Marriage equality campaigns intensify for 2013

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Lambda Legal has sued the state of Illinois for marriage equality and is backing the legislative campaign. -Photo: LAMBDA

Lawmakers and civil rights leaders in as many as seven states are organizing to advance marriage equality this year, including in neighboring Illinois.

Illinois state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, moved the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act through the Senate Executive Committee on Jan. 3, securing an 8-5 vote that sent the bill to the full Senate.

Illinois state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, is driving marriage equality in the General Assembly.

“We have come so far,” said Bernard Cherkasov of Equality Illinois, the state’s largest LGBT civil rights group. “Just to be able to witness the historic public debate over the desire of all loving, committed couples to be able to marry in Illinois is a major accomplishment. And with the landmark action by the Senate Executive Committee in favor of the bill, for the first time ever an Illinois legislative body voted to extend the freedom to marry. Never before has the issue gone this far in the Illinois legislature.”

It was unclear when floor votes might take place. As WiG went to press, Steans and Harris were prepared to re-introduce the bill into the new, more Democratic, Legislature seated on Jan. 9.

Gov. Pat Quinn has said he wants to sign a measure by Valentine’s Day.

On the pro-equality side in Illinois, a White House spokesman told the press in late December, “Were the president still in the Illinois State Legislature, he would support this measure that would treat all Illinois couples equally.”

Also, a coalition of more than 200 pastors and rabbis released an open letter saying civil gay marriage is a matter of equality, conscience and justice.

Lawmakers received another letter endorsing same-sex marriage from a group of African-American leaders who said, “We remember that not long ago, some states defined marriage as limited to people of the same race. We were told marriage between people of different races was ‘unnatural’ and that society would be eroded if marriage changed. The truth is, marriage has evolved throughout history to reflect the needs and progress of society.”

That passage was a direct reference to a letter penned by Cardinal Francis George in which he called gay marriage “unnatural” and against God.

George, in his statement, encouraged church members to lobby lawmakers to vote against the marriage equality bill. If the legislation passes, he warned, “We will all have to pretend to accept something that is contrary to the common sense of the human race.”

George also said “human dignity and human rights are then reduced to the whims of political majorities.”

Opinion polls, however, show that more Illinois voters were on the pro-equality side of the issue. 

On Jan. 2 and Jan. 3, some of those voters rallied at the Capitol in Springfield.

More rallied on Jan. 5 at the Illinois James R. Thompson Center in Chicago in a demonstration sponsored by The Civil Rights Agenda, Join The Impact Chicago, Queer Fest America and Gay Liberation Network.

Marriage equality also is on the agendas in Delaware, Minnesota, Hawaii, New Jersey, Rhode Island and California in 2013.

Activists in Delaware, Minnesota and Hawaii are focused on lobbying state lawmakers, while in Rhode Island, the only New England state where gay marriage is not legal, a bill was introduced on Jan. 3.

And, after victories at the ballot boxes in 2012, some in New Jersey are considering a voters’ initiative. Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a marriage equality bill in early 2012, saying voters should decide the issue. Civil rights advocates said the majority shouldn’t decide the rights of a minority, but those objections were made before voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington approved gay marriage.

In late December, New Jersey Assemblyman Reed Gusciora said if the “bully-in-chief” wouldn’t sign a marriage bill then a popular vote is the only choice.

Californians, meanwhile, are awaiting a final word from the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the state’s anti-gay marriage amendment, enacted when voters approved Proposition 8 in 2008. A pro-gay ruling, if broad enough, could topple other anti-gay amendments in other states. There are 30 of them, including one in Wisconsin. 

LGBT civil rights advocates also are working on passing anti-discrimination legislation in Utah and West Virginia this year, as well as advancing domestic partnership measures in cities and counties.