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(Re)committed to a cause

Jamie (left) and Nikki Pagano of Naperville, with 2-month-old son Cooper, listen to the judge during their civil union ceremony at Millennium Park in downtown Chicago Thursday.  | Marianne Mather~Sun-Times Media

Jamie (left) and Nikki Pagano of Naperville, with 2-month-old son Cooper, listen to the judge during their civil union ceremony at Millennium Park in downtown Chicago Thursday. | Marianne Mather~Sun-Times Media

This is one in a series of articles reconnecting with some of the memorable people the Naperville Sun reported on during 2013.

A lot of people marry more than once. Not many go through the rite three times, all with the same spouse.

Nikki and Jamie Pagano say they’ve felt married since 2007, when Rev. Tim Rhodes performed their wedding at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Naperville.

They recommitted nearly four years later, joining some three dozen other same-sex couples in Chicago’s Millennium Park just after Illinois law was amended to recognize civil unions, including those between gay partners.

And wedding plans could begin to take shape again, after the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act takes effect in Illinois on June 1. Within the first year after the law is enacted, those already in a civil union will be free to convert their status to fully married without going through the process required of those not yet in a legally sanctioned relationship.

“We’ll be doing that, and we’ll probably do it on the anniversary of our first union, which was in a church,” said Nikki, 33, a North Central College graduate who teaches seventh-grade science and social studies at Washington Junior High School.

She and Jamie have a 2-year-old son, Cooper, and he is a big part of their determination to unite to the greatest extent allowed by law. Nikki said she is apprehensive about the differences among different states’ laws as they relate to same-sex marriage.

“There’s a chance that sometime, something could come up — I don’t know what — and they could say, ‘That’s a state issue, and here in Ohio we don’t honor gay marriage,’” she said.

Calling the new law “one more step in getting rid of the separate-but-equal” regulations now in place, Nikki said filing tax returns will be simpler now as well. But becoming a legally recognized family is a big deal.

“Obviously it’s historic, but I’m looking at it as our first marriage was done with no kids, just us, and hopefully our last marriage will be with Cooper and any other children, our family,” she said.

As with any new law, bumps in the road are expected. Nikki said she taps the gay-rights law group Lambda Legal for advice, but sometimes not even that is the last word. She and her spouse are proceeding with sense of optimism that’s tempered by caution.

“It’s so confusing, I feel like some experts don’t even know until there’s a challenge in court,” she said. “And I don’t want to be that challenge.”

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