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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriages & civil unions in Illinois.

2012-FEB: Same-sex marriage bill filed.

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2012-FEB-08: Same-sex marriage bill filed in Illinois Assembly:

A group of three openly gay state representatives -- Reps. Greg Harris, Deb Mell and Kelly Cassidy -- filed a same-sex marriage (SSM) bill HB5170 in the Assembly. It was filed one day after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Proposition 8 -- the citizen initiative that terminated SSM in California -- is unconstitutional.

The bill is titled the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. Its purpose is:

"... to provide same-sex and different-sex couples and their children equal access to the status, benefits, protections, rights, and responsibilities of civil marriage." 1

It would provide that all state laws:

"... applicable to marriage apply equally to marriages of same-sex and different-sex couples and their children." 2

Both same and different-sex couples would be given "... the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law." 2

The bill would generate a win-win situation for religious congregations and other religious institutions:

  • Liberal religious clergy, congregations and denominations would receive a new religious freedom: the freedom to marry people of the same gender. Many have wanted to marry same-sex couples for decades; they would now be able to act on this religious belief.

  • Conservative religious clergy, congregations and denominations would be able to continue to discriminate with impunity against same-sex couples by refusing to marry them. The right for clergy and churches to discriminate on any grounds is already guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Religious institutions have been discriminating against couples for centuries on the basis of their race, age, perceived maturity, religion, and even, in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, disability status.

This bill states:

"Nothing in this Act shall be construed to require any religious denomination, Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group, or any officiant acting as a representative of a religious denomination, Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group, to solemnize any marriage. Instead, any religious denomination, Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group is free to choose which marriages it will solemnize."

We have never seen a case where a lawsuit was filed against a clergy member for refusing to marry a couple. However, groups opposed to marriage equality often raise the specter of restrictions on religious freedom in their anti-SSM advertising. An extra level of guaranteed protection seems to be need to quell their fears.

A clause in the new bill would amend the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act. This is the bill that became law on 2011-JAN-01 and created a system of civil unions. It would recognize marriage for same-sex couples and provide a mechanism by which civil unions could be converted into a marriage if the spouses so wished.

A clause would recognize same-sex marriages solemnized in another political jurisdiction as marriages in Illinois. Similarly, a civil union or domestic partnership solemnized in another jurisdiction would be recognized as a civil union in Illinois.

As introduced, the synopsis of the bill is:

"Creates the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. Contains provisions regarding purposes, rules of construction, and severability. Provides that: all laws of this State applicable to marriage apply equally to marriages of same-sex and different-sex couples and their children; parties to a marriage and their children, regardless of whether the marriage is of a same-sex or different-sex couple, have the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law; parties to a marriage are included in any definition or use of terms such as "spouse", "family", "immediate family", "dependent", "next of kin", "wife", "husband", "bride", "groom", "wedlock", and other terms that refer to or denote the spousal relationship, as those terms are used throughout the law, regardless of whether the parties to a marriage are of the same sex or different sexes; and, to the extent laws this State adopt, refer to, or rely upon provisions of federal law as applicable to this State, parties to a marriage of the same sex and their children shall be treated under the law of this State as if federal law recognized the marriages of same-sex couples in the same manner as the law of this State. Amends the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act by making various changes concerning: parties who may marry; solemnization; prohibited marriages; jurisdiction; and other matters. Amends the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act. Makes various changes and additions regarding recognition of marriages. Authorizes the voluntary conversion of a civil union to a marriage under specified circumstances. Makes other changes. 1,3

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Equality Illinois -- a pro-LGBT equality group issued a statement saying:

"We commend these leaders for taking yet another step towards full equality for lesbian and gay families in Illinois, and we are grateful to them for their leadership. This is just the beginning: the road to marriage equality is sure to be long, but it is one that we must travel together." 3

Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois commented:

"I really do think we will have marriage equality within the near future. I don't think it's going to pass tomorrow."

He also noted that the existing Civil Union law:

"... has already proven to have substantial weaknesses. ... Over the past year, we confirmed what we always suspected to be true: that creating a separate institution to provide substantially the same rights did not add up to full equality under the law. Separate is not equal. And we at Equality Illinois will not rest until gay and lesbian couples in every corner of the state -- who are equal in love -- are also equal in marriage."

Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA), commented:

"Marriage has always been one of the principal goals for our organization and we are pleased to finally be able to move forward towards achieving that goal. ... People need to understand that this is not a slam dunk. We have work to do." 3

Lowell Jaffe, political and policy director of TCRA said that members of his group are:

"... on the ground in Springfield today working aggressively with legislators to build a strong coalition around the marriage equality bill. ... I am proud to be standing in the Capitol of this great state today as this bill is introduced, and only a day after the Proposition 8 ruling in California. It is exciting to see that legislators across this country are embracing the fact that 'gay rights' are civil rights." 2

Religious conservatives were not happy with the introduction of this bill which would establish marriage equality in the state. Lake County Right to Life stated:

"Late last week the anti-family forces introduced a bill in the Illinois House of Representatives, HB5170 the ‚€œReligious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act‚€. ... if passed, [it] will alter traditional marriage in Illinois to include the coupling of homosexuals. ..."

"The ironic wording of this bill, which begins with 'religious freedom', is reminiscent of the 'Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act', which was simply an incremental step toward the introduction of this new bill, HB5170, which will fully legalize gay marriage. Whose religious freedom is it protecting?" 4

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Text of "Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act," Illinois General Assembly HB5170, at
  2. "Illinois Gay Marriage Bill Introduced: State Lawmakers Aim For Marriage Equality," 2012-FEB-08, at:
  3. Kate Sosin, "Marriage Equality Bill introduced in Illinois,"  Windy City Media Group, 2012-FEB-08, at:
  4. "Attack on Marriage is Back. Introduction of New Bill HB5170," Lake County Right to Life, 2012-FEB-24, at:

Copyright © 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Posted: 2012-FEB-13
Latest update: 2012-DEC-29
Author: B.A. Robinson

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