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In Spite of Support for Civil Unions, Supporters Pessimistic About Gay Marriage

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Apr 14, 2009 8:45PM

Photo by chloeloe
After the recent decision to allow gay marriage in Iowa, there's been cause for optimism amongst supporters in Illinois. Whispers grew a little louder on Monday when Gov. Quinn, speaking at Harper College in Palatine, indicated that a civil union law may not be far away for Illinois. Said Quinn: "I think that's probably where the legislature is headed in the state." With a civil union bill currently in the General Assembly, it's a distinct possibility. However, there are indications that a law allowing gay marriage isn't in the state's near-future. The Times and Democrat - a paper based out of South Carloina, of all places - addressed the issue this week.

In Illinois, both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage aren’t necessarily expecting results soon on either side of the issue. “As I tell our friends and supporters, don’t go out and plan a June wedding,” said Rick Garcia, political director of the gay-rights group Equality Illinois.

In the Illinois General Assembly, a plan to approve civil unions hasn’t received a full House vote this year, and a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages hasn’t seen the light of day. Illinois already prohibits same-sex marriage through state law, but opponents worry it isn’t strong enough. State Rep. David Reis, R-Willow Hill, has sponsored the constitutional ban for several years.

If approved by lawmakers, a proposed amendment would go up for a statewide vote. Reis said it’s only fair to allow people to vote on it, and Democrats who control the legislature should help make that happen. “That’s why we’ve been so frustrated,” Reis said.

Meanwhile, the Tribune has its own excellent look at the gay marriage issue today, which reinforces the don't-hold-your-breath attitude.

"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."

You can follow the progress of the current civil union bill, House Bill 2234, also known as The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, here.