Like many couples, they still remember the day they met: Jan. 17, 1964.
Unlike many couples, however, they had to wait four decades to make their union official.
In 2004 — on their 40th anniversary — Ed Hamilton and Gary Magruder traveled to Canada to be married in a Protestant ceremony.
The wedding came seven years before civil unions were legalized in Illinois, but when they were, the couple went down to the Will County Courthouse to make it official in the eyes of the state.
Now, the men, both retired educators, are part of the fight to make gay marriage legal in Illinois.
“We’re asking for equal rights, not a two-tier system where there is marriage and somewhere below that is civil unions,” Hamilton said. “That is the real purpose — so gay people who are committed to each other and are recognized under the law as partners can have marriage rights.”
The couple agreed to be part of a lawsuit filed in May by the American Civil Liberties Union demanding marriage equality. A second suit was filed by New York-based civil rights group Lambda Legal. The two suits represent 25 couples from throughout Illinois.
“[Married couples] have endless federal rights that we don’t have,” Magruder said, adding that the couple’s union is not recognized in many U.S. states.
“If we decide to go to Florida in the wintertime, we would pass through a gauntlet of states that would not recognize [the union],” he said.
The suit maintains that the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, which bans same-sex marriage, is unconstitutional.
The lawsuit reads in part:
Marriage has a long and esteemed history as an institution that both is beneficial for society and contributes to individual happiness. However, lesbians and gay men long have been denied the ability to celebrate their committed relationships through marriage, as they have also been subject to discrimination in many other aspects of their lives. … Illinois reserves marriage for different-sex couples, while it has created a separate, novel and inferior civil union status for lesbian and gay couples.
Hamilton said he disputes the claim by some religious groups that legalizing gay marriage would infringe on churches’ rights.
“That does not mean any church or people who are performing marriage have to agree with it,” he said. “It’s it not to force churches to perform [gay] marriage.”
And Magruder agreed — at least in part — with those who believe marriage should remain a special designation.
“I agree with them that marriage, that concept, is psychologically and emotionally far more enriching than something you call a civil union,” he said.
He said both the civil union certificate from Will County and the Canadian marriage certificate hang on the wall of the couple’s Plainfield home.
“Those two don’t have the same significance,” he said. “All my emotional feeling is with that ceremony in Canada that didn’t count for anything.”
‘We just knew we loved each other’
Magruder said the couple moved to Plainfield in 1978 after experiencing discrimination firsthand at their previous home.
Vandals broke out windows in the couple’s house, slashed tires on their cars and spray-painted homophobic slurs on the home.
“We experienced some hate crimes,” Magruder said. “Being GLBT, you’re something of an ‘other’ … That fear isn’t gone yet.”
As teachers, the couple had to live a double life of sorts, keeping their relationship under wraps while at school.
“It was official policy, you would be fired instantly,” Magruder said. “We’ve lived through a history from the time when they gave [gays] electric shock treatment to the present.”
The couple has remained committed through a nearly half-century relationship that began with that first meeting in 1964.
“I met Ed and it was almost like a six-month courtship. We both just somehow knew,” Magruder said. “I don’t even think we thought about being gay — we just knew we loved each other.”
Magruder, 70, and Hamilton, now 75, are now enjoying their retirement in the Plainfield home they built together.
‘It’s a matter of time’
Hamilton said the ACLU approached the couple a decade ago, asking if they would be willing to join in a lawsuit seeking marriage equality.
But that suit never materialized.
“The time was not right,” Hamilton said.
When the opportunity came up again this spring, the couple was quick to say yes.
“We said many years ago that we would do anything to advance equality in all things,” Hamilton.
As for how long the lawsuit will take to come to fruition, it’s anybody’s guess.
“They told us it could be three months or three years,” Magruder said.
The lawsuit would be dropped if the Illinois state legislature were to take action to legalize gay marriage.
“We’re in it for the long haul,” said Hamilton, noting the couple is coming up on their 49th anniversary this winter. “I think by our 50th, we hope to see something [happen]” with the lawsuit.
Despite opposition from conservatives and religious groups, Magruder said he believes gay marriage will one day be a reality throughout the United States.
“I think it’s a matter of time,” he said, adding with a laugh, “It’d be nice if we’re still alive.”