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LGBT Activists Renew Civil Union Campaign

By Joseph Erbentraut in News on Jan 22, 2010 7:30PM

Photo by Melody Kramer
Recent months have seen a number of setbacks for gay marriage advocates, including notable losses in Maine, New York and - most recently - New Jersey, but Illinois activists have hit the ground running in their quest for same-sex civil union protections in the new year.

Equality Illinois, the state's main LGBT advocacy organization, had its full lobbying team in place downstate in Springfield last week to kick off the new legislative session, a press release read. Last year, both marriage and civil union legislation failed to come to vote in the General Assembly, just as they did not the year before. But advocates on the issue remain optimistic that civil unions - though not marriage quite yet - are within reach, though the issue remains on the back-burner for many lawmakers and constituents alike.

"I continue to lobby my legislative colleagues on civil unions and marriage equality, who have one eye on the financial melt-down of the State budget and their other eye on their upcoming re-election campaigns," state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the House civil unions bill's sponsor. "We have a lot of work to do but we are moving forward in a steady way."

Even if both civil union and gay marriage bills have failed to gain much traction in recent history, the issue of marriage equality has undeniably played a prominent role in a number of important statewide primary battles. In the race for Roland Burris' vacant Senate seat, prominent Democratic contenders Alexi Giannoulias and David Hoffman have emphasized their support of full marriage rights for gay couples, while Cheryle Jackson has received some iffy press for supporting only civil unions. Republican Mark Kirk has also held consistently moderate positions on LGBT issues.

“It’s no longer a question of should there be same-sex marriage,” Rick Garcia, Equality Illinois political director told the Trib last year. “The only question is, when is it coming here?”

Activists on the other side of the issue - led by the Illinois Family Institute (IFI) - maintain their vehement opposition to gay marriage and, apparently, any straight couples unable or unwilling to procreate. Earlier today, IFI executive director David E. Smith addressed the "public purpose of marriage" as he argued against a new Trib article addressing the economic costs of inequality:

"Marriage is not a relationship that society created in order to give some people benefits and deny them to others," Smith wrote. "Marriage is the institution that societies worldwide have recognized and encouraged because this unique relationship between a man and a woman provides particular benefits to society, chief among them, the procreation and nurturing of the next generation."

So, which is it? Are civil unions and, ultimately, gay marriage both necessary and inevitable in Illinois? Or do we need to continue to defend (straights-only) marriage as the bedrock of our baby-making society?