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Illinois Issues
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Illinois Becomes 16th State to Endorse Same-Sex Marriage

Gov. Pat Quinn and supporters at the bill-signing event
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Chicago Democratic state Rep. Greg Harris glowed with a look of satisfaction as he received a standing ovation at the bill-signing event for the state’s new same sex marriage law. 

The day the bill was signed into law was a heart-warming event for supporters and gay couples. The crowd clapped, waved rainbow flags, a symbol of the gay rights movement, and cheered in celebration.  “It’s time to stop planning rallies and start planning weddings. Congratulations,” Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon said at the Chicago event on November 20.

Republican state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said that voting for the bill was politically difficult for many, especially those in her own party. Four Republican lawmakers, including former House Minority Leader Tom Cross, voted in favor of the law. “History, I think, will show that we got it right on this one.” She said the new law means the state will not discriminate against loving couples who want to start a family, which she said is “a beautiful thing.” Topinka added, “I am available to be a flower girl, and I’ll even waive the fee.”

Speakers at the event acknowledged the historic nature of the day and used the opportunity to call on other states to follow suit. “This new law is an epic victory for equal rights in America. Illinois is moving forward. We are a model for our country. If the Land of Lincoln can achieve marriage equality, so can every other state in the nation,” said Gov. Pat Quinn. The governor signed the bill on a desk that belonged to the 16th president, who is a favorite source of quotations for Quinn.  

Jim Darby is a Korean War veteran. He and his partner, Patrick Bova, want to be buried next to each other, and Bova said the new law will allow them to be. “We have been together for over 50 years. I can remember so many times when I was celebrating family’s and friends’ anniversaries and thinking how wonderful it would be to celebrate my marriage to Jim. Finally that day has come,” Bova said at the bill signing. “Today is the day when we can look back on our five decades together and say, ‘We can finally be newlyweds.’”

Harris, who is openly gay, said at the November event, “This was a labor of love, and it was a mammoth undertaking.” He thanked the thousands across the state whose courage made passage of the bill possible. 

But Harris hasn’t always been cheered. Last spring, when he opted not to call the bill on the last day of session, he was met with chants and jeers from sad and angry supporters of the bill. Harris did not call the bill at that time because he did not have enough votes lined up to pass it. He gave a tearful speech on the House floor that night.  “I apologize to families who were hoping to wake up tomorrow as full and equal citizens of this state,” he said. Some advocates were so upset over that outcome on May 31 that they said they were considering finding a new House sponsor for the bill.

The Senate approved the bill in February, but Harris said many of his colleagues had asked for more time to consider the issue and poll their constituents. As ever, Harris remained mum on whether he had the votes for the bill. Just a few days before lawmakers were scheduled to return for the final week of veto session, Statehouse observers were uncertain about whether a vote would come. Then, on Monday of that week, Harris posted on his Facebook page, “ Heading to Springfield to get it done.” The House voted to approve the bill the next day. 

The vote was personal for many members, including the three openly gay Democrats in the chamber and one of the three Republicans who voted in favor. Rep. Ed Sullivan, a Republican from Mundelein whose mother in-law is a lesbian, said he was casting his vote, in part, for his kids. “When I think of marriage equality, I also think about them. You see, I believe in voting for marriage equality as the right thing to do. If I vote against this bill, the bill I believe in — I believe it’s the right thing to do — how do I face my children? How do I tell them that there’s something wrong with their grandma? Well, I can’t. And I won’t.” Former House Minority Leader Tom Cross, who is from Oswego, also cast a “yes” vote, along with Downers Grove Republican Rep. Ron Sandack.

Rep. Sam Yingling, a Democrat from Round Lake Beach, talked about his own family before casting his vote. “This issue is simply about family and family values. It’s about your family and about my family,” he said. Yingling has three children with his partner, Lowell Jaffe. “Lowell and I feel pain when our kids feel pain. We celebrate our kids’ accomplishments and rejoice in their achievements. We strive to make sure that they have every opportunity that your kids have, but we are a family that is treated differently under the eyes of the law. We are a family that does not have the same protections that your family has.”

Chicago Democratic Rep. Kelly Cassidy recounted a time when her partner, Kelley Quinn, went to the hospital with a medical emergency, and she considered driving an extra hour to make sure she had the proper paperwork to be admitted to see Quinn. “I worried if I would be allowed to see her when I got there,” she said. “I was weighing the risks of going straight to her side or spending another hour in transit to get a piece of paper to prove that we were real.”

The holdup on the House vote has long been blamed at least partially on members of the Black Caucus who were reluctant to support the measure. Observers speculated that African-American lawmakers feared backlash from some local church figures opposed to the bill. However, the majority of the caucus voted in favor of the bill. “Jesus loved everyone. He hung out with the prostitutes. He hung out with the common worker, the vagabond, the people who were sick, wealthy individuals. He loved everybody,” said Chicago Democratic Rep. Kenneth Dunkin, an early African-American supporter of the bill. “So there is nothing in the Bible or the Quran that I believe speaks toward the opposite of that — love.” Several younger African-American lawmakers drew parallels between the civil rights of gay people and the black civil rights movement. “I am voting with a strong sense of confidence because I know that enhancing the civil rights of others does not diminish the civil rights of anyone in this room or anyone in this state,” said Jehan Gordon-Booth, a Peoria Democrat. “Separate but equal in Illinois and in this land is un-American.”

At least one black opponent to the bill said she was offended by the comparisons. Chicago Democratic Rep. Mary Flowers said her focus as a lawmaker has been on children’s issues and making sure that people have access to health care. “This is not my issue,” she said of same-sex marriage. “What you do and who you love is your business. It’s your business; I really don’t care. I know about discrimination. I know all about that.” But she said she was upset by those who “injected race” into the debate. “When I was discriminated against, it wasn’t because of who I am, it was because of the color of my skin. But nobody ever asks, and if you don’t ask and don’t tell, no one would care about who you sleep with. That’s your business. ... And I just want to say that homosexuality has noting to do with race.”

She said same-sex couples should instead seek rights and benefits at the federal level. “Here in the state of Illinois, we have given you everything, everything. Quite frankly this is a joke. This debate is a joke here in the state of Illinois because what you want, it’s up to the federal government to give it to you, not the state of Illinois.” The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act in June, granting federal benefits to gay couples whose marriages are recognized by their home states.

Others opponents of the Illinois legislation say the issue was about the societal benefits of protecting the traditional family structure. “Everyone is free to live how they wish, and this state has no interest in interfering with that. But the state does not have an obligation to sanction every form of living arrangement that is demanding a sanction,” Palatine Republican Rep. Thomas Morrison said. He argued that opening the door to same sex-marriage could result in eventual further changes to marriage, such as allowing polygamy. He said the state should have a nonbinding referendum on the issue to determine what voters want. Recent polling has indicated that the majority of Illinois residents support same-sex marriage. However, Morrison said he was uncertain about the “veracity” of those polls. “Real marriage is the building block for humanity. ...This is not a vote about people but about policy. It’s not about individuals or even groups of people. It’s not about those who are homosexual or straight because not even all gays support this bill,” he said on the House floor before the chamber voted on the bill. 

And the new law still has plenty of detractors. The head of Springfield’s Roman Catholic Diocese, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, presided over “prayers of supplication and exorcism” at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield on the same day the bill was signed. In a written statement, Paprocki called political supporters of same-sex marriage “morally complicit as co-operators in facilitating this grave sin.”

But supporters say they are moving on. Harris said, paraphrasing Lincoln, “Sometimes we walk slowly, but we never walk back.” The law will go into effect on June 1. However there is a bill filed that could potentially move up the effective date. Lawmakers will not be able to take action on that legislation until after January 1.

Illinois Issues, December 2013

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