Energized by recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, massive rainbow-covered crowds gathered Sunday for Chicago's annual Pride Parade with attendees, advocates and politicians vowing to continue the fight for gay marriage in Illinois.
Chicago police estimated that more than 1 million attended the parade, a big jump from the roughly 850,000 that attended last year.
Engaged couple Michael Pence, 53, and John Moehnke, 46, attended for the first time, saying they were thrilled about the Supreme Court's decisions last week to strike down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The ruling means that legally married gay couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples.
The couple from North Carolina planned to marry in New York in the fall, but want to see gay marriage extended to other states including Illinois, where they attended the parade with a church group.
"We have such a long way to go but we're ready for the fight," Moehnke said.
The theme rippled throughout the parade with scores of political signs including ones that read "Support Marriage Equality."
Illinois allowed civil unions in 2011 but efforts to legalize gay marriage in Illinois have been halted, but advocates have vowed to revive the issue. Activists began with intense momentum and received backing from President Barack Obama and Illinois' top political leaders. The measure cleared the Illinois Senate on Valentine's Day but bill sponsor Democratic state Rep. Greg Harris decided not to call a vote in the House because he said he didn't have enough votes.
Harris was one of several politicians at the parade Sunday. He said he will bring back the issue in the fall and the Supreme Court's rulings have resonated with his colleagues in the Illinois House.
"Illinois is in a truly second-class status until we pass marriage equality and treat all families equally," Harris said.
Harris, along with other lawmakers, received criticism after deciding not to call the bill for a vote at the end of session in May. There were initial efforts to bar politicians from the parade because of it. But none of that tension was visible Sunday as Harris walked along the parade route, waved to enthusiastic crowds and received hearty cheers along the way. Several attendees called him over as he walked along for hugs, kisses and pats on the back.
He and others including state Rep. Lou Lang, state Sen. Kwame Raoul and state Sen. Tom Cullerton, all Democrats, wore T-shirts that read "I'm a Yes for Marriage Equality."
Earlier this year the measure was met with fierce opposition, particularly from some prominent black megachurches and Catholic groups. They vowed to fight it again, saying marriage should remain between a man and a woman. But protesters were sparse Sunday at the parade that resembled something between an expansive rock party and a carnival.
Techno and Top 40 music blared from several of the approximately 200 floats and rainbow-colored items from tutus to balloons dominated the crowds. Former NFL player Wade Davis, who came out last year, served as the parade's grand marshal.
First-time attendee Catherine Gallagher, 25, of suburban Chicago came with a group of friends. She was adorned with glitter and leopard-print, rainbow headbands. Though she is straight, Gallagher said she supports her gay friends.
"Everybody should have the right to choose who they want to marry," she said.
The high court also made a narrower ruling overturning California's gay marriage ban.
Luis Machado, 18, also attended for the first time. The high school graduate who's headed to college came out to family members earlier this year. He said that and the court's rulings gave his parade-going experience special meaning. Machado said he hopes to marry someday.
"The highest court accepts us for who we are," he said. "This experience was so remarkable."