Moving Forward with Marriage Equality
Lawmakers of the Prairie State are making moves to start pushing for marriage equality. The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act was introduced by three gay Illinois representatives Kelly Cassidy, Greg Harris and Deb Mell. The marriage bill calls for “all laws of this State applicable to marriage apply equally to marriages of same-sex and different-sex couples and their children; parties to a marriage and their children, regardless of whether the marriage is of a same-sex or different-sex couple, have the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law.” But, with this piece of legislation, not only the Illinois Constitution would be amended, but the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act as well. This bill was made law in 2011, which means domestic partnerships and civil unions are legal in Illinois, but the anticipated change would “recognize marriage and allow for the voluntary conversion of a civil union into a marriage.”
Representative Greg Harris, the bill’s principal architect, claims that the marriage equality battle will not be easy. He observed that most of his colleagues have accepted the bill regarding civil unions but are hesitant to support full marriage equality.
Lauren Freer of Join the Impact Chicago may have put it most frankly when she said “they gave us civil unions because they didn’t want us to have marriage. We have one set of laws for all the straight people and now we’re going to give you a separate and lesser set of laws for all you same-sex loving people and that’s unacceptable.” She also made this sentiment clear to the person who married her and her partner in Iowa not long ago when asked why they traveled to be married. In her eyes, civil unions are in no way equal to marriage.
Fortunately, Freer is not the only one who finds this to be true. Equality Illinois’ CEO, Bernard Cherkasov says of the upcoming fight for marriage equality “over the past year, we confirmed what we always suspected to be true: that creating a separate institution to provide substantially the same rights did not add up to full equality under the law.”
Similar bills were introduced in 2007 and 2009, both of which died in committee, so the gay marriage bill track record is somewhat tarnished, not to mention opposition is in no short supply. Maybe the legal and social acceptance of civil unions—fifty-seven percent according to a Chicago Tribune poll— will be the golden ticket to moving marriage legislation forward.
In September of 2011, the Catholic Conference of Illinois made public the formation of a Defense of Marriage department, which will take on any and all attempts to legalize same-sex marriage in the state.
The Bright Side
In January 2011 Governor Pat Quinn made Illinois the sixth state in the nation to legitimize civil unions and domestic partnerships by signing the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act that went into effect June 1st of that same year.
Because of a 24-hour waiting period for civil union licenses, a mass civil union ceremony took place on June 2 in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Dozens of couples declared their vows and were joined in civil union with their partners.
Even the license application process was emotional. Meta Kroker, 34, a travel agent was finally able to formalize her relationship with childhood friend and long-time partner, Joy Christopher. “I’m overwhelmed” she said “I started crying, because the person behind the clerk’s counter also started crying.”
Hopefully, the passage of related legislation in states across the country will motivate the US Supreme Court to enter the picture and “create uniformity.” One such example was a 2003 case in Texas in which the US Supreme Court’s decision helped repeal sodomy laws across the country.
- Can gay couples marry in Illinois? No.
- Can gay couples enter into civil unions or domestic partnerships? Yes.