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Illinois AG spells out policy after court ruling on marriage

Lisa Madigan, Illinois, gay news, Washington Blade

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has spelled out state policy following a court ruling on marriage equality. (Photo by John D. Rockefeller IV; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has spelled out state policy in the aftermath of a federal court ruling in her state legalizing same-sex marriage, which the governor and LGBT advocates interpret to mean she has given her OK for gay nuptials throughout the state.

In a March 5 letter, Madigan responds to an inquiry from Macon County Clerk Stephen Bean, who apparently asked her whether he should begin distributing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the wake of the federal court decision last month in Lee v. Orr.

In that ruling, U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, but said the decision only applies to the Chicago-area Cook County. LGBT advocates behind the ruling said the decision applies statewide because it was a facial challenge to the law, although clerks expressed uncertainty about how to act.

Although Madigan never explicitly says marriage licenses should be made available to gay couples everywhere in the state, she recalls her position that “current Illinois restrictions against same-sex marriage violate the equal protection rights that belong to all citizens under the United States Constitution.”

“Even though the ruling in Lee is not binding on you, the protections guaranteed by the Constitution must exist without regard to county lines, and the Lee decision, along with the federal court decisions noted above, should be persuasive as you evaluate whether to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples,” Madigan writes. “Additionally, while the ruling in Lee does not control other courts as binding precedent, we expect Lee to be persuasive to other state or federal trial courts addressing the same questions.”

Madigan writes if another lawsuit arises challenging a county clerk’s refusal to issue a marriage license to a gay couple in Illinois, her office would likely move to intervene, as it did in the Cook County case, and urge the court to follow that holding.

Following the publication of the letter, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn issued a statement saying his administration will now accept marriage licenses from same-sex couples across the state as valid.

“Nobody should have to wait for equal rights when it comes to love. I encourage every county clerk in Illinois to quickly follow the Attorney General’s guidance,” Quinn said. “Following this guidance, the Illinois Department of Public Health will now accept all marriage licenses issued by any county clerk in Illinois.”

Last year, Quinn signed into law a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the state, but because the bill was passed during a special session, it won’t go into effect until June 1. Gay couples had sued in Cook County to allow gay couples to wed ahead of time.

LGBT advocates jumped on the letter from Madigan as a signal that she’s OK with county clerks distributing marriage licenses statewide even though the new marriage law won’t go into effect for several months.

Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, said the letter “green lights” the ability for gay couples to attain marriage licenses at every county clerk’s office.

“We agree with the Attorney General that the recent federal decision knocking down restrictions on marriage equality as unconstitutional should be the determining factor in clerks’ decisions to issue the licenses before the June 1 effective date of the Illinois Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act,” Cherkasov said.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Cook County had already handed out more than 260 marriage licenses to same-sex couples following the federal court ruling. Champaign County, which lies in central Illinois, had also determined that it could begin distributing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the wake of the Lee decision.

Christopher Clark, a staff attorney with Lambda Legal, concurred Madigan’s letter indicates she’s green lighting the immediate distribution of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“The letter does mean that Illinois county clerks outside of Cook County now have a ‘green light’ from the Attorney General to being issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples,” Clark said.


Ill. same-sex marriage law takes effect statewide

Illinois, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by Meagan Davis; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A law allowing same-sex couples to marry in Illinois took effect throughout the state on Sunday.

The Windy City Times reported a number of public events are scheduled to take place in the Chicago metropolitan area to celebrate the statute taking effect. These include the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and Equality Illinois on Monday hosting 15 same-sex couples who will tie the knot.

“It is such a historic moment for our state,” Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov told the Washington Blade before the law took effect. “For the first time ever no matter where you live in the state these couples in loving, committed relationships will have their love and family recognized as equal by the law. And that means so much for people.”

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn last November signed his state’s same-sex marriage bill into law.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman in February ruled gays and lesbians in Cook County, in which Chicago is located, could immediately begin to marry. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan a few weeks later said other county clerks could issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Cass, Champaign, Clinton, Cook, DeKalb, Greene, Grundy, Hardin, Jackson, Macon, McLean, Ogle, Perry, St. Clair, Wabash and Woodford Counties have already begun to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Five additional counties on May 30 issued marriage licenses to gays and lesbians.

The Windy City Times reported that Champaign, Christian, Crawford and Montgomery Counties will open their clerk’s offices on Sunday to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Cook County Clerk’s Office of Vital Records will not open until Monday.

State law requires couples to wait 24 hours from the time they receive a marriage license until they tie the knot.

Illinois is now among 19 other states and D.C. in which same-sex couples can legally marry.

Gays and lesbians in 29 of the 30 remaining states in which gays and lesbians cannot marry have filed lawsuits seeking marriage rights since the U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

More than a dozen federal judges have ruled in favor of marriage rights for same-sex couples since the DOMA decision. State courts in New Mexico, Arkansas and New Jersey have done the same.

Same-sex couples have been able to enter into civil unions in Illinois since 2011.

Gays and lesbians will be able to receive certificates from county clerks under the state’s marriage law that will allow them to convert their civil union into a marriage. They can also choose to make their marriage retroactive to the date into which they entered their civil union.


Last chance for Illinois marriage bill?

Greg Harris, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay state Rep. Greg Harris drafted the same-sex marriage bill — now in jeopardy — in the House. (Photo by Leah Jones via Wikimedia)

After a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples failed to come up for debate in the Illinois Legislature on Thursday, advocates are pinning their hopes on Friday, the final day of the legislative session.

“A vote has been promised, and now it is time to deliver on that promise,” said Jim Bennett, chair of the Illinois Unites for Marriage coalition, at a Thursday afternoon news conference, according to LGBT web publication, Chicago Phoenix. “We need marriage equality and we need it now.”

Illinois has been expected to join another 12 states and the District of Columbia in passing a same-sex marriage bill this year. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has signaled his eagerness to sign the bill into law, as well. However, the bill is now in jeopardy if the legislative session comes to a close without a vote.

In light of the urgency, three groups pushing for marriage equality in the state have called on supporters to push lawmakers on Friday, and plan a rally in the state capital of Springfield in order to press for a vote.

“We need you to join us for an urgent rally at the State House in Springfield tomorrow at 11:00 a.m.,” read a Thursday release from Lambda Legal, ACLU of Illinois and Equality Illinois. “Together, we’ll show the Speaker — and all our representatives — that we want a vote taken on the marriage equality bill before the House adjourns at the end of the day tomorrow.”

The three groups are calling on advocates to gather at the appointed time in the state capitol rotunda, and are offering free shuttles from Chicago to the state capitol for those who are unable to get themselves there, according to the release, as published by Windy City Times.

“Everything comes down to what happens before the end of the day tomorrow,” the release continues. “If a vote isn’t scheduled, we don’t win, and thousands of loving couples will continue being denied the protection and security they need and deserve.”

Last week, President Obama threw his support behind the bill in his home state, which supporters believed would help bolster support in the legislature.

John Becker, managing editor at the LGBT blog Bilerico Project, told Chicago Phoenix he called house speaker Michael Madigan’s office and received verbal confirmation of a Friday vote from a staffer.

“I decided to try to call Madigan’s office and I spoke to a male representative,” said Becker, who is also an LGBT rights activist and writer. “He said the vote will definitely happen [on Friday].”


The path to winning marriage in 50 states in five years

Jeff Zarillo, Paul Katami, Sandy Stier, Kris Perry, David Boies, Chad Griffin, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, Prop 8, California, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

Following the Supreme Court rulings, advocates are making plans to achieve marriage equality throughout the country. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

Amid celebration over the Supreme Court rulings against the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, plans are already in place to extend the victories further as the Human Rights Campaign has pledged to win marriage equality in all 50 states within five years.

Following the announcement of that goal, which was made by HRC President Chad Griffin on the steps of the Supreme Court immediately after the decisions, state advocates as well as other national groups are engaged in plans to bring marriage equality to the 37 states where gay couples are still unable to wed.

Speaking with the Washington Blade at the court after he made the pledge, Griffin said achieving that goal would involve a combination of several routes, including additional litigation.

“It will take legislative work, it will take ballot work, it will take Congress and it will ultimately take the federal courts again to bring full equality to every single corner of this country,” Griffin said. “But there is no ground we will leave unturned. Today we will fight aggressively on all fronts in all states.”

Griffin said he’s basing the timeline for his plan on the length of time it took to overturn Prop 8, which took five years from the time Prop 8 passed at the ballot in 2008.

There are already new lawsuits in the works in the wake of the rulings that struck down DOMA, the anti-gay law prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriage, and Prop 8. Although many hoped the latter case would be the one to bring marriage equality to all 50 states, the ruling instead that came down was limited in scope to California.

Jon Davidson, legal director of Lambda Legal, told the Blade his group is planning new lawsuits to advance marriage equality, but isn’t yet ready to talk details.

“We do have plans to file additional marriage cases in federal court, and are preparing those now,” Davidson said. “We are not in a position to share which states at the moment.”

Appearing on CNN on Sunday, David Boies, one half of the legal dream team hired by the American Foundation for Equal Rights that successfully led the lawsuit against Prop 8, said, “there isn’t any state we’re giving up on” and suggested new litigation is coming.

“Our goal is to have marriage equality that’s guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, enforced in every single state in the union,” Boies said.

But Davidson also cautioned gay couples against filing additional lawsuits because of the time and cost involved as well as whether the litigation is strategically appropriate.

“The Perry case, for example, cost each side several million dollars to litigate,” Davidson said. “Often, numerous expert witnesses are required. And, if brought in the wrong place, at the wrong time or without adequate preparation, suits can set back our community’s progress by creating bad precedent that could create barriers to equality nationwide.”

Some are skeptical about HRC’s timetable. Among them is Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, who said meeting that goal is “completely unrealistic.”

“I cannot imagine same-sex marriage passing in my lifetime (plus a couple decades or more) in many southern and border states, plus some of the Rocky Mountain and Midwest states,” Sabato said. “Any state with a decent-sized GOP majority in at least one state legislative house will be enough to kill the effort. Only a handful of states have the citizen-sponsored ballot initiative option.”

Sabato said another lawsuit akin to the 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia would be the best route to achieve nationwide marriage equality — but seeing that come to fruition in five years is doubtful.

“That is a completely unrealistic schedule, given the obstacles in the states,” Sabato said. “And I doubt the Supreme Court will take up another major marriage case that quickly.”

Meanwhile, several lawsuits are already pending that have the potential to not only extend marriage equality in certain states, but advance to the Supreme Court for an ultimate resolution extending same-sex marriage nationwide.

The most high-profile among them is the challenge to Nevada’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, Sevcik v. Sandova, which was filed by Lambda Legal and is pending before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. That case is on a parallel track with Jackson v. Abercombie, a challenge to Hawaii’s ban on same-sex marriage that was filed by private attorneys.

Judges placed a stay on the cases as the more advanced DOMA and Prop 8 cases were proceeding through the judiciary, but that stay is slated to expire on July 18.

Davidson had an ambitious outlook for the timeline for the Nevada case and said it’s teed up to potentially be the next to reach the Supreme Court.

“We will be filing our appellate brief with the Ninth Circuit in September,” Davidson said. “We expect to argue the case to that appellate court sometime in 2014 and possibly have that case in front of the Supreme Court in 2015.”

Also, as Buzzfeed reported, a U.S. district court in Michigan ruled on Monday to let a federal challenge to the state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage proceed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision against DOMA. That challenge will be interesting to watch because the Sixth Circuit has a reputation for being a conservative court.

Eyes on legislation in Illinois, New Jersey

But the best prospects for advancing marriage equality remain in the legislative arena as advocates in two states — Illinois and New Jersey — work to muster enough votes to pass bills that would legalize gay nuptials.

In Illinois, supporters of same-sex marriage are hoping the extension of the legislative session to Aug. 31 will permit them enough time to build support after gay State Rep. Greg Harris didn’t bring the bill to a vote because he didn’t think the measure had enough support.

Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, told the Blade he’s hoping the extension of the House session will provide enough time for a successful vote on the bill sometime this fall.

“The bill has been granted an extension in the House through Aug. 31, with the possibility of further extensions, if needed,” Cherkasov said. ”We hope that the bill will pass the full House vote during the ‘veto session’ which is scheduled to take place this fall.”

In New Jersey, lawmakers are working to build support to override Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of marriage equality legislation in the wake of his comments calling the Supreme Court’s decision against DOMA “incredibly insulting” and “another example of judicial supremacy.”

Calling Christie’s remarks “insulting,” State Sen. Barbara Buono, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate challenging Christie in the upcoming election, told the Washington Blade on Friday she thinks the override is just a few votes short in the Senate.

“This governor has to release the Republicans in the Senate and the Assembly,” Buono said. “I think that we could easily get an override if he would release them. These are people who live in fear of retribution and retaliation of this governor. If the governor would release them, we would have an override easily in the Senate; all we need are three votes.”

But should the override be unsuccessful, Buono said she’ll make marriage equality in New Jersey a campaign issue and pledge to make a marriage equality bill the first one that she signs if elected.

In both Illinois and New Jersey, litigation is pending before state courts to advance marriage equality should legislative efforts fail. Another Lambda lawsuit, Darby v. Orr, is pending before the Circuit Court of Cook County. In New Jersey, Lambda is expected to file on Wednesday a motion for summary judgment in its state case, Garden State Equality v. Dow, which also includes a federal equal protection claim.

Yet another lawsuit in New Mexico state court pursuing marriage equality was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The case, which  is pending before Albuquerque’s district court, was filed after city officials in Santa Fe issued guidance saying the state already has marriage equality because the statute governing marriage in the state is gender neutral. In response, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King said the statute is “vulnerable to challenge.”

Oregon activists seek 2014 ballot initiative

Ballot initiatives are also expected to advance marriage equality in more states as the nation prepares for mid-term elections. The foremost among those is the planned ballot initiative in Oregon to win marriage equality in the state in 2014.

Peter Zuckerman, media manager for Basic Rights Oregon, said the official date to start the necessary 116,284 signatures to place the initiative on the ballot is happening later this month.

“On July 20 we launch the campaign to collect the 116,284 signatures, which is the next step to qualify for the ballot,” Zuckerman said. “If all goes as planned, Oregonians will vote for the freedom to marry in November 2014.”

If Oregon LGBT activists win at the ballot, their efforts would institute marriage equality by reversing a state constitutional amendment that Oregon voters approved in 2004.

Meanwhile, in Nevada, the state assembly in May approved an amendment that would undo the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The process to ratify amendments in the state requires the measure to pass in two consecutive state legislatures and at the ballot during the next election.

To assist in repealing these bans and other barriers to marriage equality, the ACLU announced last week it hired Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, a supporter of marriage equality who signed the friend-of-the-court brief against Prop 8, and former GOProud executive director Jimmy LaSalvia as part of a nationwide campaign. The ACLU has pledged to spend $10 million through 2016 as part of this effort.

LaSalvia told the Blade many states are conservative leaning, which will require supporters of marriage equality to undertake an extra effort to work with conservatives to achieve success.

“Conservatives know that marriage is a good thing, and we should encourage, protect, and promote it for everyone  including gay people,” LaSalvia said. “I am looking forward to working with the ACLU to make that case, state by state, to build consensus through the political process to legalize civil marriage for gay couples.”

Plans in other states are also underway to extend marriage equality in the wake of the Supreme Court decisions last week.

• Arizona — The new group Equal Marriage Arizona is seeking to collect 400,000 signatures to place an amendment on the 2014 ballot reversing the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage that voters put in place in 2008.

• Pennsylvania — Last week, gay State Rep. Brian Sims announced that he plans to introduce legislation that would institute marriage equality and has begun to seek additional co-sponsors for the measure. Passing the bill will be difficult because Republicans control the governor’s mansion and the Senate in Pennsylvania.

• Colorado — In the state where Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) recently signed into law a measure to legalize civil unions, efforts are underway to extend full marriage equality. Colorado House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, who’s gay, said statewide LGBT rights groups are building a coalition to repeal the ban on same-sex marriage and expecting a ballot initiative before the end of the decade.

• Ohio — National LGBT groups and local activists held a meeting last month to discuss bringing an initiative to the ballot to reverse the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. One group, Freedom Ohio, said the plan is to take the initiative to the ballot in 2014, although the groups insisted a firm date hasn’t yet been set.


Illinois GOP chair resigns

Pat Brady, Republican Party, Illinois, gay news, Washington Blade

Pat Brady (Image via YouTube)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.—Illinois Republican Party Chair Pat Brady resigned this week. He told the Associated Press he decided to step down because of his wife’s continued battle with cancer and his desire to spend more time with her and their children. Brady said social conservatives within the party pressured him to step down after he publicly backed same-sex marriage earlier this year.

Members of the Illinois Republican State Central Committee had been scheduled to discuss Brady’s termination in March, but they abruptly cancelled the meeting at the last minute because they reportedly did not have enough votes to oust him.

“Pat Brady supported all Illinois families with his endorsement of the freedom to marry,” Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov said. “Now we honor his decision to resign to focus on his family, and we wish them all the best.”


Chair of Ill. GOP urges lawmakers to support same-sex marriage bill

Illinois State Capitol, Springfield, gay news, Washington Blade

Illinois State Capitol (Photo by Meagan Davis via wikimedia commons)

The chair of the Illinois Republican Party on Wednesday urged state lawmakers to support a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry.

“More and more Americans understand that if two people want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, government should not stand in their way,” Pat Brady told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Giving gay and lesbian couples the freedom to get married honors the best conservative principles. It strengthens families and reinforces a key Republican value — that the law should treat all citizens equally.”

Gay former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman, who lobbied lawmakers in Maryland and New York to support same-sex marriage measures in their respective states, also urged Illinois lawmakers to vote for the bill.

“Republicans should support the freedom to marry in Illinois, consistent with our core conservative belief in freedom and liberty for all,” Mehlman said in a statement that Illinois Unites for Marriage, a coalition of groups that supports the same-sex marriage law, released. “Allowing civil marriage for same-sex couples will cultivate community stability, encourage fidelity and commitment and foster strong family values.”

Brady, who stressed he was expressing his own views and not those of the state GOP, announced his support for the same-sex marriage bill on the same day the 15-member Illinois Senate Executive Committee was expected to consider the measure. (The Windy City Times reported late on Wednesday members are expected to vote on the bill state Sen. Heather Steans introduced on Thursday.)

Lawmakers have until the end of the current legislative session on Jan. 8 to vote on the same-sex marriage bill. Governor Pat Quinn has said he will sign the measure, while a White House spokesperson told the Chicago Sun-Times on Saturday that President Obama also supports the measure.

Chicago Archbishop Cardinal Francis George urged parishioners to oppose efforts to extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians in a letter that parishes distributed on Sunday.

Equality Illinois CEO optimistic bill will pass

Same-sex couples can legally marry in nine states and D.C., while Illinois is among the handful of other states that allow gays and lesbians to enter into civil unions.

Gay marriage referenda passed in Maryland, Maine and Washington in November, while Minnesota voters on Election Day struck down a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Maryland’s same-sex marriage law took effect on New Year’s Day, while gays and lesbians began to tie the knot in Maine and Washington on Saturday and Dec. 9 respectively.

Lawmakers in Delaware, Hawaii, New Jersey and Rhode Island are expected to consider measures later this year that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot.

Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov told the Washington Blade during an interview from Springfield, the state capital, earlier on Wednesday he remains optimistic lawmakers will support the same-sex marriage bill. He said he feels recent legislative and electoral advances on the issue in other states will spur more Illinois lawmakers to support it.

“In the past they kept us, the advocates, say to them that this is the right thing to do politically and morally,” Cherkasov said. “Now for the first time they’ve had a chance to see actually that the voters said this is the right thing to do politically and morally. So they didn’t need to trust just the activists and the advocates anymore. They can look at a clear record of successes from four states of voters being supportive of marriage equality.”


Ill. Senate committee approves same-sex marriage bill

Illinois State Capitol, Springfield, gay news, Washington Blade

Illinois State Capitol (Photo by Meagan Davis via wikimedia commons)

An Illinois Senate committee on Thursday voted 8-5 to advance a measure that would allow same-sex couples to marry in the state.

The vote in the Illinois Senate Executive Committee, which had been expected to take place on Wednesday, came after supporters and opponents of the bill testified during a hearing in Springfield, the state capital.

Reverend Vernice Thorn of Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago noted Jan. 1 marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation at the beginning of her testimony in support of the measure.

“It is in that framework of liberation that I come today in support of allowing my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters the freedom to marry in Illinois,” she said. “In my ordination vows I promised to minister to all God’s people and so for me it is imperative that I provide the same marital and pastoral care to everyone in my congregation.”

Bonnie Garneau of PFLAG Bloomington/Normal said her daughter “does not have the same legal options as my sons” because of a lack of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Illinois. Reverend Kim Beckmann of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America testified that she realized the importance of nuptials for gays and lesbians when she observed how a man was treated during his partner’s funeral.

“Marriage equality is about these profound moments from the joy of a wedding and the sorrows of the death that parts us,” Beckmann said. “Even more, marriage equality is about all those days in between, ordinary days of raising families, keeping a household running and supporting vocations that build Illinois communities. Anyone of us who tries to live faithfully and fully in family life knows the importance of the recognition and community support and the legal support that marriage brings. As a pastor and as a person of faith, I want those supports for every household in my congregation and I want these supports that make for strong, thriving and life-giving communities available to all our Illinois families.”

Mercedes Santos and Theresa Volpe, who are among the 25 couples on whose behalf Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois filed lawsuits in May after they were denied marriage licenses, also testified during the hearing. Doctor Laura Berk, a psychologist at Illinois State University, stressed children of gays and lesbians are no different than those raised by heterosexual parents.

Nine states and D.C. allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot, while Illinois is among the handful of others that allow civil unions for same-sex couples.

The committee’s vote coincided with the introduction of two same-sex marriage bills in the Rhode Island General Assembly. Delaware, Hawaii and New Jersey are also scheduled to debate nuptials for gays and lesbians this year.

President Obama, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Illinois Republican Party Chair Pat Brady are among those who urged lawmakers to back the measure. Gay “Modern Family” actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson also spoke out in support of the proposal, but 1,700 clergy from across the state urged committee members in a letter they sent to them on Wednesday to vote against the bill.

“The proposal you have before you would redefine marriage,” Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield said as he testified against the measure alongside Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois. “I ask that you vote against this bill because the legislation fails to recognize certain truths. Neither two men or two women can possibly form a marriage. Our law would be wrong if it said that they could. The basic structure of marriage as the exclusive and lasting relationship of a man and a woman committed to a life with the potential of having children is given to us in human nature, and thus by nature’s God. Some have said that this bill would simply extend marriage to some people who have long been arbitrarily excluded from it. They are wrong. The pending bill would not expand the eligibility roster for marriage; it would radically redefine what marriage is for everybody.”

Ralph Rivera of the Illinois Family Institute questioned whether the bill protects religious freedom.

“This is an attack on our particular religious beliefs and the church’s religious beliefs,” he said, broadly referring to a Massachusetts man who claims he was arrested in 2005 because he demanded his son’s school administrators not expose him to homosexuality after he brought a book home that included families with same-sex couples. “It’s not about as some would say oh it’s just two men who want to get married or two women. That’s not it. When this says the church has to do what they ask unless they’re exempt from this in the way this is written.”

State Sen. Heather Steans, the bill’s sponsor, stressed during the hearing that same-sex couples “have the same aspirations we all do.” She also noted a majority of Illinois residents now support nuptials for gays and lesbians.

Steans added the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear cases on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 provide additional motivation for lawmakers to support the issue.

“There’s a sea change going on here,” she said. “It’s time Illinois join up and catch up to that and join the nine other states that already provide same-sex marriage.”

Advocates look towards incoming legislature

Lawmakers had until the end of the current legislative session on Tuesday to vote on the same-sex marriage bill, but Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov and other advocates conceded that “time to move the bill through both chambers” of the legislature “is not on our side.” They said they plan to advance the measure once the new General Assembly convenes on Jan. 9.

“We have come so far,” Cherkasov said. “Just to be able to witness the historic public debate over the desire of all loving, committed couples to be able to marry in Illinois is a major accomplishment. And with the landmark action by the Senate Executive Committee in favor of the bill, for the first time ever an Illinois legislative body voted to extend the freedom to marry. Never before has the issue gone this far in the Illinois legislature.”

Rick Garcia, senior policy adviser for the Civil Rights Agenda who is Equality Illinois’ former political director, disagreed with this decision.

“What I have learned — and I have been down here [in Springfield] for 20 years, and I have worked things — is that on every piece of legislation I have worked on, there are dark times, when you think it’s not going to go,” he told the Windy City Times after the committee’s vote. “You push forward, and you stand firm, you move and move until you can’t move any more. To throw in the towel now is a stupid maneuver. TCRA is here, and we’ve been here for past three years, and we knew nothing about this decision until we saw the press release.”


Ill. legislators reintroduce same-sex marriage bills

Greg Harris, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Illinois state Rep. Greg Harris. (Photo by Leah Jones via Wikimedia)

Illinois lawmakers on Wednesday reintroduced bills that would legalize marriage for same-sex couples in the state.

State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and gay state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) introduced the measures in their respective chambers on the first day of the 2013 legislative session.

“It is significant that Rep. Greg Harris and Sen. Heather Steans plan to use the first day of the new General Assembly to reintroduce the bills recognizing the right to marry for all Illinois couples,” Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov said before the legislators formally introduced the same-sex marriage bills. “We expect the House and Senate to promptly pass the measure and remove the current barrier to the equal availability of civil marriage.”

The Illinois Senate Executive Committee on Jan. 3 voted 8-5 to advance a same-sex marriage measure, but lawmakers did not take up the proposal before their legislative session ended on Tuesday. President Obama, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Illinois republican Party Chair Pat Brady are among those who have urged legislators to back the measure.

Illinois is among the handful of states that include Delaware and Rhode Island in which lawmakers are expected to consider same-sex marriage bills this year.

Nine states and D.C. currently allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot.


BREAKING: Illinois Senate approves same-sex marriage bill

Greg Harris, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Illinois state Rep. Greg Harris. (Photo by Leah Jones via Wikimedia)

The Illinois Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to marry in the state.

The 34-21 vote came after more than an hour of debate.

“This is about equal protection under the law,” state Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights) said.

“The sky is not falling,” state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) added.

State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Pontiac) is the only Republican who voted for the bill. State Sens. Gary Forby (D-Benton,) William Haine (D-Alton) and John Sullivan (D-Rushville) opposed the measure, while four other Democrats either voted present or abstained.

Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) predicted the measure would force teachers to include same-sex marriage in their curricula. He also said it would adversely affect bed and breakfasts, florists and other wedding-related businesses.

“People will be discriminated against,” McCarter said as supporters who gathered inside the chamber laughed. “Promises from the proponents that this bill will not discriminate; that’s not true.”

Gay state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago,) who co-sponsored the measure with state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago,) applauded the vote.

“The momentum is building,” he said. “More and more House members are telling me they want to be on the right side of history and that they intend to support the bill.”

President Obama, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Illinois Republican Party Chair Pat Brady are among those who had urged legislators to back the measure.

“While this historic day is only half the battle, the Senate today put Illinois on the road to recognizing that, as President Obama said in his inaugural address, ‘the love we commit to one another must be equal,’” Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov said.

Same-sex marriage advocates from across the country also celebrated the bill’s passage.

“We thank the Illinois Senate for passing this historic bill, making this a sweet Valentine’s Day for loving same-sex couples across the state,” Jim Bennett of Lambda Legal said. “The momentum for marriage continues on this day American holiday honoring love and commitment, and we now urge the House of Representatives to join the right side of history and grant same-sex couples the dignity and respect of marriage.”

“We celebrate this wonderful gift of love on Valentine’s Day as the bill moves for consideration in the state House,” Maureen McCarty, online content and marketing manager for the Human Rights Campaign, wrote on the organization’s website.

The vote took place less than a month after the Rhode Island House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in the Ocean State. Delaware and New Jersey lawmakers are expected to consider the issue in the coming weeks and months.

Illinois is among the handful of states that currently allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. Maryland is among the nine states and D.C. that permit gays and lesbians to marry.

“I commend the Illinois Senate for passing the marriage equality bill today,” Gov. Pat Quinn tweeted shortly after the vote. “Full equality for all people is right for Illinois.”

The Illinois House of Representatives is expected to consider the bill in the coming weeks.

“The vote today for marriage was even stronger than the vote in fact for civil unions,” Cherkasov told the Washington Blade. “We came out from that with a really strong momentum.”