Tuesday, November 05, 2013

House approves same-sex marriage, but couples will have to wait until next year

By Jamey Dunn 

After weeks of speculation about whether lawmakers would vote to legalize same-sex marriage during the fall legislative session, the Illinois House approved the bill today, and it now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn for his signature.

 “Loving same sex-couples will be able to publicly confirm their commitment to each other and join their friends and neighbors in being treated equally in the eyes of the law,” Chicago Democratic Rep. Greg Harris, sponsor of Senate Bill 10, said during floor debate today. Harris, who is gay, gave a tearful speech to disappointed supporters after he opted not to call the bill at the end of the regular spring session. “I apologize to families who were hoping to wake up tomorrow as full and equal citizens of this state,” he said at the time.

Even though Senate Bill 10 was approved today, those families will have to wait a little longer. The law will not go into effect until June 1, 2014. Harris removed the immediate effective date on the bill so that it could pass with 60 votes instead of the 71 that would have been needed for an immediate effective date. The Senate originally passed the bill on Valentine's Day and moved quickly today to approve the changes made in the House and send the bill to Quinn. The governor held a celebration with supporters this evening and plans to sign the bill later this month. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia already allow same-sex couples to marry.

Today’s events were more subdued than that last day of the session in May when supporters chanted for the sponsor to call the bill. Harris has been quiet about his intent, and fewer advocates and opponents turned out at the Statehouse. Still, the House public galleries were full, and supporters broke into applause at several points during the debate. Opponents argued today that the measure would infringe upon the liberties of Illinoisans who are opposed to same-sex marriage because of their religious beliefs. “This country was built on freedom of religion, not freedom from religion,” said Wheaton Republican Rep. Jeanne Ives. She said that citizens who do not want to provide services, such as photography or floral arrangements, should not have to cater to same-sex weddings. “There’s not protections for people who make their livings by providing the goods and services for weddings.”

Others argued that the rights of county clerks who did not want to issue same-sex marriage licenses because of their religious convictions would be violated. “My conviction happens to be that this is wrong. My conviction is that the scripture is right,” said Rep. Dwight Kay, a Glen Carbon Republican. “Whatever you do with wrong, I think we’ve all known since we were children that you can’t change it. You can’t paint it. You can’t put glitter on it. You can’t dress it up. In fact, you can’t do anything to something that’s wrong to make it right.” But Harris noted that the bill has specific carve-outs for churches and religious groups, and business are already prohibited from discriminating against customers on the basis of sexual orientation under the state’s Human Rights Act.

The holdup on the vote has long been blamed at least partially on members of the Black Caucus who were reluctant to support the measure. Observers speculated that African-American lawmakers feared backlash from some local church figures opposed to the bill. However, the majority of the caucus voted in favor of the bill today. “Jesus loved everyone. He hung out with the prostitutes. He hung out with the common worker, the vagabond, the people who were sick, wealthy individuals. He loved everybody,” said Chicago Democratic Rep. Kenneth Dunkin, an early African-American supporter of the bill. “So there is nothing in the Bible or the Quran that I believe speaks toward the opposite of that — love.” Several younger African-American lawmakers drew parallels between the civil rights of gay people and the black civil rights movement. “I am voting with a strong sense of confidence because I know that enhancing the civil rights of others does not diminish the civil rights of anyone in this room or anyone in this state,” said Jehan Gordon-Booth, a Peoria Democrat. “Separate but equal in Illinois and in this land is un-American.”

But at least one black opponent to the bill said she was offended by the comparisons. Chicago Democratic Rep. Mary Flowers said that her focus as a lawmakers has been on children’s issues and making sure that people have access to health care. “This is not my issue,” she said of same-sex marriage. “What you do and who you love is your business. It’s your business; I really don’t care. I know about discrimination. I know all about that.” But she said she was upset by those who “injected race” into the debate. “When I was discriminated against, it wasn’t because of who I am, it was because of the color of my skin. But nobody ever asks, and if you don’t ask and don’t tell, no one would care about who you sleep with. That’s your business. ... And I just want to say that homosexuality has noting to do with race.”

She said same-sex couples should instead seek rights and benefits at the federal level. “Here in the state of Illinois, we have given you everything, everything. Quite frankly this is a joke. This debate is a joke here in the state of Illinois because what you want, it’s up to the federal government to give it to you, not the state of Illinois.”

Others said the issue was about the societal benefits of protecting the traditional family structure. “Everyone is free to live how they wish, and this state has no interest in interfering with that. But the state does not have an obligation to sanction every form of living arrangement that is demanding a sanction,” Palatine Republican Rep. Thomas Morrison said. He argued that opening the door to same sex-marriage could result in eventual further changes to marriage, such as allowing polygamy. He argued that the state should have a nonbinding referendum on the issue to determine what voters want. Recent poling has indicated that the majority of Illinois residents support same-sex marriage. However, Morrison said he was uncertain about the “veracity” of those polls. “Real marriage is the building block for humanity,” he said. “This is not a vote about people but about policy. It’s not about individuals or even groups of people. It’s not about those who are homosexual or straight because not even all gays support this bill.”

But the vote was personal for many members, including the three openly gay Democrats in the chamber and one of the three Republicans who voted in favor. Rep. Ed Sullivan, a Republican from Mundelein whose mother in-law is a lesbian, said he was casting his vote, in part, for his kids. “When I think of marriage equality, I also think about them. You see, I believe in voting for marriage equality as the right thing to do. If I vote against this bill, the bill I believe in — I believe it’s the right thing to do — how do I face my children? How do I tell them that there’s something wrong with their grandma? Well, I can’t. And I won’t.” Former House Minority Leader Tom Cross, who is from Oswego, also cast a “yes” vote, along with Downers Grove Republican Rep. Ron Sandack.

Rep. Sam Yingling, a Democrat from Round Lake Beach, talked about his own family before casting his vote. “This issue is simply about family and family values. It’s about your family and about my family,” he said. Yingling has three children with his partner, Lowell. “Lowell and I feel pain when our kids feel pain. We celebrate our kids’ accomplishments and rejoice in their achievements. We strive to make sure that they have every opportunity that your kids have, but we are a family that is treated differently under the eyes of the law. We are a family that does not have the same protections that your family has.”

Chicago Democratic Rep. Kelly Cassidy recounted a time when her partner, Kelley Quinn, went to the hospital with a medical emergency, and she considered driving an extra hour to make sure she had the proper paperwork to be admitted to see Quinn. “I worried if I would be allowed to see her when I got there,” she said. “I was weighing the risks of going straight to her side or spending another hour in transit to get a piece of paper to prove that we were real.”

Harris said that he and other lawmakers have heard from gay couples whose rights have been questioned under civil unions, and that is why they are not a fair alternative to marriage. “Particularly in times of emergency and crisis, families have been kept apart. Parents have not been allowed to be with their children in emergency rooms or intensive care units. ... Civil unions have proven to be separate and unequal.”

Advocates for same-sex marriage celebrated the vote. “Today's historic marriage vote was a victory for all families and their children,” Bernard Cherkasov, chief executive officer of Equality Illinois, said in a prepared statement. “It was a victory for hundreds of clergy who joined forces in support of the law, and for scores of major employers who made the business case for equality, and for parents who just wanted all their children to be treated the same.”

Opponents continued to voice concerns about religious freedoms. “Today’s decision by Illinois lawmakers to change the definition of marriage not only goes against the common consensus of the human race — which understands that nature tells us that marriage is the union of one man and one woman — but it also undermines an institution that is the cornerstone of a healthy society. The optimal condition in which to raise children is a home that includes both a mother and father, since women and men are not interchangeable,” said a written statement from the Catholic Conference of Illinois. “We remain concerned about the very real threats to religious liberty that are at stake with the passage of this bill.”

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