Friday, May 16, 2008

Gay ‘civil unions’ backers bring ‘senior citizen’ tactic to Illinois General Assembly

At a time when California officials are going to boldly address the issue of whether marriage ought to be legal for gay people, politicos in Illinois may try to sneak the issue in through the back door.

Specifically, supporters of a bill pending before the Illinois House of Representatives this spring to create the concept of civil unions (which gives some of the legal rights to couples that a church-sanctioned marriage already provides) are now touting the notion that it’s not just gay people who could benefit – senior citizens who are widowed and have potential for a new relationship at the end of their lives would also gain.

IN THE IMAGINATIONS of the activists who want this issue to pass, a unique pairing will develop – gay rights activists and the small army of retirees who can be organized by the American Association of Retired Persons and other interest groups that look out for older people.

They will supposedly create a force that will pressure the Illinois Legislature into actually voting for something resembling civil unions. After all, who’s going to say “no” to that sweet grandma-like woman?

In reality, when it comes to the prospect of gay marriage entering a debate, there are a lot of people who will screech and scream – perhaps even a few of those sweet-looking grandma-types.

At stake is what happens to elderly people who are widowed, then get into another relationship in their final years of life. Some of them go so far as to get married, but many do not – in large part because their Social Security benefits would take too big a hit if they were legally joined as one.

SO THEY MERELY live together, although supporters of this new strategy note they suffer when one of the people passes on or incurs a threatening illness. Because of the lack of a legal marriage, the other person in the couple has no legal say in what happens.

A civil union, these people say, is the perfect alternative to marriage in that it would invest each person with a legal say in the other’s future. Hence, civil unions are not just something for gay people anymore.

Who’s to say whether that line of reasoning will be considered acceptable? It has been tried in other states, but did not appear to sway many people.

AARP officials in Florida last autumn tried arguing against measures to outlaw gay marriages. They cited civil unions as acceptable, provided that provisions were written into the law to allow heterosexual senior citizens to take advantage of the measure as well.

WHAT HAPPENED WAS that conservatives wound up blasting the attempt to include senior citizens as, “a pathetic, desperate strategy.”

Already, various Internet sites that attract social conservative elements of our society are denouncing the possible use of the tactic in Illinois, making it clear they will not tolerate anything that would (in any way) benefit gay people – which makes this an issue more of trying to keep gay people down than it is of protecting anyone’s legal rights.

The one that caught my attention was an anonymous half-wit who felt the need to tell the world (through the Springfield State Journal-Register newspaper’s reader’s comments section) that without heterosexual marriage, our very essence would be, “out in some farmer’s bean field plowed under with the rest of the sewage.”

So what’s going to happen here in Illinois?

IT’S A GOOD thing that the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Greg Harris (who represents Chicago’s Ravenswood and Lincoln Square neighborhoods) is non-committal about when this issue will come up for a vote.

He thinks he could get enough support in the Chicago Democrat-controlled Illinois House if the measure actually got to a vote. But with all the other potential issues for legislators to dump on each other with, the last thing that House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, is going to want is something that stirs up the social conservatives.

He’s already geared up for battle with Gov. Rod Blagojevich on a myriad of personal slights. He doesn’t need another enemy. That is what makes this issue (and strategy) a likely bet to come up in 2009 – if at all.

Perhaps the 2008 elections will help bring on a change in the mindset of our public officials to allow them to view the issue of gay marriage more rationally.

I KNOW. QUIT laughing.

Reality makes that scenario even less likely than the seniors/gay activists working together as an effective coalition to pressure the Illinois Legislature to take action on civil unions.

Which means the interests of gay people in Illinois who want their relationships to have legal status ought to be looking to Sacramento, Calif., rather than Springfield, Ill., for any sort of movement.

IT WAS ON Thursday that the state’s high court struck down the two laws that made marriage a legal option only for heterosexual couples. The court, in its majority opinion, ruled that marriage, “properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual.”

That could result in gay couples from around the country converging on California to get married, then return to their home states to pressure their local political people to recognize the result of their union.

Social conservative activists already are working with their California sympathizers, trying to push for an amendment to the state constitution that would ban any gay-marriage options. That, if they can get it on the ballot and get a majority of voter support, would overrule Thursday’s high court ruling.

IN SHORT, GAY marriage is now an issue that Californians are going to be confronted with – although I won’t be the least bit surprised if it creeps its way into the presidential campaign and the entirety of the United States of America has to put up with the ridiculous rhetoric.

I can already envision Republican John McCain trying to gain the support of people pushing for the constitutional amendment and conservatives trying to tar Democrat Barack Obama as the candidate with the crazy black preacher, the hippie terrorist friend AND who supports gay marriage.

It’s one more thing they can try to pile on him. I would consider it a victory for Illinois (and society as a whole) if voters rejected such ridiculous reasoning and didn’t take the issue of gay marriage into account at all come Nov. 4.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Wearing their “Seniors for Civil Unions” t-shirts, a group of elderly people led by state politicos ( want to show that civil unions is not just a gay rights issue.

The desire for civil unions is growing (,0,2952794.story) amongst gay people in this state.

The Statehouse Scene in Tallahassee, Fla., already went through this attempt to link senior citizens ( and gay rights activists.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is NOT among the Republican politicos wanting to overturn ( the California Supreme Court’s action that legitimizes marriages of gay couples beginning in mid-June.

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