Monday, April 20, 2009

Stepping Stones to Equality in Illinois

As the country celebrates recent advances for marriage equality in Iowa and Vermont, other states are also looking at expanding relationship recognition for lesbian and gay couples. Whether debating civil unions or full marriage equality, advocates - including PFLAG families - are moving forward in communities across the country to protect families under the law.

Last week, The Chicago Tribune reported on the debate over relationship recognition in Illinois.

"Many gays and lesbians here have looked to the legalization of gay marriage in Iowa as a harbinger of Midwestern change," the paper reports. "If Iowa can do it, people ask, why can't Illinois?"

"The answer," the Tribune concludes, "reveals much about the strategic nature of the nationwide push for marriage equality, and the complex and unpredictable path that lies ahead for same-sex Illinois couples."

A civil unions bill, recently introduced by Rep. Greg Harris of Chicago, has gained widespread support among the LGBT community and their allies. The measure, which would grant many of the same rights married couples enjoy, may be setting Illinois on a path similar to Vermont, where civil unions were the law of the land for many years . . . and, in hindsight, were likely an important stepping stone toward full marriage equality.

"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."

"[A]dvocates hope a civil unions bill here will lay the groundwork for a gay marriage bill," the Tribune reports.

And the passage of the bill, PFLAG National President John Cepek told the paper, will be an important first step in that process of building a foundation for full equality.

"I think there's a learning curve in getting people to come to terms with full equality for gays and lesbians," Cepek said. "You have to put them in a situation where they can see what's happening, see the good effects. There will be no great changes in life in Illinois. We'll just be creating a larger population of boring, middle-class, married fuddy-duddies."

Showing that our families are just like every family, Cepek and others reason, is the best way to counter the misinformation and unreasonable rhetoric that opponents of lesbian and gay couples so often insert into the public debate.

"I think that's how it has to happen, it has to be a grass-roots thing and start small for it to gain momentum among the lawmakers," Brian Fletcher, who lives in Oak Park with his partner of 9 years and their 3-year-old son, said. "If it has to happen state by state, that's great. Whatever it takes."

To read the full Chicago Tribune story, click here.

No comments: