Thursday, February 12, 2009

Marriage Equality Coming to Illinois?

State Representative Greg Harris (D- Chicago) has introduced the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act which would "provide eligible same-sex and opposite-sex couples with the same treatment as those in a civil marriage." Previously, Harris sponsored the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act, which I wrote about here, but it died in committee.

This current bill, which is in committee, would allow same-sex couples the right to enter into civil marriage that is recognized by the state. In addition, the bill would provide:

"that nothing in the Act should be construed to interfere or regulate any religious practice concerning marriage and no religion is required to solemnize a marriage to which it objects."

This language is important. We saw how during the Proposition 8 campaign, "marriage defenders" put out dishonest and misleading statements claiming that churches would be forced to marry same-sex couples or risk losing their 501(c)(3) tax exempt statuses. This law would make it clear that a state recognition of civil marriage would not require religious groups to solemnize same-sex marriages if they did not want to.

Not surprisingly, the anti-gay Illinois Family Institute (IFI) is coming out strongly against the Illinois Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. In addition to opposing same-sex marriage, the IFI opposes any form of legal recognition for same-sex couples. That is much more extreme than the views of most Americans, the majority of whom support at least civil unions. In general, I think the IFI's rhetoric is much more radically anti-gay than what many Illinoisans are willing to associate themselves with.

The thing is, most people don't care all that much about homosexuality and gay people. But what they do have an aversion to is obvious intolerance and prejudice. While some "marriage defenders" are capable of making arguments that do not dehumanize and vilify gay men and lesbians, others are not. Observe the Illinois Family Institute's hyperventilations and ask yourself if most Americans would be willing to sign their names to statements like:

"Respectfully tell your lawmaker that Illinois' government should not officially recognize immoral, unhealthy, and changeable homosexual behavior."

"We must courageously and publicly state that homosexual behavior is profoundly immoral, perverse, anti-family behavior. No one who publicly affirms homosexuality as an immutable, morally defensible identity is fit to oversee a committee dedicated to youth and family [Harris is chair of the Youth and Family Committee]. The belief that homosexuality is morally equivalent to heterosexuality is a subversive, ahistorical, unproven, and destructive claim that is not the right of our government to affirm."

I'm not sure most Americans agree with these radical statements. It's my opinion that most Americans are capable of being good people who reject prejudice and do not believe that there is anything inherently wrong with gay people. Yet, I also know that the good intentions of Americans are easily taken advantage of by "family values" groups who prey on the concern for the welfare of children. What worked for the Yes on 8 crowd was that they dialed down, for them anyway, the overt prejudice and amped up the Save-the-Children scare tactics.

This time, the marriage battle has come to my own neighborhood. I live in Illinois and one day I would like to legally marry my partner. When groups like the IFI make dehumanizing statements like the ones above, they are making those statements to prevent me from having equal rights. Not only that but they are talking about many of my friends, my family, and most of the people who are dear to me in life. With America's growing acceptance of sexual diversity, I think that many people will want to distance themselves from groups who call "homosexual behavior" "profoundly immoral, perverse, anti-family."

I sincerely hope the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act becomes law in Illinois. Now, we have some work to do to make it happen, perhaps beginning with contacting our friends and family to urge their representatives to vote for this and ending with a peaceful vigil in Springfield to demonstrate how important this issue is to us.

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