Two years after narrowly passing a controversial civil union law,
the Illinois Legislature may again be headed for a showdown over gay
rights this time on the question of same-sex marriage.
The legislator who sponsored the state's 2010 civil union
measure, Rep. Gregory Harris, D-Chicago, says he hopes to push
legislation allowing same-sex marriage, possibly as early as next
week, if he believes it has the support to pass.
He and others think it might. In any case, it appears the old
debate over the definition of marriage is ripe for a renewed round
in Springfield, if not next week then in the new year.
The lesser step of civil unions barely eked by in Springfield two
years ago, but supporters say this year's election outcomes on same-
sex ballot issues in four states indicate a change in attitude.
"It was a win in all four states" for same-sex marriage
advocates, said Randy Hannig, director of public policy for
Equality Illinois, a gay rights organization. Those victories
followed a decade of anti-gay-marriage initiatives in 32 states,
including Missouri. "We were 0-for-32 up to that point," he said.
At the same time, state Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, who opposed the
civil union law two years ago, is pushing a constitutional amendment
this year that would define marriage as being between a man and a
woman a similar statement to the one Missouri voters overwhelmingly
approved eight years ago.
The amendment would have to be put on the ballot and win a
statewide vote to go into effect. Haine says even same-sex marriage
proponents should view that as a chance for final public input on
the long-argued question.
"We could have a great debate among our citizens" and settle it
once and for all, said Haine.
Under current Illinois law, same-sex couples are allowed to enter
into civil unions that provide many of the same legal rights as
married couples in areas such as medical decisions, property rights
and insurance coverage. But they don't have the legal right to state-
That was the compromise when the bill passed late in 2010.
Despite proponents' agreement to keep the word "marriage" out of it
and despite the lame-duck session at the time, with some lawmakers
no longer facing future elections the measure passed by just two
votes in the Senate and one in the House.
So why, just two years later, do proponents think there's a
chance lawmakers will allow same-sex marriage? Harris, the sponsor,
points to the Nov. 6 election. Voters in Maryland, Maine and
Washington approved same-sex marriage measures, while Minnesota
defeated a gay marriage ban all firsts.
"I'll be talking with (fellow legislators) about the result of
the election in those four other states," Harris said. "There's been
a dramatic shift" in public attitudes.
David E. Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family
Institute, which opposes same-sex marriage, disputed Harris'
interpretation, saying, "Greg is apparently forgetting that there
are 32 other states that have spoken on this" with ballot measures
against same-sex unions. …