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Chicago GLBTs Debate Marriage Strategy

by Amy Wooten


LGBTQ groups and allies came together July 21 to discuss the need for coalition building and a plan of action to fight the anti-gay marriage referendum.

The auditorium of the John Merlo Public Library was filled for a community forum hosted by Equal Marriage NOW! The forum, which also included speakers from Equality Illinois, the Chicago chapter of the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry ( RCFM ) , and the Gay Liberation Network ( GLN ) , discussed how to fight the recent launching of an anti-gay marriage referendum campaign. Many stressed the need to build a coalition, gather allies and use a multi-faceted approach to strengthen the movement.

“We need to get a little pissed off about this and do something about it,” said Blake Wilkinson of Equal Marriage NOW!

Recently, the Illinois Family Institute ( IFI ) launched the campaign to place a referendum on the Illinois ballot that would ask voters to define marriage as the union between one man and one woman. Other right-wing organizations have joined IFI to form Protect Marriage Illinois. The group needs 500,000 signatures to place it on the ballot.

Equality Illinois’ Rick Garcia gave listeners a glimmer of hope. According to Garcia, Illinois does not have binding referendum, meaning that even if 100 percent of voters agree, it is not going to impact the state law. “Number two, well, we’re not even sure that they are going to get enough signatures to get on the ballot,” Garcia said. “I mean, we have to remember that the people who are promoting this right now … have these huge boycotts going on against everybody and their mother—and they hate.”

The LGBT community should decide how much time and resources should be spent fighting the IFI’s campaign, Garcia continued. A more pressing matter, he said, is that in the last two legislative sessions, two “dangerous” bills have been introduced to the Illinois General Assembly that would make referendums binding. However, these bills have gone nowhere in the House or Senate. Garcia suggested that if groups continue to be diligent and keep the pressure on Democratic and moderate Republican leadership, those bills will not pose a further threat.

Next, Rev. Dan Rodriquez Schlorff of RCFM discussed the need for liberal religious individuals and political liberals to team up. Schlorff said that some political liberals have been ashamed to promote equality using religion, while many religious liberals have been “deathly afraid to use their voice.” Many institutionalized religions have alienated LGBT individuals, and in turn, the community has largely turned their backs on them. “The political and religious individuals have been working independently,” Schlorff added. “But when will our cause truly gel?” He stressed that much more could be accomplished by working together. “There are clergy who are willing to go to jail for you for that right [ to marry ] , just as you have gone to jail for pursuing that right ... and you need us to use effectively the power of religious voice to transform political policy,” he added.

Andy Thayer of GLN agreed with Garcia that there are more pressing matters. According to Thayer, the biggest danger is the 2006 gubernatorial election because of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s weakness downstate. Thayer mentioned that the situation with the referendum could become dire. “A lot of people could be hurt in the process,” he said, citing Denver’s four-fold increase in anti-gay violence during Colorado’s referendum campaign.

To fight back, Thayer pushed for taking action onto the streets and getting “back to basics.” Rebuilding an LGBT movement on the streets “is going to be one of the things that turns the tide,” he added.

Thayer also said that the community should not put its faith in politicians, and that “lobbying these clowns is laughable.”

Wilkinson of Equal Marriage NOW! agreed with Thayer about forming a powerful grassroots movement and stopping the community from rallying behind elected officials. “If we are just sitting around talking about it, not a lot if going to get done,” he added. Most important, he said, is forming a solid coalition of organizations that provide a strong front against organizations like the IFI. The key, he said, is pushing as hard as the opposition and having an uncompromising stance. “We need to be just as organized, or more organized, than the coalition of the right wing,” Wilkinson said.

During the following open discussion, many agreed that the LGBT movement needs to attack by being visible to people of influence and marching in the streets. Others also mentioned the importance of finding allies among seniors and younger individuals.

President of DuPage NOW, Kaiya Iverson, said that a multi-faceted approach is best when tackling the IFI. Lobbying is just as crucial as picketing, she added. “We’ve been talking about which is the right thing to do—to do this or that,” Iverson said. “And quite frankly, they’re all important. You’ve got to get them all. Different people respond to different things.”


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