After 50 years of commitment, this Navy veteran and his partner need the freedom to marry

Jim Darby, a proud veteran, was born 80 years ago on the south side of Chicago. He worked in the stockyards before enlisting in the Navy to serve in the Korean War, where he served four years before receiving an honorable discharge.

After his term of service, Jim returned to Illinois, where he continues to live with his partner, Patrick Bova, 73. Jim and Patrick met in 1963 at the University of Chicago. They have been in a committed relationship ever since!

The couple participated in a large civil union ceremony in Chicago’s Millenium Park in June of 2011 (below). But, as they plan for their future and as they grow older, the protections provided to them in their civil union are not enough. They worry that without the critical protections that only marriage can provide, they will be unable to take care of one another and make decisions when they need to most. 

Even though the so-called Defense Against Marriage Act has been struck down, Illinois couples in civil unions are still denied many federal protections. Jim has always wanted to be buried at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, a national military cemetery, laid to rest alongside Patrick. But until Illinois lawmakers allow same-sex couples the freedom to marry, Patrick cannot be buried next to Jim because they are not legally married. Jim and Patrick are continuing to fight for the freedom to marry so that when they are laid to rest, the couple’s service can be honored in the national cemetery alongside other veterans and their spouses. (Photo by AP)

“After over 50 years together, I have to wonder how our love and commitment to each other is still questioned,” Jim said. “A civil union does not hold the same meaning as marriage, and Patrick and I know our love deserves recognition. We just want to be able to protect each other as we grow older.”

This discrepancy led Jim and Patrick to become the lead plaintiffs in Lambda Legal’s case Darby v. Orr. The case was filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County on May 30, 2012, one year after civil unions took effect in Illinois. The case is still open in Illinois, with the defeat of the so-called Defense Against Marriage Act sparking a request for swift action in Darby v. Orr. Watch video from Lambda Legal featuring Jim and Patrick:

Jim and Pat hope that they will be able to marry, legally, in Illinois soon. Until then, Jim plans to continue his advocacy work in Illinois, including sharing his story with elected officials to show why marriage matters to him and Pat. “We have traveled to Springfield many times in support of the marriage bill,” Jim explained. ”Most of our efforts have been concentrated on those Representatives who are veterans and who have served their country.”

And it’s Jim’s experience as a veteran that has solidified his commitment to advocating for freedom in his home state. “In our time lobbying for the bill, I have been able to tell these lawmakers: ‘I have fought for the rights of all Americans. Does that not include LGBT Americans, like myself?’” 

Each day, veterans like Jim are helping to make the case that in Illinois, freedom is what unites us – and that freedom means freedom for everyone. No Illinoisan should be told it’s illegal to marry the person they love. And decades of serving his country and contributing to his community, it’s time that Jim is afforded the same paramount freedom afforded to all other families: the freedom to marry the person he loves. (Photo by Taylor Patrick)

It is time for Illinois to extend the freedom to marry to all loving and committed couples.  

Editors' Note: This story has been cross-posted from Illinois Unites for Marriage, the coalition working to pass a marriage bill in Illinois on behalf of amazing couples like Jim and Patrick. Learn more about Illinois Unites for Marriage HERE.