For Chicago natives Celso Cardenas and Alejandro Lopez, their life together didn't begin with love at first sight. They met in the summer of 2003, when Celso had just moved back to the city after studying in Michigan, during a chance encounter with mutual friends. Alex saw Celso from across the way with a friend of his, thought Celso was cute, and quickly decided to introduce himself.
"It was a short and awkward conversation, and we both walked away from each other feeling equally unimpressed," Celso explained, adding, "Thankfully - the story doesn't end there."
Over the course of the next few weeks, Celso and Alex continued seeing each other around town and began hanging out in the same social circles. Their initial dislike for each other faded away, and they became friends, which quickly evolved into a romance. Their first awkward conversation had dissolved into a funny anecdote, and the men realized that they were a great match.
* * *
Now, Celso and Alejandro live together in the East Pilsen/Tri-Taylor neighborhood of Chicago, where they've purchased a home together. They've been together for nearly ten years, and as their anniversary approaches, they're hoping that they'll be able to celebrate with a marriage license from their home state. They know that it's time for marriage in Illinois, and they're hopeful that their state will stand on the right side of history this week during the special Veto Session off the Illinois Legislature.
They've been engaged to marry since the summer of 2011 - and they proposed to each other separately, after just over seven years together. While vacationing with family members and friends in Europe, Celso decided to propose to Alex in front of the Pantheon.
"We were sitting down at a beautiful restaurant with outdoor seating facing the gorgeously lit-up Pantheon," Celso explained, "and I knew that there would be no absolutely perfect moment to ask...so I just decided, now is the time." Celso reached into his pocket, pulled out the ring, and in his flustered state, knocked over a glass of wine, dying the crisp white table cloth red and messing up his moment. "Still, I knew that the moment was too comical not to take advantage of," Celso explained. "I took a deep breath, and I asked Alex to spend the rest of his life with me."
A few weeks later, Alex got the opportunity to fulfill his own dream, too, by asking Celso to marry him, too. After a romantic dinner and a wonderful night of fireworks in Chicago, Alex got his chance.
"Will you marry me?" he asked.
Celso paused. "No," he said, smiling, before quickly changing his answer to an enthusiastic "yes" and apologizing for teasing Alex during his moment. They toasted the moment with champagne and began planning the day they would stand before their loved ones, declare their commitment to each other, and say "I Do."
* * *
In Illinois, same-sex couples still do not have the freedom to marry, and in May 2013, Celso and Alex decided they couldn't wait any longer to declare their commitment to each other in front of their friends and family members.
"We got tired of waiting for our local government to catch up, so even though we were hoping that things would move faster in the state, we grew impatient and decided to move forward with our ceremony," Alex explained. "We made it a special 'thank you' to all of those around us who supported us through the years. We knew that in their eyes and in our own, we were already married - but now it's time for the legislation to get with the times and catch up."
Alex and Celso both come from close, traditional families, and they look forward to the day where they can raise their own family, too. They know that when that day comes, they'll want to ensure that their family has all of the protections they need and deserve.
"We're not granted the same rights that our heterosexual counterparts are, and that's not fair," Celso said. "I have two brothers and Alex has two sisters, and they're able to access all of the protections that we can't. We contribute to society, we engage in community service, we pay our taxes, and we are law-abiding citizens. Yet, we are made to feel as if we don't have a voice and are not supported. We want to have our marriage recognized in our state - and in all states, for that matter. This is not too much to ask."
This week, Celso and Alex - and all same-sex couples in Illinois - could finally win the freedom to marry. And the significance of the moment isn't lost on either of them.
"We all must remember to do our part!" Celso explained. "We all must fight for equality."