Wednesday, April 8, 2009

When will Illinois address gay marriage? The issue isn’t going to be ignored

One moment I remember in particular from the stint I did covering the “Statehouse in Springpatch” during the 1990s was when the issue of gay marriage came up in Illinois.

Illinois law had always said that valid marriage took place between opposite gender couples (a.k.a., a man and a woman). But back in the days of the Illinois Senate being under the control of James “Pate” Philip, and his Republican allies, they saw the climate of the country on this issue – and decided to make a statement.

HENCE, OUR STATE Legislature that already did not recognize the idea of a valid marriage between a gay couple felt the need to pass a change in state law. The portions of the law related to marriage were put through a rewrite to ensure that no one would misinterpret them.

Illinois law, which used to say valid marriage was only between men and women, now says that it specifically is NOT a valid option for same-sex couples.

I still remember the day then-Gov. Jim Edgar signed the change into law. He picked a day that was so busy with “newsworthy” governmental activity that virtually no one did much with this change.

It got lost in the shuffle, so to speak.

BUT I HAVE always wondered how long it would be before the actions of the mid-1990s would come back to haunt Illinois in terms of making us look ridiculous, or somehow out of touch with the society around us.

I’m starting to think that day is approaching in the near future.

Heck, even Iowa has seen the need to allow for some sort of legal bond to exist between gay couples. And in Vermont on Tuesday, the Legislature felt so strong about the issue that they objected to the governor’s attempt to kill it off with his veto.

They overrode it, which means it will take effect despite the objections of Gov. Jim Douglas.

SO AS OF now, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa and Vermont are the states that permit their gay couples to enjoy the same legal protections that traditional married couples have as a result of their agreeing to say “I do” to the question of, “Do you promise to love, honor and cherish …. ?”

Most of those states had the courts impose the measures. And as we all saw when California’s courts tried to impose the concept, the religious right got enough people worked up into a frenzy to pass referenda that struck the idea down.

I have no doubt there is opposition to the concept of allowing gay people to have any aspect of their lives be acceptable, and those are the people who will probably make this issue a “cause” they will fight for to their deaths.

Heck, Douglas in Vermont responded to his veto being overridden by trying to say that legislators ought to be more concerned with taking actions to help unemployed people, rather than gays. Trying to stir up resentment among people who are suffering is little more than a cheap trick.

BUT I WONDER how long it will be until the day comes that we relive this issue in Illinois?

I have always thought this particular issue was one that is the business of the couples themselves – and probably not one that the rest of society ought to get involved in. If that means I support the concept of marriage, or some sort of legal union, being allowed for non-heterosexual couples, then so be it. I think such laws are an intrusion into other people’s business.

For those people who truly get worked up over a religious wedding service and a church-sanctioned marriage, I don’t see how this affects them. It’s not like anyone is forcing any particular religion to start suddenly performing marriage ceremonies for gay couples.

It’s going to turn into a case where gay couples will be flooding the City Halls of our country to have civil marriage ceremonies performed.

AS FOR THOSE people who want to argue that permitting gay marriage is a step toward permitting a man to marry his pet pitbull, that kind of talk strikes me as being as ridiculous as those people who used to try scare-tactic talk to argue that the Equal Rights Amendment would lead to all of us using same-sex bathrooms.

What I’m not sure about is who will be the person who will take this issue on. Because this is something that a lot of our political people (even if they’re sympathetic to the general concept) would prefer not to have to think about.

It is an issue they would just as soon ignore, even though it is one of those things that will not go away just because the politicos try to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Right now, I don’t see any Illinois political person who has the nerve to bring this issue up for discussion. State Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, in recent years has tried bringing up bills, only to have them die off in legislative committees due to a lack of support.

IN FACT, THE people who are more likely to talk openly about this issue are the ones who want to ensure that no change takes place in Illinois. Groups are trying to push for an amendment to the Illinois Constitution to ensure that gay people know their relationships can never be legally legitimized.

Amending the state Constitution is a difficult thing to do, so it is likely that the issue will remain in flux for some time in Illinois. But I’m wondering if we’re destined to be among the last states to act on this issue (I never would have thought Iowa would be the first Midwestern state to act).

But I do see the day when I will be able to reminisce about the day in the 1990s when the Legislature felt the need to outlaw what was already illegal, and tell about how it was one of Illinois government’s more shameful moments.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The opponents of gay marriage are not about to give up their fight anytime ( soon.

Vermont and Iowa ( are now trendsetters on this issue, while places such as California and Illinois lag on the sidelines.

1 comment:

Vincetastic said...

Great post Greg, you have some really great insight, I don't hold much hope for Illinois supporting gay marriage sooner then some of the other states. Leave it to Vermont and Iowa to be the most progressive states in the nation, shame on us here in California for passing Prop 9. Whether you call it Gay Marriage or Civil Union, the basic premise is that every person should have equal rights. It’s good to see that some states are progressing, I made a list on my site of the states I think will legalize Gay Marriage first: