By Gayle Lilliana Blakely, editor-in-chief
After a long day of campaigning and receiving news about the Illinois House passing the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, the then 46th Ward candidate for alderman James Cappleman came home at around 10 p.m. on Nov. 30, 2010, walked down the hall to his kitchen and then happily told his partner of 19 years, “It passed!” “Yay!” exclaimed an excited Richard Thale. Moments later, Cappleman proposed: “Will you marry me?” Thale immediately said yes.
With only two weeks to finalize their plans, 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman and fiancé Richard Thale have decided to keep their wedding ceremony simple and hold a Mardi-Gras-style reception on Halsted Street.
“I’m learning that it’s not always possible to keep weddings simple,” admitted Cappleman, after he explained in an interview that invitations were mailed to the couple’s friends and family.
But the reception will not be “simple.” Cappleman said that there will be a jazz band parading from the church to the center of Halsted St., after the ceremony has commenced.
Chief of Staff Tressa Feher said, “We support (the alderman) more like friends than his employer.”
Even 46th Ward intern Nick Aliotta supports his boss’s wedding. “I, myself, am not gay, but I am a huge supporter (of same-sex marriage),” said Aliotta. “I think we’ve got to a place where we can embrace any kind of partnership.”
The Perils of Being a Gay Alderman
But not all members of the public accept same-sex relationships. A public figure, James Cappleman said that while he and his fiancé went walking on Wilson Avenue recently, a pedestrian looked at the couple and shouted, “There’s that faggot alderman!” Cappleman’s reaction: “I think (Richand and I) learned that it’s not worth getting upset about. We hear it, and we both learned through the years to ignore it.”
Continuing, the alderman said, “That happens to me in the neighborhood about three times per week. …If I’m supposed to get upset by it, I’m not. I look at it as a little child calling an adult a name. There are other battles to fight.”
But a family member also strongly disagreed with the same-sex couple. Cappleman’s older brother had once objected to his dating Thale when their mother was on her deathbed in 1994, said the alderman. After the funeral, however, his brother accepted their relationship.
“After Richard came to my mom’s funeral and my family saw the two of us interact with one another, (my family) thought, ‘Ah, what’s the big deal?’ They didn’t understand why they held those biases,” said Cappleman.
The alderman said that his family and friends have since been supportive of their union.
Cappleman also said that his nephew was negatively affected by their partnership when the fifth-grader constructed a family tree and listed “Uncle James and Uncle Richard” as a couple.
“He got pushed by some of the students and some of the teachers,” Cappleman said. “To him, it was just a normal everyday thing.”
And, when asked about his views regarding the Chick-fil-A controversy, Alderman Cappleman said, “The owner of Chic-fil-A has his right to express his own belief, but I have a right to not ever shop there. I will not support any organization that says that one group of people is ‘less than.’”
A licensed social worker, Cappleman added, “There are a disproportionate number of LGBT people who commit suicide. That’s because they view themselves as ‘less than.’
“(And I’m not just speaking about) the LGBT community; (I’m also referring to) people who are of different races, people who are transgender, people who are women. Any organization that says that one particular segment of society is ‘less than’ is not going to get my support.”
Despite the perils associated with homosexuality, the alderman believes that as more same-sex couples “come out,” others will accept it and eventually “laugh at this.”
Cappleman expounded his belief in these words: “I’m going to be 60 this year, and I grew up in Texas, and I remember integration. I remember (when I was five years old) and sneaking up to a water fountain that was marked for ‘colored’ people. …The tall fountain was refrigerated for white people. The small one was for colored people. And I remember sneaking up there and hoping no one would catch me to take a sip of that water. (I wanted) to see if it was different. And it was. It was lukewarm, but that was … the only difference. We look at that (today), and we’re appalled by it. I think future generations will be appalled at what took so long to (accept same-sex partnerships). …That’s why we’re getting married—to keep pushing, just like African Americans keep pushing.”
“We’re just like any other couple.”
Alderman Cappleman maintains that his relationship with Thale is “just like any other couple.”
Immediately after Cappleman was elected alderman for the 46th Ward, he and partner Thale sought relational advice from heterosexual couple 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore and wife Barbara.
What Cappleman had found after conferring with his friends was that his relationship with Thale was “no different from what a lot of (heterosexual) couples go through.”
He said, “The neat thing about being in a relationship for 20 years is the love changes; it kind of evolves. …I’ve heard the concept, ‘This person is my other half.’ (Richard) IS my other half! I get it now.”
The alderman added that people have already found his wedding announcement encouraging, that being open about same-sex relationships will help both LGBT and heterosexual communities.
“It’s really important for the community to see more same-sex couples ‘come out’ and announce. Society needs to see that. …It’s all the more reason to have the ceremony. It’s to let people know that our commitment is really no different than what other people have,” he said.