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California gay marriage ruling will affect Illinois

Daily Herald - 5/17/08 - LINK

Either way you look at it, California's Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage will have an impact in Illinois.

Advocates say it will spur efforts to legalize the same here in Illinois; opponents say they will try again to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages.

"Look back to 2004 and you'll see how Massachusetts' (legalization of gay marriage) was the catalyst for 11 more states to amend their constitutions," David Smith, of the Glen Ellyn-based Illinois Family Institute, said Friday. "It created a significant backlash, and this will, too."

But Camilla Taylor, senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal in Chicago, said the California ruling demonstrates "the inevitability that we will achieve full recognition of the right to marry for all Americans."

California's high court ruled Thursday that the state has no legal grounds on which to bar same-sex marriage. The majority opinion in the 4-3 ruling stated civil unions or domestic partnerships -- anything short of marriage -- are not full civil rights. Gay marriage opponents in California are organizing quickly for a state constitutional ban.

Currently, Massachusetts is the only state that recognizes gay marriage. Some U.S. couples go to Canada for same-sex weddings, in part because Massachusetts law discourages out-of-state residents. Beyond that, said Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network in Chicago, "Canada passed this without the ridiculous drama you see here. I have found Canada to be much more accepting of gays and lesbians."

In Illinois, a law pushed in the mid-1990s by former state Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, an Inverness Republican at the time, defines marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

In 2005, when the General Assembly passed and Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed a law banning sexual-orientation discrimination in such matters as employment and housing, opponents said it would become a stepping stone toward same-sex marriages.

But state Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat and the legislature's only openly gay member, has gained little traction in those efforts. A year ago, Harris filed legislation to allow marriages and then -- seeing a lack of support -- scaled it back to legalizing civil unions, which would grant couples some legal benefits of marriage.

The civil union measure won House committee approval last year before stalling. Thayer said the effort bogged down because of "the Democratic majority not getting its act together."

A year earlier, in 2006, the Illinois Family Institute, joined by others, turned in nearly 350,000 signatures to put on the November ballot a nonbinding referendum urging legislators to adopt a constitutional ban. But the question was tossed off the ballot, an outcome Smith blamed on what he termed a questionable ruling by Chicago election officials.

State Sen. Bill Brady, a Bloomington Republican and likely gubernatorial aspirant for 2010, said Friday he will initiate next year another drive for a constitutional ban. The California ruling, Brady said, "gives more credence to the fact that we need to strengthen the constitution based on the wishes of voters and not leave it to a court."

But Taylor and Thayer say California's ruling generates substantial momentum in their favor. Both noted historical precedent: California courts were, in 1948, the first to strike down a state ban on interracial marriages.

"One thing that I think is important," Thayer said, "is that these lawsuits (in California) were started by couples; only after they got the ball rolling did regional and national organizations get on board. Much the same process will be necessary here. Regular citizens will have to step up to the plate."


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