CHICAGO — About a million people packed Chicago streets Sunday for the first Gay Pride Parade since Illinois legalized gay marriage last month.
Many who came early to grab a good spot along the route said the new law makes this year's parade more festive — not a political statement. Last year's parade attendees used the event to continue their fight for gay marriage rights.
Charlie Gurion, who with David Wilk became the first couple in Cook County to get a same-sex marriage license in February, said there was a different feel to this parade.
"I think there is definitely like an even more sense of pride now knowing that in Illinois you can legally get married now," Gurion said, as he posed for photograph after photograph with Wilk at the parade. "I think it is a huge thing and everybody's over the moon that they can do it now."
Justine Carreon, a 21-year-old nursing student from Villa Park, agreed.
"It's much more of a celebration this year," Carreon said. "There's much more open minds."
Gay and lesbian couples across Illinois began to legally wed in all of the state's 102 counties on June 1 as a law allowing same-sex marriage took effect. Gov. Pat Quinn signed the state's gay marriage law in November, but a federal court ruling in February declared Illinois' original ban unconstitutional. That cleared the way for some same-sex couples to marry.
Jim Kelly, 67, hasn't missed the parade since 1983. The Oak Park resident is getting married in August.
"For me the parade remains the same," he said. "It's a massive declaration of how proud we are of each other and ourselves."
The event has grown by a third in recent years — 1 million people attended the 2013 parade according to Chicago police, up from 750,000 people in 2011.
"I do see more straight people every year," said Sam Berke, 24, a UPS worker from Batavia.
Chicago police said late Sunday that more than a million people attended this year and there were eight arrests, one of which was for criminal damage to a police vehicle. Police said they had no further information about what occurred.
Numerous public officials, like Quinn, as well as representatives from city businesses and museums, such as the Shedd Aquarium and Art Institute, participated Sunday. The parade also features dozens of performing acts and decorated floats.