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Politics, Romance, Practicality and Religion Mix in Marriage Debate

Amanda Vinicky

  Back on Valentine's Day, the state Senate approved legislation that would allow gays and lesbians to get married in Illinois. The hope then was that Illinois would become the tenth state to legalize same-sex marriage.  Eight months later, it still hasn't happened.  The effort is stalled in the Illinois House.  Supporters hoping to now make Illinois the 15th state with same-sex marriage rallied by the hundreds Tuesday - organizers say the number reached over 4,000.  Wednesday opponents will have their turn at the State Capitol.  Amanda Vinicky has the story. The street in front of the capitol was blocked off, filled with same sex marriage supporters waving flags, carrying signs and huddled under umbrellas; it was literally raining on their parade.

"Yo! Listen, rain or snow or sleet or hail wouldn't have kept me from this rally, I gotta tell ya," Comptroller Judy BaarTopinka said.

Topinka was one of many high-level politicians to speak at the event, but she was the only Republican.

"And I'm a Republican because I believe in small government," she said. "Government has no business telling people they can't marry when they want to marry, right?"

It's an argument that so far, only three Republican state legislators have embraced, two of whom are in the Illinois House, where there apparently weren't enough votes to pass same sex marriage during the regular, spring session.

A coalition of groups brought down busloads of advocates on the first day of the General Assembly's fall veto session in hopes of piling on pressure. They were encouraged to lobby their representatives ... after signing along with songs about love at the combination concert/rally.

Despite all the love songs, for advocates like Bob Basile, it has nothing to do with romance. Basile is a 62-year-old member of the Windy City Gay Chorus. He says he moved to Chicago years ago, when he came out ... after his divorce.

"I was married before, to a woman," he said. "So I've been there, done that. You know ... do we really need it? For rights, we need it, as couples, to protect yourself, for taxes, blah blah blah blah blah."

Something Naperville mom Janice Grimm says she knows all too well.

Credit Amanda Vinicky

"I got laid off from work five years ago and I couldn't go on my partner's health insurance because I didn't have domestic partner benefits," she said. "So money that we should have been saving for our retirement, for college education for our kids, we were spending on an exorbitant health insurance policy for me."

Grimm is not in a civil union -- though those are legal in Illinois, and afford many, but not all, of the same rights as marriage. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year determined that federal benefits, like tax benefits, have to be extended to any married couple, but that does not carry over to civil unions. Grimm says separate-but-equal status is unacceptable. She says if her home state legalizes same sex marriage, she will get married. Given the long wait, that future, potential wedding may not include typical traditions.

"You know what, after you've been together 23 years, and you're raising teenagers, some of that magic is gone and it's a little bit more about practicality," she said. "But we'll still make our own magic. It won't be, you know, running to Niagara Falls for a honeymoon in a heart-shaped bed or anything, Poconos, or anything, but we'll take the kids and we'll do something fun. It's a family thing now."

Grimm says now that legislators are back in Springfield for the fall veto session, she wants them to take a vote: "Force the politicians to make a position, where they stand, not when it's politically expedient. But to do what's right."

Of course, it is very much a question of both conscience and politics. The entire Illinois House is up for re-election next year. Petitions to get on the primary ballot are due in December. Which means if the House votes during the veto session, there's still enough time for anti-gay-marriage groups to recruit a candidate to oppose anyone who votes for it. In some districts, that's not a big threat. But for some Republicans, as well as African-American and Latino Democrats who've heard from powerful church leaders in their districts, it's a major risk.

Anticipating a protest the day of the big rally, Springfield Bishop Thomas Paprocki said anyone wearing a rainbow sash in his cathedral would be turned away ... unless they were there to take it off and repent. Paprocki cited Biblical passages from Matthew and Mark in a statement that read "praying for same-sex marriage should be seen as blasphemous."

Gov. Pat Quinn, a Catholic, says he doesn't agree with that message, and at the rally, quoted Corinthians: "There was a writer, who wrote a letter, almost 2,000 years ago who said love is patient, love is kind, love never fails," Quinn said. "We need love to pass a marriage equality bill into law, and I'll sign it as quickly as possible."

The governor's eagerness worries opponents of same-sex marriage. For them, the Illinois House is the last stand.

"Homosexual, LBGT people, have the right and the liberty to have relationships with whomever they want," said David Smith, with the Illinois Family Institute. "Nobody's trying to stop that. Any consenting adult, you have the right to have a relationship with that person. Or with those people, plural, if you want. But you don't have the right to come into the public square and demand to change a historic meaning of a word, and the institution, and the functionality of that ... institution, just because you want to, at a whim."

Smith says as a Christian, he believes every human being is made "in the image of God" and so is of "infinite worth," but he says that doesn't mean he has to agree with everyone's political views.

"The Left likes to use emotional manipulation, and if they can pigeonhole us, or they can paint us as haters, or bigots or insensitive, or what have you, they do that," he said. "And I don't agree with that. You know, look. We have an honest disagreement."

That disagreement that will continue to play out at the Capitol today, as Smith and his allies make their case to legislators.



Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
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