Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Illinois Moving Fast Towards Civil Unions, But Should It?

Facing down threats to stop it, the Illinois Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, or HB 2234, which would grant same-sex couples the right to have civil unions, overcame its obstacles and passed a House subcommittee. It now will go to the House floor for a vote.

Current Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn believes that this bill will pass, saying "I think that's probably where the legislature is headed in the state."

Five years ago One year ago, this might have been good news, but now? Just hearing "civil unions" runs against my grain. Why? Because it has already been established in several states that that institution is a bone to satisfy second-class citizens, including the LGBT population. With so many marriage equality victories as of late, why should we settle for civil unions?

The Chicago Tribune ran a story this morning talking about why civil unions should come first and how, for Illinois, the strategy is more fitting than for states like Iowa.
"'In Illinois, we're charting what we think is the right path now for our state,' said Jim Madigan, executive director of the gay rights group Equality Illinois. '[Civil unions have] the advantage of really abating a lot of the harms suffered by couples who aren't married. And for those people for whom marriage remains a sticking point, it allows them to find a middle ground.'

"Because of the nature of the Illinois Constitution and the makeup of the state's Supreme Court, Equality Illinois has asked its members not to seek any kind of court action regarding same-sex marriage. Iowa followed a judicial path to gay marriage, but it's a state with a strong equal protection clause in its constitution and a Supreme Court known for being progressive with regard to civil rights issues.

";When people say to themselves, 'How could Iowa be ahead of California or Illinois on all of this?' it's important to remember that Iowa has had this unique reputation of being in front on issues like women's equality and race equality,' Madigan said. 'In Illinois, at the Supreme Court level, we haven't had many precedents that touch on [lesbian, bisexual, gay or transgender] issues.'"
Reading this, I understand the logic and want to agree. But at the same time, I feel it's a glaring concession during a tidal wave of advancement for marriage equality. I am no expert by any means on the law in Illinois, but I can't help but remember Martin Luther King's "A Letter from a Birmingham Jail" when he responded to critics who said that he must wait, move slowly and consider the circumstances:
"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."
I lived in Chicago. I did sit-ins at the county clerk's office demanding marriage certificates. And if I still lived there, I would do it again. I would also stand with my LGBT co-patriots in their fight for civil unions. Yet not a day would pass without them hearing from me, "But what about marriage?"

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