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Illinois Anti-Group Hands In Referendum Names

Governor Extends Benefits To Same-Sex Partners Of Civil Servants

by Steph Smith, 365Gay.com Chicago Bureau - LINK

May 8, 2006 - 3:00 pm ET

(Springfield, Illinois) Illinois voters might get a chance to express their opinion on gay marriage this fall.

A conservative action group calling itself Protect Marriage Illinois on Monday turned in petitions to the Board of Elections to have a referendum on same-sex marriage placed before voters.

The move came as Gov. Rod Blagojevich was signing an order extending domestic partner benefits to gay and lesbian employees of the State of Illinois.

Protect Marriage Illinois submitted 340-thousand names for the referendum, more than the 283-thousand required, but opponents predict it may not be enough to get on the ballot.

The signatures must be verified by the board and false or illegible names would be removed possibly bringing the number below the threshold.

Even if the measure gets on the November ballot it is nonbinding. Citizen referenda in Illinois can only prod the legislature to act.

The measure calls upon the Illinois lawmakers to enact a constitutional amendment to ban all unions of same-sex couples including marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships.

The organization began collecting signatures after the legislature last year rejected an attempt to pass an amendment to ban same-sex marriage. (story)

"It's a shame that we've had to resort to an Advisory Referendum to tell our legislators specifically to make protecting marriage a top priority," PMI Project Director David Smith told reporters at a news conference outside the Board of Elections.

"Nevertheless, it is humbling to see how many people and churches have invested their time, energy and resources to give us this unprecedented grassroots victory."

Illinois LGBT civil rights groups say they will fight the referendum.

"Make no mistake, this is a bold attempt to roll back equal rights progress in Illinois and make hating gays and other scapegoating respectable in Illinois politics," said Bob Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Gay Liberation Network.

Schwartz said the referendum could result in an increase in hate crimes against gays.

"If the anti-gay measure gets on the ballot, even though it only would be advisory in nature, campaigns like this are designed to divide communities and whip up hatred," he said.

"During the year following passage of the anti-gay Amendment 2 in Colorado, the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Colorado reported a 129% increase in anti-LGBT violence compared with the previous year, a figure corroborated by the Denver Police Department."

But, as Protect Marriage was touting the referendum, Blagojevich was quietly putting his name to the domestic partnership declaration.

Illinois becomes the 13th State to offer such benefits.

"The extension of domestic partner benefits is not only the fair and just thing to do it also strengthens Illinois families," said Rick Garcia, public policy director of Equality Illinois.

"This is all about fairness and treating our families equally" Garcia said. "We commend the governor for looking out for all Illinois families including gay and lesbian ones."

Such benefits are commonplace in the private sector with most Fortune 500 companies offering domestic partner benefits to their employees. In Illinois the County of Cook, the Village of Oak Park, and the cities of Chicago and Urbana are among the municipalities that offer such benefits to their gay employees.

In 2005 Illinois became the 15th state to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and only the fifth state to ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

©365Gay.com 2006


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