January 5, 2013
The lame-duck session of the legislature, which ends next week, is often used as a time to pass controversial issues because defeated legislators won’t be returning and can vote their conscience without worrying about the next election.
But supporters of gay marriage fumbled last week when they tried to push legislation legalizing it through the General Assembly, attempting to pass it when there was strong evidence there would not be enough votes.
They might have set back their cause for no good reason, given that legislative Democrats, who control both chambers and are most associated with supporting the proposal, will have larger majorities starting next week.
Regardless of supporters’ bungling, their cause is worthy and the legislature, whether it is the 97th General Assembly or the 98th, should make gay marriage the law of Illinois.
America is an ever-changing soup of ethnicities, nationalities, backgrounds, religious beliefs and sexual orientations. It took more than 143 years from Independence Day for women to be given the right to vote. It took nearly 100 years after the Civil War for blacks everywhere to truly be allowed to vote. Sexual orientation may be the final frontier in the civil rights movement.
Gay marriage is the civil rights issue of the generation that aged into adulthood starting with the new millennium. Members of this generation almost universally have friends, family members and parents who are openly gay. They view a person’s sexuality as an inherent and unchangeable human trait. Because of this generation’s overwhelming embrace of gay marriage, it’s inclusion in state and eventually federal law is almost a fait accompli.
Other generations are recognizing and learning from their children. The most stunning development of the week was when Illinois Republican Party chairman Pat Brady said he favors gay marriage.
“How are we ever going to get the vote of anyone under 40? People have a very bad image of the party now,” Brady told Crain’s Chicago Business in an interview. “Mean-spirited. But this is the party of Lincoln, the party of equality.”
As a practical matter, this is really a small step. Even if Illinois passes this bill, there is much more to be done.
Equality Illinois, a group in favor of gay marriage, released a study documenting the various problems those with civil unions have faced since 2011, when the legislature approved them. Those problems included filing joint federal tax returns, passing pensions and Social Security benefits onto their surviving spouses and getting health insurance from their spouse’s company. Entities that refuse to recognize same-sex unions because the federal government does not recognize them will be able to continue to do so until the federal Defense of Marriage Act is repealed or struck down by the Supreme Court.
Some religious groups, the most high-profile of which is the Roman Catholic Church, are fighting gay marriage in Illinois. Springfield Catholic Bishop Thomas John Paprocki told a Senate committee that gay marriage is a violation of “natural law” because two married gay people cannot procreate and that gay marriage will “radically redefine what marriage is for everybody.”
As much as some may not like it, marriage and family already have evolved much over the last few hundred years. The families of women to be married no longer have to pay a dowry to the family of her future husband. Women aren’t expected to follow their husband’s every command. In some two-parent families, there are two fathers or two mothers.
Moreover, the marriages of heterosexual people without children, who either can’t procreate or choose not to, are not any less valid under the law.
Catholic leaders, led by Chicago Cardinal Francis George, wrote a letter saying the state does not have the power to create something that “nature itself tells us is impossible.”
Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon noted adoption was created by the state to facilitate the formation of families, even though it does not exist in nature.
The legislation that eventually passes should allow churches to refuse to marry same-sex couples, even though such policies are discriminatory. They have a First Amendment right to religious freedom. But such discrimination must not be the policy of the state of Illinois nor the United States of America.