On the same day that the California Supreme Court heard arguments on the legality of Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that defined marriage in that state’s constitution as being between a man and a woman, an Illinois bill that would create civil unions advanced to the House floor.
The bill, proposed by Democratic Rep. Greg Harris of Chicago, would create civil unions for both heterosexual and homosexual couples, giving them the same state and local rights as married couples. According to Harris, however, the bill could not address the more than 1,000 rights and responsibilities that the federal government grants to married couples.
Churches in opposition to same-sex civil unions could not be forced to perform any kind of civil union ceremony.
Opponents to the bill call it a backhanded attempt to legalize same-sex marriages in Illinois. Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, said the legislation “is all about same sex-marriage” because it would redefine the term “spouse” by including anyone in a civil union.
Gilligan also expressed a concern that faith-based organizations that oppose homosexuality would be forced to acknowledge civil unions when making hiring decisions and giving benefits.
Austin Nimocks, senior legal counsel for the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, said that this bill is identical to efforts in other states that set off judicial battles over same sex-marriage. “There is no doubt that a legal challenge will follow,” he said. If that happened, the Illinois Supreme Court would face the decision of legalizing same-sex marriage. “You very well may see a same sex-marriage decision in Illinois. … Obviously, that would happen without the consent or will of the people,” Nimocks said.
Those in favor of the bill say it is important to grant all couples the same rights in situations such as medical care decisions, hospital visits and funeral planning for a life partner. Harris said these rights are necessary “so that no one is left a legal stranger at the time of need in a loved one’s life.”
Rev. Suzanne Anderson-Hurdle, a Lutheran minister from Romeoville, said she agreed with opponents of the bill on the desire to keep the government from telling her church what to do, but she also said that sometimes the “secular or governmental world might be ahead of us believers and can challenge us to do what we should be doing.”
Anderson-Hurdle, whose church welcomes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, said that the bill was about equality, not religious faith. “This is not and should not be a religious discussion. This is a matter of legal, civil and human rights.”
Harris tried to advance an identical bill last year, but he said his effort was derailed by the impeachment proceedings of Gov. Rod Blagojevich. But it also was subject to several delaying tactics by the opposition.