September church wedding in Joliet in front of 170 guests. They said they were surprised that Will County won’t issue same-sex marriage licenses until June. The county clerk there has said she plans to follow the law’s start date.

“I kind of feel like people are sort of getting with the program,” Sean Hurst said. “Obviously, we still have a long way to go.”

Jestine Cervera, 23, and Karla Zapata, 24, didn’t have a long way to go for their wedding in February. The couple lives in DuPage County’s Villa Park, not far from Cook County.

The couple met on OkCupid while Cervera was living in Beloit, Wis., and Zapata was living in Rockford.

Cervera and Zapata say they have confronted criticism during their four-year relationship. They are often mistaken for sisters—until they start holding hands. At a store in Beloit, a worker spotted them kissing and told them it was gross, they said.

They say they don’t get out much, but their fellow Villa Park residents have been friendly for the most part.

“Here in the suburbs, I find it’s hit or miss” when it comes to comfort about their love, Zapata said. “It’s mostly just the stares.”

Zapata and Cervera said over the years, they watched as same-sex marriage legislation started and faltered in Illinois. For a while, they contemplated going to Iowa to marry.

In the meantime, the couple donned fancy white dresses and had a civil union in July at Artango Bistro in Ravenswood.

And a few days after Cook County started issuing same-sex marriage licenses, they married at Cervera’s father’s house in Cook County. Zapata wore a simple dress she purchased at the mall. Cervera donned a jacket and a bow tie. There were seven people in attendance.

The difference in ceremonies was notable beyond the change in their attire, they said.

“We had the normal, ‘We now pronounce you ...’ It was a traditional ceremony,” Cervera said.

“We finally just wanted to have that piece of paper. ... It’s a different feeling to have it. People look at it like you’re in a committed relationship.”

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