When the annual Pride Parade steps off at noon Sunday on the North Side, marriage will be the overarching theme and cause for celebration at the event, organizers have said.
And this year, the colorful procession will start out with dozens of married gay couples walking side by side, some with their children.
There will also be heterosexual parents with their gay children and siblings all marching in the front to showcase the value of kinship and the different types of families, said Richard Pfeiffer, the organizer of the event.
"The parade as a whole represents different aspects of our community," Pfeiffer said. "Having the families in the front communicates that gay people are everywhere and are apart of all aspects of life. Some of us are married now, some of us are raising children. We are your brothers, sisters, best friends. We work next to you in your cubicle. We are at every level and every part of society."
Earlier this month, the state's same-sex marriage law officially went into effect, allowing hundreds of couples to make their partnerships legally recognized. Not only did couples line up to marry, hundreds of others converted their civil unions into official marriage certificates.
The victory came about a year after the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling striking down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, which inspired a surge of joy among the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
That joy will translate into an even stronger festive and exciting mood at this year's parade, Pfeiffer said. In addition to leading the parade, married couples will be sprinkled throughout the procession, on floats, in cars and marching with various organizations, he said.
"The parade itself has 200 registered entries," Pfeiffer said. "We want it to be a great day. We want people to stay safe and we are prepping for more than a million people like we did last year."
This year, there are about a handful of new organizations and religious groups lending their support and participating in the parade, Pfeiffer said. For example, the Shedd Aquarium and Art Institute of Chicago are sending contingents to march.
With the passage of same-sex marriage, there are a growing number of businesses, leaders, corporations and clergy that want to show they embrace the LGBT community and this historic gain, said Bernard Cherkasov, the chief executive officer of Equality Illinois, an advocacy group.
"In the past, we were always fighting for our families, and it didn't feel like a full celebration," he said of the parade. "Now there is a sense that our laws are catching up with our reality. This is a moment when we can really celebrate.
"The battle is not over. But each victory deserves a celebration because we are one step closer."
Long before marriage equality was the spotlighted civil rights issue for the LGBT community, Chicago hosted the parade and festival weekend, which recognizes and honors a historic community rooted here while highlighting their social and political gains and plight.
This year, the parade is expected to attract more than 1 million spectators who will line the 4-mile route that wraps around Uptown, Lakeview and Lincoln Park to cheer, dance and show support. The parade typically lasts about three hours, Pfeiffer said, but people stay in those communities for long afterward.
Because the parade attracts so many, the Chicago Police Department has urged, in letters to residents who live along the route, not to gather on rooftops. Rooftops that don't have a special designated area for gatherings are a concern because people can fall and get hurt, or throw objects into the street, officials said.
Police will also be paying close attention to the number of people on balconies and enforcing the city's zero tolerance ban on alcohol consumption on the public way, said Martin Maloney, a spokesman for the department.
This year's parade comes just as the city has increased the fines for public drinking and urinating. The fines are now between $500 to $1,000.
"Last year's Pride Parade was enjoyed by more than 1 million people, and by large it was enjoyed peacefully," Maloney said in a written statement. "There were some isolated incidents that were addressed quickly by police."
In addition, the city's Office of Emergency Management and the Fire Department will be monitoring the parade to ensure public safety, said Ald. James Cappleman, 46th, who oversees the ward where much of the parade is held.
"My first concern is safety for participants, attendees and the community overall," Cappleman said.
Cappleman will be at the parade among the decorated floats, dancers and bands, participating as he has in the past, he said. But this year's celebration will take on a special meaning.
"This parade is particularly significant because I will be marching as a married man," he said. "It's something that I've fought to see happen for many decades, and it's wonderful that marriage equality has finally happened."
While the parade is expected to take on this festive mood, organizers say it will also highlight that there is still more work to do to reach full equality. Although same-sex couples in Illinois now have the right to marry, that is not the case everywhere. And LGBT residents still don't have federal laws protecting them from discrimination at work or in housing or public accommodations, they say.
"We have marriage in Illinois, but we have work to do on the national level," Pfeiffer said. "Getting federal protections is the next step for us."
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