Rep. Mell to marry partner in Iowa

April 28, 2010 (SPRINGFIELD, Ill.) She announced that she proposed to her longtime partner, Christin Baker, on the floor of the Illinois House Wednesday. The two have been engaged for several weeks.

"If you find that person who you want to spend the rest of your life with, regardless if you're gay or straight, it should be honored and celebrated," Mell said.

The announcement- though personal in nature- was a political statement. The legislator hopes gay marriage will be recognized in Illinois someday, but for now will probably travel to Iowa to exchange vows. She said the engagement was "bittersweet" because she can't marry in her home state. She said by not allowing gay marriage, Illinois is saying she is not equal to other people.

Mell is the daughter of Chicago Alderman Dick Mell (33rd Ward) and sister to Patti Blagojevich, the former first lady of Illinois.

She is the co-sponsor of a 2007 bill in Illinois to legalize same sex marriage in the state that doesn't have enough votes to pass the Illinois Senate. So Mell is using the bully pulpit of Springfield to speak out on the issue.

Parliamentary privilege allowed the democratic representative from Chicago to take the floor and share her happiness on getting engaged. Her announcement was greeted by applause from other House members.

She and her partner spoke on WTTW's Chicago Tonight Tuesday and said allowing same sex marriage is the right thing to do.

"I just want them to see this as just as regular couple," Mell said.

"We want the same rights," Baker said.

Mell said that attitudes about same sex marriage are changing in Illinois and around the country. Five states -- Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts-- and Washington D.C. allow same-sex marriage. But opposition is fierce, and conservatives say the push-back comes from those who, reasonably, don't want alternative lifestyles foisted on them.

"What they are trying to do is impose their will and their morality on people who say no this is the definition. It has always been the definition and we are not going to change it to comport with your morality -- the morality of a very small percentage of Americans," said Dan Proft, political commentator.

At Michelle's Ballroom, which hosts social events like weddings, on the city's Northwest Side, gay clients make up 15-percent of the business. While Diego Espinoza calls himself conservative, he said a change in the law would spike his business.

"More days will be booked," said Espinoza. "From this community basically maybe we will open up a new location."

Equality Illinois has long worked with Rep. Mell and others on gay issues. Executive director Rick Garcia said re-engaging the debate over marriage is part of history's march toward equality.

"It should be marriage because we have one set of rules and one yardstick for everyone. Let's not set up parallel tracks, separate is not equal and all of us should be treated fairly and equitably in our state," said Garcia.

Mell said she will likely go to Iowa to state her vows with Baker. The two have been together for nearly six years.

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