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Bans on same-sex marriage won’t stand, expert says

by Dante Mozie - Medill Reports Chicago - LINK

Feb 03, 2009

GLN permalink posted Feburary 4, 2009

John Richards of the Chicago Bar Association, Northwestern University Law Professor Andrew Koppelman and Lambda Legal Senior Staff Attorney Camilla Taylor

Dante Mozie/MEDILL

John Richards of the Chicago Bar Association, Northwestern University Law Professor Andrew Koppelman and Lambda Legal Senior Staff Attorney Camilla Taylor discuss California's Proposition Eight at a luncheon held by the Chicago Bar Association Tuesday.

A law professor said Tuesday that California’s Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage, may only be around for about 10 years, due to evolving views on the issue.

“If public opinion continues to shift the way that it has,” said Andrew Koppleman, who studies laws that enforce morals, “you’ll be able to put a referendum on it, I would guess, no later than 10 years. And it will be invalidated.”

Koppelman, who teaches at Northwestern University, spoke Tuesday at a luncheon sponsored by the Chicago Bar Association. The topic was the constitutional amendment approved by California voters in November that bans gay marriage. The amendment overturned a ruling by the state’s Supreme Court earlier last year that allowed same-sex couples to receive marriage licenses.

Most states have laws banning gay marriages or civil unions.

Illinois is one, but a state legislator introduced a bill a few weeks ago that would allow gay marriages.

Its sponsor, state Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat, said there’s some support from lawmakers for the legislation, but not enough to pass it.

Support from Illinois voters may be a key challenge for the bill, as well.

Harris said citizens support granting basic rights to committed couples, but that that support evaporates with the issue of same-sex marriage.

“It’s something new for a lot of folks to find these feelings and give it some thought,” Harris said, adding the more people think about it, “the more they understand that it’s a good idea.”

But David E. Smith, executive director of the conservative Illinois Family Institute, said Harris is wrong. "The more people are educated [about] gay marriage," Smith said, "the more they are likely to oppose it. They're redefining what we’ve known historically as one man, one woman."

Smith said if Harris asked his colleagues what their constituents believe, "the vast majority would oppose gay marriage." But despite this, gay rights groups, such as Equality Illinois and the Gay Liberation Network, are hoping to sway opinions of others by organizing programs against the banning of same-sex marriages in Illinois.

One such event will occur Feb. 14, when the Gay Liberation Network will gather at the Cook County Clerk’s office to demand marriage licenses for same-sex couples. The event will be one of numerous Freedom to Marry Week activities across the nation, according to the network's Web site.

And there's also the possibility that public opinion on gays already has shifted in Chicago, with people not focusing on the sexuality of some high-profile officials, such as Ald. Tom Tunney (44th Ward) and new Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman.

But Koppelman says otherwise.

"I think public opinion is shifting as a result of forces much bigger than what happens with one particular legislator," he said, adding that how people view sex and moral homosexual conduct are shifting are over time -- and have been for decades.

Only four states allow same-sex marriage or civil unions -- Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut and Vermont.

In 2007, Oregon passed a domestic partnership law that gives all of the legal protections of marriage to same-sex domestic partners and New Hampshire has a Defense of Marriage Act that limits marriage to opposite-sex couples, but passed a bill in 2007 that allows civil unions.

Koppelman said Illinois will eventually have same-sex marriages.

“How quickly that happens is a function of what happens in a particular legislative district, who gets in office and what they feel the attitude is to get re-elected.”


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