Phil Reese

Marriage Equality Bill Introduced in Illinois Senate: Matches House Version

Filed By Phil Reese | October 01, 2009 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Greg Harris, Heather Steans, Illinois, marriage equality, Midwest, New Jersey

And we're off! The race to marriage equality for the fifth largest state in the Union was kicked off this morning when State Senator Heather Steans became the first Illinois Senator to introduce a marriage equality bill - SB2468 the Equal Marriage Act - in that chamber.

Steans_ILGA_HEAD_SML.jpgIllinois - which promises to have the eyes on the world on it if it is chosen to host the 2016 Olympic Games - is one of the most progressive states in the Midwest. It is the state that President Barack Obama calls home and where he honed his leadership credentials.

Representative Greg Harris had already introduced a similar bill earlier this year in the lower house - HB178, the Same-Sex Marriage and Religion Freedoms Act - as he has every session since 2007. Today marks the first time that that language has been matched in the Senate. Rep Harris also introduced a civil unions bill that both houses have been grappling with for some time now.

Speaking on the phone this morning, Sen. Heather Steans makes clear that the time for waiting is over. "Look around the country. We have five states now with Equal Marriage. Its time. Illinois shouldn't lag," she said.

Both Harris and Steans noted that several prominent Illinois lawmakers have come out in favor of full marriage equality - starting with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley when Representative Harris first introduced the bill in 2007. The highest profile of these equality endorsements have been Gubernatorial candidate Dan Hynes and both rivals for President Obama's former Senate seat, Alexi Giannoulias and David Hoffman.

Illinois citizens have been fighting tooth and nail for civil unions in the state, while over the border in Iowa, residents have now for several months been enjoying full marriage equality. Senator Steans sees herself in a position to change this as a lawmaker.

"Help Me Put a Ring On It"

"It's a fundamental right to find your own family," proclaimed Senator Steans, who calls being the first Senator to introduce marriage equality in Illinois an "honor." Senator Steans described her reasons for sponsoring this bill - issues all too well known to LGBT people in loving relationships barred from recognition.

Senator Steans takes issue with keeping Americans from the rituals, health care decisions, child rearing decisions, tax privileges and access to the same institutions that opposite-sex couples are afforded. She believes all couples deserve access to "the same rights and responsibilities that I have with my husband."

Both Senator Steans and Representative Greg Harris - until recently the only openly gay House member - emphasized the importance of Illinois residents reaching out to their state legislators on a constant basis in person and with urgency. Citizens must demand that their lawmakers co-sponsor this bill.

"Its election time," said Harris, "They're out in the streets trying to drum up support. Go out and find them and say 'Thanks for shaking my hand, Senator. Now help me put a ring on it.'" Both agree that Illinois constituents need to be adamant with their lawmakers that the time is now.

Steans and Harris both said legislators need daily contact from constituents, "And don't just send form letters," said Steans, "They need to hear real stories."

When I asked Representative Harris if there is any indication of how Governor Quinn - who is on record supporting civil unions - will receive news of this bill, he encouraged the public not to make assumptions, but to begin work to educate the governor immediately so he sees the legislation is a matter of equality.

"This is a priority for everyone concerned with equality in Illinois," Representative Harris told me.

With marriage equality now on the table, Representative Harris also said that he has no plans to withdraw his civil unions bill yet, but emphasized, "We're pushing toward full equality. We need to lead on [marriage equality]. We need to be on the right side of history."

The World Will Be Watching

Harris, who has served since 2006, points out that while this law will help many Illinois state residents, couples will not experience full equality until the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed.

To folks in other states he says, "We still need your help. Meet with your legislators and tell them to co-sponsor Congressman Jerrold Nadler's 'Respect for Marriage Act' to overturn the 'Defense of Marriage Act.'"

With the Olympics possibly coming to Chicago, Representative Harris believes that the state has an opportunity to send a message to the world "Illinois could be a model for the world, showing the world what true equality looks like, here!"

The ripple effect could be major, with Illinois situated squarely in the center of America's "Heartland." A Midwestern agricultural and industrial bastion, Illinois can take the lead in the marriage equality movement. As Representative Harris said, "We can show this is not just something from the coasts. Illinois is a lot like the rest of America."

Representative Harris encouraged all people concerned with equality to support the ACLU of Illinois and Equality Illinois in whatever way you can - donate or volunteer - as they've already invested a great bit of energy and work in this fight. Most of all, please contact your legislators and set up face-to-face meetings encouraging them to co-sponsor this legislation.

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Please catch up, Indiana!

Chitown Kev | October 1, 2009 2:13 PM

That explosion that you hear is Porno Petey LaBarbera's head.

To be honest, I think that out of this sausage that can be lawmaking Illinois General Assembly, we will get civil unions; marriage will come to Illinois before the Olympic Games (regardless of where they are held).

The great thing about Illinois is that it is almost impossible to get a binding referendum on the ballot (only happened once in Illinois history and that effort was spearheaded by the current Governor). There were murmurs of using the Constitutional Convention process to change Illinois' Constitution to define marriage as one man/one woman but that was defeated and won't come up again until 2018, I believe.

That other murmur that I've heard is a little jealousy not only at marriage in Iowa but also DP's in Wisconsin.

Yes, Illinois is very progressive but also very pragmatic in the way we Midwesterners can be. I see no reason why Illinois shouldn't take the lead in the marriage equality movement. This is a good start.

Need to contact my rep, Julie Hamos (although she is running for Mark Kirk's seat)...that should be interesting.

This just in from Equality Illinois:

CHICAGO, October 1, 2009. Equality Illinois is happy to announce the introduction in the Illinois State Senate of the bill to legalize marriage between two adults of the same sex. The bill was introduced today by State Senator Heather Steans.

"This is not an issue of sacred versus secular - there are plenty of synagogues, churches, and other houses of worship that both recognize and perform same-sex marriages," said Bernard Cherkasov, Chief Executive Officer of Equality Illinois. "Rather, marriage is a civil right - plain and simple. The state cannot have a civil institution of marriage - with its plethora of benefits, rights and responsibilities - and exclude from it an entire class of citizens."

The bill would provide for state recognition of same-sex marriage, while ensuring that religious institutions are not required to perform any marriages that are inconsistent with their religious practices. This is a companion bill to the one introduced in the State House of Representatives by Represenative Greg Harris, HB178. The House bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Deb Mell, Sara Feigenholtz, Constance Howard, Harry Osterman, and John Fritchey. Equality Illinois applauds the sponsoring legislators for their leadership.

The time for full equality in the land of Lincoln is now! But the passage of this bill is not guaranteed. In the months to come, we will need your help in reaching your state legislators to let them know how important equality is to you. Moreover, the same religious political extremist forces that are fighting marriage equality in other states are mobilizing hard in Illinois, planning lobby days and raising money. We must not let the anger of that vocal minority drown out the voices of fairness across this great state. Please help us in our mission to achieve relationship recognition - join us now - we cannot do our work without your financial support.

We are also working to ensure marriage equality on the federal level. Two weeks ago, Equality Illinois announced introduction of the bill to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and cosigned an open letter to members of Congress, stating in part: "When DOMA was enacted, its harms were not yet fully appreciated because same-sex couples were not able to marry in any U.S. state. Since then, eight states and the District of Columbia have recognized equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, and thousands of couples have married. Because of DOMA, the federal government does not honor their legal commitment and the needs of their families, even though these couples have assumed the obligations of civil marriage under state law and contribute as citizens and taxpayers." The letter was co-signed by about 30 organizations, and can be viewed at our website.

Equality Illinois is working hard on the issues of marriage equality and relationship recognition, as part of its mission to achieve full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Illinois. But we cannot succeed in our work without your support. Please donate now to support our work.

wow... had my address in there! Glad noone stalked me! Thanks!

Chitown Kev | October 1, 2009 3:20 PM

Whoops...for the Senate that would be Jeff Schoenberg!

This is wonderful evidence that modern civilization is possible in the American Midwest. If we get Iowa-Wisconsin-Illinois as a stronghold, then I expect that Minnesota would follow soon. (For the rest of the Midwest, I'm afraid my hopes are more guarded ... but only time will tell.)

Congrats, Illini, for getting this far, and Good Luck on the follow-thru.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 2, 2009 10:14 AM

Illinois had better laws on the books than California in the 1970s when I made my move there. She has lagged behind since, but is still light years ahead of Indiana. This would put her back on top again. If only the wind chills could be adjusted :).

Bonnie L Smith | October 3, 2009 5:38 PM

I'm having a private committment ceremony in my apartment with my fiance Che'le next weekend because we can't legally get married here in ILLINOIS ....
We don't want to be forced to leave Illinois to go somewhere else to get married so this would be an answer to our hopes and prayers.
All we want is to be afforded the SAME rights as every other couple who love and adore eachother and not to be made to feel that our love is any less valid than a straight couples love for eachother.
If this is truly the land of the FREE, than we need Illinois and all the other States in America to acknowlege that LOVE & COMMITTMENT not be outlawed to those of the same sex ....
I just want to LOVE, HONOR, and CHERISH the woman of my dreams and not be persecuted or subjected to prejudice because of my sexual orientation.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 3, 2009 9:04 PM


I wish you a beautiful ceremony and also that you remember that no government can give you love. In our civil rights battle to "pursue happiness" in all aspects of life we have to remember that happiness is a personal responsibility and not magically granted by government.

By the sounds of it you already have more than any government could give you anyway. If you are living outside of metro Chicago in some downstate small town I am sure you can still feel marginalized. If you check out the laws in Illinois (particularly the additional protections in Chicago) you will find that you are, largely, as free as you will be anywhere.

I hope an angel sits on each of your shoulders on your special day.

Dear Robert,

You have my heart felt appreciation on your kind wishes for my fiance Che'le and I.
You are certainly right that no government can give us love. When two people decide to give eachother that promise of lifelong love and fidelity, marriage becomes a matter of the heart that no govenment and no one person can outlaw or demean. In my heart and the heart of my fiances, we WILL consider ourselves a married couple when we both express our vows to eachother next week. But it is still important to us to have a legally recognized marriage that will entitle us to all the legal and societal benefits that straight couples have.
We demand that our government representatives here in Illinois and allover the US never stop the fight for EQUALITY for each and every citizen in this wonderful country of ours.
Che'le and I are but a tip of the ICEBURG of Gay & Lesbian couples who will find a way to validate and consumate their marriages regardless of how anyone else feels about same sex weddings. Thankyou for all you do in your fight on behalf of all of us.