On Tuesday of this week, Illinois became the fifteenth state to come over from the darkside and embrace marriage equality.
On Wednesday, the office of Illinois State Representative Naomi Jakobssen, who voted for the bill, released this statement:
“Equal protection under the law is important to everyone in my family, including Garret. This was a vote that was important to my whole family, one that I felt I could not miss, and I know my son was proud of my decision.”
That’s the family she was talking about in the photo above, eight children, six of them adopted, twelve grandchildren, assorted in-laws. Naomi Jakobsson is the white-haired woman in the center of it all, both literally and in the photo. Her husband Eric is behind her, with his hands on her shoulders. Garett, the son she singled out for mention, is next to his mother in the green Adidas jacket. Garret’s wife, Beth, is in the green sweater to his right, and their son, ten-year-old Gunnar, is the boy on the first step wearing a black jacket. I wish I could tell you why so many members of the family are holding sock puppets, we’ll just have to enjoy the mystery.
The gay and lesbian community owes this family a thank you.
Rep. Jakobsson was a co-sponsor of the marriage equality bill in the Illinois House, but she had been conspicuously absent in the week before the vote. This was unusual for Rep. Jakobsson, who has served in the Illinois State House since 2002. She never missed the debate on a bill she sponsored, much less a vote. But as the argument heated up in Springfield, Naomi Jakobsson was ninety minutes away, at a hospice in Matoon, keeping a vigil at the bedside of her son Garret, who was dying a slow death from a progressive neurodegenerative disorder called Pick’s Disease.
Garret had been in hospice care for some time, and his death was imminent. No one would have faulted Naomi Jakobsson if she had chosen to be a mother first and remain by the side of the boy she and Eric had adopted from South Korea in 1968, at the beginning of their journey together. No doubt husband and wife had discussed it many times before, whispering in the dark while their son slept, about the possibility that she might be called away to vote on the marriage bill. They would have talked about that eventuality among the family. The decision would have been made long before the phone call from the capitol was.
Tuesday morning that phone call came. The bill was scheduled to be voted on that afternoon. A “test vote” for an amendment had just failed, receiving only 59 of the 60 votes it needed to pass. Marriage equality for the state of Illinois could hinge on Rep. Jakobsson’s vote. She had to come!
Naomi Jakobsson shouldered her responsibility as a legislator. She kissed her sleeping son and promised to return the very minute she could. She embraced her husband, each of them drawing strength from the other as they had through all their years together. There would have been no last minute discussion. No second guessing their decision. Just promises to be quick, and warnings to drive carefully. Then Rep. Jakobsson buckled in for the ninety minute drive to Springfield, no doubt with her circular thoughts outracing the car all the way.
Rep. Jakobsson arrived just after the final debate got underway. She sat through two and a half hours of the back and forth, tortured by her circumstances, no doubt hearing little of what was said.
Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, one of Rep. Jakobsson’s best friends in the chamber, said of that day:
“Everything was a little surreal. She had left this environment that she’d been in, kind of a waiting vigil at her son’s bedside, to come here.”
House Majority Leander Barbara Lynn Curry noted that Rep. Jakobsson was visibly distraught, but did her best to get through a difficult day. Rep. Greg Harris, chief sponsor of the bill, stated:
“I take my hat off to her, I admire her, and I give her nothing but respect for the courage it took to come to Springfield.”
Rep. Jakobsson cast her “yes” vote for marriage equality. There were 61 yes votes, one more than was needed for the legislation to pass. Democratic lawmakers took a victory lap, posing for photos and happily answering reporters questions, but Rep. Jakobsson was not among them. She was back on the road to the hospice, back to her husband and her daughter-in-law, back to her young grandson Gunnar, back to her beloved son Garret. Garret would have all of her time and attention now that she had stood up and done her duty to Illinois.
Garret passed away ten minutes before her car pulled into the hospice parking lot. She was too late. Rep. Naomi Jakobsson had stood up for equality, and lost the opportunity to see her son out of this life.
Majority Leader Barbara Lynn Curry announced Garret Jakobsson’s death on the house floor Wednesday, requesting a moment of silence so that member could, “express in their own hearts, their concern for Naomi, her family and young Gunnar.”
Rep. Greg Harris said of her:
“Naomi Jakobsson is an amazing woman. Kind, caring and courageous. She was among the first to sign on as a sponsor to marriage equality, and has been a champion for this and many other issues of justice and fairness in Central Illinois, and across our state. What a sacrifice her family made.”
I agree. It is the kind of sacrifice that should not go unnoticed among the gay community.
So today let’s take a moment to express our own thanks for the extraordinary generosity of the Jakobsson family – an acknowledgement that we have taken notice and appreciate their selflessness, at a time when they most needed the comfort of their wife/mother/grandmother. Let us also take special notice of Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, who earned a place in gay history this week. Let us offer our condolences upon their loss, and our thanks for their sacrifice.
Today, Illinois State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson and the entire Jakobsson family, are On Our Radar.
Photos: Rep. Jakobsson’s Facebook
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.