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Religious Tolerance logo

Civil unions and same-sex marriages (SSM)


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  • Prior to 2011: Loving, committed same-sex couples were recognized only as "legal strangers" -- as roommates. They and their children lacked all of the protections, benefits, and security that married opposite-sex couples and their children have always enjoyed.

  • 2009-FEB-17: Senate bill SB1716, the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, was launched. It would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions and receive a few of the rights given to married couples. It would also recognize as civil unions the relationships of same-sex couples who were either legally married, or had entered into civil unions or domestic partnerships in other states or countries.

  • 2010-NOV-30, the Civil Union bill passed the House. One day later, it was approved by the Senate. It was signed into law on 2011-JAN-31, and came into effect on 2011-JUN-01.

Both supporters, and opponents of SSM realized that civil unions were only a temporary stop gap measure. Separate and equal arrangements have historically been always separate but never equal. In the case of Illinois civil unions they were very inferior to marriages, because they were missing many of the privileges and protections of marriage. Everyone recognized that civil unions were just the first step and that the eventual goal of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender/transsexual (LGBT) community was, and remains, full marriage.

  • 2012-FEB-08, a bill was filed in the Assembly, titled the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. It would allow same-sex couples to marry and enjoy "the same [state] benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law" that married opposite-sex couples already obtain, including the right to call their relationship a marriage. However, even if the law passed and same-sex couples married, they and their children still would not have received any of the approximately 1,140 federal benefits of marriage because of the federal Defense of Marriage act (DOMA). That act had been declared unconstitutional by a number of courts, and had been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court where it was scheduled be heard in late 2013-MAY. A ruling was expected during 2013-JUN. Many commentators suggest that DOMA is obviously on its last legs.

Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of the LGBT advocacy group Equality Illinois, said that the state's civil union law "has already proven to have substantial weaknesses." He welcomed the proposed marriage bill as the logical next step toward LGBT equality in Illinois. He said:

"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."

  • 2012-MAY-30, two lawsuits were filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County. One was by Lambda Legal on behalf of 16 same-sex couples. The other was by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of 9 different same-sex couples. They are seeking to overturn the state law that restricts marriage to the union of one woman and one man, and to replace civil unions law with access to full marriage for same-sex couples.

  • 2012-DEC/2013-JAN: A time of major changes: The Catholic Church is basing its opposition to SSM on their interpretation of natural law. President Obama calls for legislators to legalize SSM. An open letter from a group of CEOs and companies in Illinois support SSM. A bill to legalize SSM was passed by Senate committee in early 2013-JAN, but it later stalled. A pro-life group asked the Roman Catholic Church to excommunicate any legislator voting in favor of the bill. In a shocking development, the state chairperson of the Republican Party announced his support for SSM because of its furthering of conservative values! A group of conservative Christian and Muslim leaders circulated a letter in opposition to SSM. A group of liberal Christian and Jewish leaders circulated a letter in support of SSM.

    A SSM bill was re-introduced into the House and Senate on the first day of the 2013 session. Legislators have reached a consensus that there is sufficient support to pass the bill. As a result, some Republicans were supporting a quick vote in order to put the SSM matter behind them.

  • 2013-FEB-14: On Valentine's day, the full Senate passed the SSM bill. There is no clear indication whether a majority of Representatives in the House would vote in favor of the bill by the time that the session ends at the end of May.

  • 2013-MAY-21: Former President Bill Clinton urged the Illinois House to approve the marriage equality bill. President Obama, formerly a state senator in Illinois also supports the marriage equality bill.

  • 2013-MAY-31: The SSM bill was expected to be brought to a vote on or before the last day of the session, MAY-31. However, the pro-equality forces did not quite have the 60 votes needed to pass the bill. A vote on the bill will be delayed until the next session.

  • 2013-SEP: A special session of the legislature was called for late October and early November during which another attempt may be made to pass the SSM bill and make Illinois the 15th state (and 16th jurisdiction including the District of Columbia) to have achieved marriage equality in the U.S.

  • 2013-NOV-05: The House passed the bill by a vote of 61 to 54. However, the House version of the bill is slightly different from the Senate version, so the former had to return to the Senate for a final vote before it went to the Governor for signature. Only a matter of minutes later, the Senate approved the minor technical changes in the bill made by the House.

  • 2013-NOV-20: Governor Pat Quinn (D) signed the bill into law on NOV-20, making Illinois the 16th state to legalize SSM, following Hawaii's marriage equality bill that became law during the previous week. Synchronized with the bill becoming law, Thomas Paprocki -- the Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield IL -- regarded same-sex marriage as due to Satan's influence, conducted an exorcism.

The law specified that same-sex couples would be able to obtain Illinois marriage licenses on 2014-JUN-02 and marry a day later, unless -- as some have speculated -- the normal 1 day waiting interval is cancelled. Meanwhile, a bill has been introduced to allow the law to take effect earlier. However, with the Legislature in recess until 2014-JAN, so it cannot be considered until then.

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2013-DEC & 2014-FEB: Two developments make marriage available sooner:

A motion was filed with federal District Court asking that a lesbian couple receive a marriage license right away without waiting until 2013-JUN. This was a special situation in which one partner had a very short life expectancy. Within one working day, the court ordered the Clerk of Cook County to provide the couple with a marriage license. It was hand-delivered to them the same day.

Another lawsuit was filed by a group of same-sex couples, including Mercedes Santos and Theresa Volpe of Chicago. It asked that same-sex marriages be allowed immediately. David Orr, Clerk of Cook County was named as the defendant. Orr supports marriage equality and chose to not offer a defense. U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman ruled that Illinois' original ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Thus, there was nothing to prevent same-sex couples in Cook County from marrying immediately. The same day, the downtown courthouse was flooded with happy, loving couples picking up their licenses. Champaign County followed suit on FEB-26. At least some of the remaining 101 counties in Illinois may do this as well. More details.

Illinois has became the first Midwestern state to approve same-sex marriage through legislative action. SSM is also available in Iowa, but that was achieved by action of the Iowa Supreme Court in 2009. As of 2014-FEB, about 36% of Americans now live in one of the 17 political jurisdictions (16 states and the District of Columbia) that have achieved marriage equality.

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Copyright © 2012 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Posted: 2013-DEC-02
Latest update: 2014-MAR-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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