Saturday, June 23, 2012

Gay marriage fight (or lack thereof) not something to be taken for granted

Perhaps it’s because I remember that period in the mid-1990s when Republican officials willing to do the bidding of ideologues used their control of state government to ram through a partisan agenda.
ALVAREZ: Backing her county's clerk

Including a new law that made it explicitly clear that marriage in Illinois had nothing to do with couples of the same gender.

AS WAS OFTEN pointed out back then, state law always said that marriage applied only to couples of opposite sex. But the Republicans back in the days of Pate and Lee Daniels and Gov. Jim Edgar felt the need to take a pot shot at gay activists who might be thinking in terms of advancing any thoughts on the issue.

A part of me always wondered if Edgar (in private) was embarrassed about his political party feeling the need to act on this – although it didn’t stop him from signing that measure into law.

Although I recall he picked a day in May when the Legislature was particularly busy, and the amount of space devoted in newspapers and airtime on television to this issue was minimal.

There were more important issues to fight for, unless one wants to let ideology dominate their thoughts.

NOW, WE COME to the present day, where that law approved by the then-GOP state Legislature remains in effect.

But there are same gender couples who are disgusted that their partnerships can’t have the legal benefits of marriage that other couples can get when they say, “I do.”
And they have one advantage that didn’t exist nearly two decades ago – legal officials who are sympathetic on a certain level.
MADIGAN: Taking a stance

It was earlier this month that Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez let it be known that her office, which in theory is supposed to defend the county whenever it gets sued, wasn’t going to put up much of a defense. Which is what her county's clerk has been saying for years should be done.

ALVAREZ’ STAFF SHOULD have been working to defend the county clerk’s refusal to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Instead, she was saying she’d like to see a court rule that the county’s actions are illegal because the state’s law is improper.

That didn’t amaze me as much as the actions earlier this week when Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan also let it be known that her legal staff wasn’t going to do much to defend the law that state government implemented back in the days of Pate & Co.

Her office may well have to wind up appointing some private legal counsel to take up this cause, although that will be tainted because the attorneys in question will inevitably have the taint of political partisanship on their shoulders.

It will hurt their credibility with the courts – unless this case winds up before a judge who is eager to rule on conservative partisan grounds. In which case, THAT will be what causes the stink of politics to waft through the air.

BUT I DO realize that it should not be perceived as automatic that attorneys for government would realize there is a problem and would act according to what they believe is the “right” thing (as in proper, not ideological) to do.

For I remember when the whole death penalty debate was at its peak. There were times when officials would make the argument that the state attorney general’s office should be leading the fight – instead of putting up defenses of the capital crimes statutes that existed.

Madigan had no trouble back then hinting that while she personally might sympathize with death penalty opponents, there was a law she still had to help enforce.

Then again, those of us who remember her professional background from before she got elected to government office know that she was an attorney who specialized in cases of sexual harassment.

BUT SHE WORKED for a law firm that was often hired by the companies that were being ACCUSED of improper behavior. Which often meant that Madigan was the one trying to advise companies how to make themselves look less offensive when they had their “day in court.”

So Madigan, on a certain level, has no problem with defending a position she might not personally believe in. The fact that she is willing to take a stance on this issue is something that truly is unique.

So what will be the end result of this particular legal battle? I have no doubt that any court decision locally that upholds the current state law on this issue will wind up being an unpopular one among the masses that someday will be regarded as mistaken.

This just feels like an issue whose time has come! Perhaps that recognition is what is truly at stake with the actions of those two government attorneys.

IF IT TURNS out that the state restrictions against non-heterosexual marriage wind up falling by the wayside, somehow I suspect the only people who truly will be offended will be that group whom state Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, spoke to earlier this week when he talked of “pushing” Chicago out into the lake with Gov. Pat Quinn “on the nose of the boat.”

Because if isolated Southern Illinois ever tried something like that, they’d find out just how quickly they would be the ones who got shoved back, and South, down into Kentucky.

How quickly would they come back, begging us for readmission?


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