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Sterling women first same-sex couple to marry in Whiteside

STERLING – Theresa Walls and Lisa Schantz didn’t set out to be the first, but, as time and life would have it, they were. On Friday morning, the two became the first same-sex couple to get a marriage license in Whiteside County.

“It wasn’t our goal to be number one,” Schantz says, sitting on a couch in their Sterling home.

“Yeah, no, we had no idea,” Walls says. “They were like, ‘You’re our first ones! You’re our guinea pigs!’ So we were just like, oh, OK. I assumed other couples would’ve been there before us.”

The two began dating in the late summer of 2007, and had their civil union ceremony Oct. 5 at Rock River Country Club – a “big to-do” with about 200 guests, which is why they didn’t think that, to anyone other than themselves, their signing a piece of paper on a random June day at the Whiteside County clerk’s office would be a big deal. They didn’t even really tell many people they were going.

Surprise: It was a big deal!

“It was an important date to us, but we didn’t really tell a whole lot of people that we were going, so we didn’t expect anything,” Schantz says. “It was special to us, but we didn’t think it was to everyone else.”

A photograph of the two of them, taken by Schantz’s former babysitter, Whiteside County Clerk Dana Nelson, and posted to Sauk Valley Media’s Facebook page has since garnered more than 1,000 likes and 100 comments, almost all of them well wishes and congratulations.

“My mom called because she saw it on Facebook,” Schantz says, laughing. “I didn’t tell her, so she was mad.”

Gov. Pat Quinn signed the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act into law on Nov. 20, 2013, making Illinois the 16th state to legalize same-sex marriage — a little more than a month after Schantz’s and Walls’ ceremony.

“I was overwhelmed,” Walls says. “I mean, finally. It’s about time. There’s nothing different. We still live in a house; we still have to work. It’s the same thing, you know? It’s just two women.”

The new law went into effect June 1, and changed the definition of marriage in Illinois from “between a man and a woman” to “between two people.”

“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, you guys are the perfect couple,’ but I don’t see us as the perfect couple; we do have our differences,” Walls says. “I’m more crazy and wild; she grounds me.”

The first same-sex couple to apply for a marriage license in Lee County visited the clerk’s office on Tuesday; they were unable to be reached for this story.

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