In 2008, a young couple seeking to establish a home together moved to a subdivision in Chicago Heights, drawn by the neighborhood's "cute, quiet" atmosphere. They started gutting and rehabbing their home, and they visited a local church, .
Like many other couples living in Illinois, the two first met in high school, where they shared experiences that included participating in a school play. They describe their relationship as beginning as friendship and becoming romantic.
Yet, unlike many other couples, Marina Bassett and Zhenya Krassitchkova, who are lesbians, find themselves at the center of a divisive national debate about gay marriage rights.
On Wednesday, the state of Illinois began issuing civil union licenses to join any two non-married adults, becoming the sixth state in the country to do so. Bassett and Krassitchkova were among the first couples in Illinois to apply for the civil union license.
Krassitchkova, 28, took a few minutes Wednesday to conduct a telephone interview with Patch.
Patch: What was your experience like (Wednesday, June 1) at the Markham Courthouse?
It was totally un-cathartic. I thought there might be a giant line of people waiting to be civil unionized, or protesters. But it was a completely regular day. We were rushing, a little bit late. We were there by 9 (a.m.). We were the sixth couple to apply for the civil union license. There was an incident by the X-ray machine—I had nail polish and a camera with me, and you can't take those things into the courthouse. When I came back, the clerk let me in, so I would not have to wait again in line for my license. When it was our turn, I had to fill out a form, some questions that they would ask, demographic information, such as your age, Social Security number.
Was it important for you to apply for the civil union license right away?
It was important to show the politicians that yes, this was needed, and there are still issues.
How will you formalize your civil union?
We got married—whatever you want to call it—in a beautiful ceremony in Springfield. On Friday, we're going to the Chicago History Museum and we're doing a community ceremony organized by the Civil Rights Agenda. As of the 28th of May, there were about 30 couples registered. We will just have a few members of our wedding party there. We already had the real wedding, it felt wasteful to have another.
Do you have anything planned for today to celebrate?
Yes, we're going out for seafood. And it's Marina's birthday!
How do you feel about the civil union? What does it mean to you?
While I'm really happy the state is doing it, I'm not as happy as I would be about a marriage, that was recognized at a federal level. The civil union means that we can be there if the other is hospitalized, that we will be parents without having to adopt each other's children. It's always a concern; the biggest concern is hospitalization. If something awful, God forbid, were to happen. Our families are supportive, but I know plenty of people whose families are not, they could be separated.
You are originally from Russia? Are gay marriages recognized in Russia?
I'm originally from Russia, all my family is still in Russia, although my mom represented the family at my wedding, it's a long trip. No, gay marriages are not (recognized) in Russia. Homosexuality is not criminalized, but it is not recognized either.
Some activists in the gay community have said that no one should marry until all couples can marry. What do you say?
Well, I don't think that people are doing any favors by waiting until everybody can get married. I am for writing to politicians.
Tell me about Marina.
We've known each other for 12 years. We were really, really good friends. She's extremely passionate about things she believes in, she's kind and thoughtful. There's a million things about her. Who made the first move? It was totally Marina! I did ask her for our first date, and I did ask her to marry me. Our first date was to a production of Alice in Wonderland, a tiny, little storefront theater in Chicago. Marina was living in Springfield, and it was a long-distance relationship for a while.
How did you and Marina meet?
We both went to school in Roxana, Illinois. It's near Alton, Illinois. People used to confuse us with each other—we both had funny accents. So I was hearing about her. She had come back from living in England. We were both in a high school production of Robin Hood. I kind of didn't date in high school—I knew I'd be going back to Russia.
Now that you are on the way to a civil union, would you like to have children? Do people ask you that?
Yes—we definitely have had our fair share of inquiries about procreation. I'm in school now. It's going to be a few years.
Is there a faith community where you feel comfortable?
You know, I'm not really into it, religion, and neither is Marina. But we have gone to St. Agnes Church in Chicago Heights.
Where do you work?
I work in Chicago, at EdgeAlliance. It offers housing services for the HIV-AIDS community.
So you would say this issue is important to you?
AIDS has been, yes. And I'm a member of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender) community.
Have you personally encountered anger against you here in Illinois?
Not really. We had a fairly public wedding in Springfield, and we got nothing but an appreciative response from the staff, friends—everybody was super nice. We've encountered some protests, but it becomes background noise, nothing that would ruin my day. There are still hate crimes, and I guess that thought is always in the back of your mind.
Some have called the issue of gay marriage rights a cultural war, and the debate can be very polarized. Is there a way to bridge this gap?
I don't know that I'd call it a cultural war. I've talked about this with many, many, many different people, all because they know us as a couple. Because they know us, they have a different understanding of a gay relationship. Marina's family is supportive. I think knowing someone who is gay completely changes the understanding. That has been my experience. I've known some people who did have challenging experiences, there are still hate crimes, obviously. There are still issues.