You Can’t Stop the Beat – Marriage Equality Bill Introduced in Illinois

Today, Illinois Representatives Greg Harris, Deborah Mell and Kelly Cassidy introduced HB5172 The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. If passed, the bill would create equal marriage rights for all of the people of Illinois, regardless of sexual orientation. This bill comes one day after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that California’s Prop 8 is unconstitutional. According to the Appeals Court, Prop 8, which eliminated the existing rights of same-sex couples to marry in California, is based purely on animus toward the gay and lesbian population and serves no legitimate state interest. The 9th Circuit found that there is no rational basis for the discriminatory law.

The Illinois Legislature is now starting down the path toward giving same-sex couples full marriage equality. This bill has a long way to go before it becomes law, and Illinois has barely had time to adjust to civil unions, which haven’t even celebrated their first anniversary. And there is also a movement to amend the Illinois constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

Although quick passage of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act seems unlikely, certain trends are going in the right direction. Same-sex marriage in New York has already increased the number of Americans living in jurisdictions where same-sex couples are allowed to marry. If the Prop 8 ruling stands, the percentage of Americans living in jurisdictions that recognize marriage equality will increase dramatically once again. Adding Illinois, the fifth largest state, to the list would be another important boost for marriage equality. The more available same-sex marriage becomes to more Americans, the more it becomes just another part of society.

It is important to remember that right now same-sex couples live under a patchwork of different levels of recognition of their relationships. Take a single same-sex couple married in Iowa. Depending on where in the U.S. the couple is at any given time, the state they are in might consider them married, in a civil union, in a domestic partnership, in a legally recognized lesser relationship, in a recognized relationship that is not available in the state, or legal strangers. And if the couple happens to be in California, their current legal relationship is still unclear while yesterday’s ruling is appealed. Imagine the chaos if all marriages in the U.S. existed under a similar legal regime.

In order to protect their rights, same-sex couples currently have to be especially diligent about planning for their legal needs and the recognition of their relationships. Civil unions provide many protections, but there are still gaps and uncertainties, especially beyond the Illinois border. Legal agreements, powers of attorney and contracts can help lessen the disparity between the rights of same-sex and opposite-sex couples. But it is only fully recognized marriage rights in every state that will ultimately solve these legal issues and allow same-sex couples to put less energy into protecting their rights and more energy into their families and communities. Today, thanks to Representatives Greg Harris, Deborah Mell and Kelly Cassidy, Illinois takes another important step in that direction.


If you could see her through my eyes

Judge Orders Prop 8 Trial Recordings Unsealed

In a ruling filed today, Judge James Ware of the 9th Circuit ordered the Prop 8 trial recordings unsealed. Judge Ware discussed the importance of transparency to the public’s perception of the legitimacy of the judiciary in his ruling. The court will release the recordings on September 30 unless the defenders of Prop 8 receive a stay from the appeals court. The unsealed recordings will offer the opportunity for the general public to hear the arguments made in support of and against Prop 8’s ban on gay marriage in California.

This ruling is important because it forces those opposed to gay marriage out of the closet. The Constitution guarantees people on both sides of this (and any other) debate the right to freedom of speech, but that right has never come without consequences. In effect, this ruling says that you don’t get to argue in court that gays and lesbians aren’t eligible for the rights and responsibilities of marriage, an argument which has a major, negative impact on nearly every facet of a gay person’s life, and hide behind a sealed court record because you fear that your testimony may have a negative impact on your life. As generations of Americans have learned, free speech and the fight for strongly-held beliefs, especially related to civil rights, can be a messy business. And coming out is hard. The lgbtiq community has experienced that firsthand from long before Stonewall as millions of Americans ventured out of the closet into an often hostile world.

For gays and lesbians, the closet has always offered safety at the cost of freedom and identity. Coming out of the closet exposed gay people to discrimination, venom, hate and fear. But generations of lgbtiq people have given up the safety of the closet to live their lives fully and openly. And leaving the closet behind has brought them untold joy and fulfillment.

I believe that like supporters of so many forms of discrimination before them, those opposed to same-sex marriage are on wrong side of history. But the wisdom of the U.S. Constitution is that it finds space for popular and unpopular viewpoints. Over time, societal thinking may evolve and the ability for both sides to speak is critical to that change. When millions of Americans walk around every day without the rights, protections and responsibilities of marriage because they love members of the same sex, the transparency of the judicial process examining that prohibition is critical.

So to those who testified in support of Prop 8 during the trial, Judge Ware and I welcome you out of the closet. You don’t have to hide anymore. This is a path well trodden by many lgbtiq folks before you. Welcome to our world.