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Politics clouds same-sex marriage issue in Illinois

by Dante Mozie - Medill Reports Chicago - LINK

Feb 12, 2009

GLN permalink posted February 12, 2009

Marchers in support of gay rights protest the Defense of Marriage Act in a Jan. 10 march in Chicago.

When California legalized same-sex marriages, Chicagoan John Castillo and his partner, John Honeycuff, headed for San Francisco and were first in line to tie the knot. “It was amazing, bittersweet,” Castillo said of their second marriage.

But as they watched California voters ban same-sex marriages last November, their memories soon turned into a nightmare.

“It felt like I just got punched in the stomach,” Castillo said.

That was feeling of many in the gay community at the time, while, at the same time, conservatives rejoiced in their victory. The same tug of war between gay rights groups and conservative groups continues to play out in the form of protests, rallies and court cases throughout the country, from California to Iowa.

But what about Illinois? The interest from both sides with opposing viewpoints is there, but to some, there’s not enough political progress.

Andy Thayer of the Gay Liberation Network said when Democrats are in office, there’s a lot of complacency among people.

“Sometimes people think, ‘We’ve got friends in high places, so we don’t have to do the work that gets political change'," Thayer said.

He used the administration of former president Bill Clinton as an example, with the Defense of Marriage Act and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” initiatives starting under his tenure.

The same could be said for Republicans, he said, even though Thayer pointed out that equal marriage rights were made legal by way of the GOP-controlled courts in California and Massachusetts.

The lack of political action in Springfield may be one of the reasons why pro-gay rights groups have decided to focus attention on the issues themselves, in the form of rallies and protests. The Gay Liberation Network is one of a handful of gay rights organizations throughout the state that have organized rallies, programs and protests in favor of same-sex marriages in Illinois.

For instance, hundreds took part in the group’s Jan. 10 rally in Chicago that urged President Barack Obama to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. And the Gay Liberation Network is currently planning to have a protest at the Cook County Clerk’s Office Saturday. Protestors plan to meet at Daley Plaza and then will head to the Marriage License Bureau.

The Valentine’s Day protest is part of a nationwide Freedom to Marry Day event aimed to promote and advocate same-sex marriage.

Courtney Greve, spokeswoman for the Cook County Clerk David Orr, said they welcome the protest by the Gay Liberation Network, but added the decision to make same-sex marriage legal should be made at the state level.

“They need to address their state legislators and they need to contact the statewide elected office holders,” Greve said, “and push to get the law changed in Springfield.”

There are two bills currently in committees of the Illinois House of Representatives. One calls for the legalization of same-sex marriage, while another bill would call for a constitutional amendment banning it.

The first bill, introduced by State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) creates the “Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.” It would provide eligible same-sex and opposite-sex couples with the same treatment as those in a civil marriage. And according to the bill, no religion would be required to solemnize a marriage that it objects to.

The piece of legislation was sent to the Illinois House Family and Youth Committee Feb. 4. Harris, an openly gay politician, is the committee’s chairman.

Phone calls to Harris were not returned.

Another bill, introduced Jan. 14 by State Rep. David Ries (R-Olney) is a joint resolution bill calling for marriages to be defined only between a man and a woman.

David E. Smith, executive director of the conservative group Illinois Family Institute, said Ries and others have introduced this bill for the past six years. But he added some Democrats in Springfield have kept it from being debated.

“That’s wrong,” Smith said. “That’s just wrong.”

But conservative groups have been just as active as gay rights organizations in promoting their viewpoints. Smith said there’s great interest in what he calls “protecting natural marriage,” adding nearly 1,000 people attended a rally at the Illinois State Capital supporting a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage in the state.

Illinois already has a law that prohibits same-sex marriages, but Smith said conservative groups are pushing towards a constitutional amendment because, "in theory, the state Supreme Court can’t rule an amendment unconstitutional."

And so, the tug of war continues. But while the conservative and gay rights groups continue to battle over Illinois, some wonder if the state will ever join Massachusetts, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2004.

Castillo said there’s a different attitude in Massachusetts than here. He added the state had laid more groundwork there than Illinois has by addressing gay and lesbian issues in areas like schools.

Castillo pointed out Illinois had passed an anti-discrimination bill against gays only a few years ago, in 2005.

“So, I think we’re kind of playing catch-up at this point,” he said.


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