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Illinois lawmaker plans to introduce same-sex marriage bill

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013 9:30 a.m. CST
Caption
(Photo by E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
Daryl Rizzo, left, and Jaime Garcia, right, wait with their daughter, Siena Garcia-Rizzo, as the couple waits to participate in a civil union ceremony at Wrigley Square at Millennium Park on June 2, 2011, in Chicago, Illinois.

(MCT) — CHICAGO — Daryl Rizzo will be anxious this week, waiting to learn whether Illinois lawmakers will bring a same-sex marriage bill up for a vote.

If it comes up and passes — a big “if” given the brief and unpredictable nature of lame-duck legislative sessions — Illinois would become the 10th state to legalize same-sex marriage and Rizzo could finally wed Jaime Garcia, the man he has been in a relationship with for 12 years.

“We’ve been kind of getting a sense of where Illinois is, where the country is, and you see this sort of domino effect,” said Rizzo, 51, who lives in LaGrange with Garcia and their 5-year-old daughter, Siena. “I think we’re riding the wave of that domino effect that’s happening across the country.”

State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said Monday that her goal is to introduce the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act to legalize same-sex marriage this week. The Senate will be in session Wednesday through Friday and then the House will be in session Sunday through Tuesday.

“Things are always fluid,” Steans said. “My goal is to call it this week for the Senate so it could then be heard in the House next week.”

A new set of lawmakers will be sworn in Jan. 9.

Just months ago, it seemed far-fetched that the politicians and activists who for years have maneuvered toward the legalization of same-sex marriage would be confident enough to bring up such a bill.

“As a gay rights activist for 30 years now, if someone told me that the state of Illinois would be as close as it is in recognizing same-sex marriages, I would’ve thought you were insane,” said Rick Garcia, policy director for The Civil Rights Agenda, a Chicago-based gay rights group. “I have seen a huge sea-change in just the past year. All of a sudden, in a very short period of time, you have the president speaking up in favor of marriage. You have no one in the (Illinois) legislature being hurt in the election by their vote for civil unions.”

More than 250 Illinois clergy members, mostly Protestant and Jewish, have endorsed the gay marriage bill as “morally just,” and in a statement released over the weekend, the White House said President Barack Obama would vote for legalizing same-sex marriage if he was still a state senator.

But opposition to same-sex marriage remains strong. Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, said people will see “a noticeable push against the bill” soon. He also questioned whether the bill’s sponsors actually have the votes they need.

“When I left Springfield two weeks ago, I don’t think the votes were there to pass it,” he said. “My feeling is if they had the votes to pass it they would have done it then.”

Many same-sex marriage opponents have turned to Scripture and church teachings to explain their resistance.

“I don’t think that it’s just the church’s position. I think it’s nature’s position,” Cardinal Francis George said in a recent interview. “Nature gives us two sexes, and there’s a reason for that. … So we’ll see if people begin to recognize what we all know — that a marital union between two men or two women is a physical impossibility. The church didn’t invent that. The church receives it from its creator — from nature if you want to call it that. And so does the state. And neither the church nor the state can change that.”

Civil unions already provide same-sex Illinois couples with most of the state-level rights of married heterosexual couples. For the moment, the federal rights afforded married couples are unavailable to same-sex couples because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The U.S. Supreme Court will be considering the constitutionality of DOMA this spring. Camilla Taylor, an attorney with the gay rights group Lambda Legal in Chicago, said that if DOMA is struck down and Illinois passes a same-sex marriage bill, married gay and lesbian couples here would gain access to an array of benefits.

“There are Social Security benefits, including disability benefits, that would go to a spouse,” Taylor said. “Federal pension benefits, immigration benefits for bi-national couples. The benefits for federal employees would be huge. It would just mean complete recognition of a couple’s relationship.”

But beyond the legal ramifications, Taylor said, is the greater emotional and psychological significance of gay and lesbian couples having their relationships recognized as marriages.

“When we create a climate where people can feel comfortable about who they are, we create an environment where it’s possible to realize our dreams, including the dream to marry that one person you truly love,” she said.

Rizzo echoed that sentiment.

“What’s most important for us is that everyone know what our neighbors know, what our friends, coworkers and families know, what our 5-year-old daughter knows — that we exist as a married couple,” he said. “It is important for us that the state recognizes what our child recognizes. That we are no different than any of the other partnered families that she sees.”

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