Tom Kacich: Same-sex couples flocking to Urbana
Who would have thought of Urbana as this generation’s Poconos or Niagara Falls?
But Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten’s decision to issue same-sex couples marriage licenses in February — instead of waiting until June 1 when a new state law goes into effect — has created a small same-sex marriage industry in Urbana.
“They’re coming from all over the Midwest,” said Presiding Judge Thomas Difanis. “Yesterday I had a couple come in from Ohio. I’ve had them from Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky. Obviously their states don’t have it so they come here.”
He said the initiative had to be good for local tourism.
“You can let the mayor know that we’re doing our part for business in Urbana. We’re keeping the hotels and motels full,” the veteran judge said.
Hulten’s office reported that of the 71 marriage licences issued to same-sex couples since Feb. 26, 31 have been to pairs from out of state, also including Florida and Missouri.
“I’m happy to have people coming to Champaign County, even Kentucky people,” Hulten joked.
Although Cook County also is performing same-sex marriages, Difanis said some out-of-staters may be coming here for convenience.
“First of all, it’s a lot easier to get married here because there’s only one courthouse. I don’t know where they do weddings in Cook, maybe at the Daley Center (in downtown Chicago), but just trying to get down there and park and everything, we’re open and friendly and we have easy parking,” quipped Difanis.
Thursday is Difanis’ day to perform weddings at the courthouse and he said he’s done “10 or 12” same-sex ceremonies in the last three weeks. For his first one, though, he had to make last-minute revisions to the vows he’d been using for years.
“Three weeks ago — I hadn’t been available on Thursdays for a while because I’ve been in Decatur and covering other areas — I find out I’ve got weddings. They let me know that all four of them were same-sex weddings and all of a sudden I realized that my wedding ceremony was not designed for that,” he said, “So I took a five-minute break and put something together which I’m quite proud of as a matter of fact.
“The ones that I’ve done, they’ve been absolutely delightful. These people are so happy. They’re just incredibly pleased. I’ve done some weddings where you wonder, why are these two getting married? But all the ones I’ve done have been absolutely delightful.”
Hays on state Senate seat
It’s not quite a pledge not to run, but state Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, said last week that he’s not inclined to seek Sen. Mike Frerichs’ Senate seat in 2016.
“I’ve enjoyed being in the House and I’m certainly honored to be named to the House leadership in only my second full term here,” said Hays, who is assistant Republican leader. “I didn’t come here to have a stepping stone to be running for the next political office. At least at this point in time my plans would be to remain in the House, to run successfully this fall.”
Hays is unopposed for a third term as the 104th District representative.
Even if Frerichs is elected state treasurer this November, and another Democrat is appointed to succeed him, Hays said he’d likely stay in the House.
“I think being in the leadership is a positive for my district and it moves us a little closer to home plate, being involved in the discussions about what we’re doing in the state,” he said. “I would say that as we speak here on the 21st of May, that’s not something I’m looking at seriously.”
Johnson teaching again
Former U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, an Urbana Republican, will teach a night class at Danville Area Community College this summer.
The 3-credit-hour class, which will be offered Tuesday and Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 8:40 p.m., is “U.S. Congressional Politics.” In-district tuition and fees forthe course is $375. Tuition is waived for in-distrct residents 60 years and older; they pay only a $45 course fee.
Johnson served 12 years in Congress after a 24-year career in the Illinois House.
Callis on Shinseki
Although President Obama and congressional Democrats are standing by him, 13th Congressional District candidate Ann Callis is calling for the ouster of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.
“She thinks he should be removed. That’s a start to the reform, it’s not enough by itself,” said Marshall Cohen, a spokesman for Callis. “Ann’s got a great record of working for veterans and it’s something that is very personal to her because of her son being a deployed soldier. She’s very interested in seeing a change in leadership.”
Shinseki so far has avoided being connected to allegations that dozens of veterans died at a Phoenix, Ariz. VA facility while waiting for care. The probe has expanded to include dozens more VA facilities, including the Hines hospital near Maywood.
Unlike Callis, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, is standing by Shinseki.
Burgess post office
Legislation naming the U.S. Post Office at 302 E. Green St. in Champaign for former Champaign County State’s Attorney James R. Burgess, Jr., has advanced to passage stage in the U.S. House. It was voted out of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last week.
“We hope it would be called on the floor in the next few weeks,” said Andrew Flach, a spokesman for Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, the sponsor of HR 1707.
The proposal to name the post office for the late prosecutor — the first African-American elected to countywide office in Champaign County — was the work of his son, also named Steve, who passed away suddenly last November.
Although the senior Burgess made history politically in that 1972 election, and later became a U.S. attorney in the East St. Louis area, Steve Burgess was most proud of his father’s service in World War II. He was a leader of the 761st Tank Battalion, the first black armored unit to enter battle in World War II. Late in 1944, the 761st entered the European Theater and advanced almost to Czechoslovakia, as far as any Allied unit at that time.
385 and upward
Finally, congratulations to the city of Champaign which, according to the Census Bureau, is the 385th largest city in the United States. The Census Bureau estimated last week that Champaign’s population is now 83,424. It was 81,055 at the time of the 2010 census.
The city ranks 10th in Illinois, behind Chicago, Aurora, Rockford, Naperville, Springfield, Peoria, Elgin, Waukegan and Cicero.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at email@example.com.