Illinois could soon be the 10th state to legalize same-sex marriage.
The Illinois Senate approved the bill Feb. 14 in a 34-21 vote, and Gov. Pat Quinn has told various news outlets that he will sign it into law if the House approves the bill, which could happen within the week.
Steve Macias, associate professor of law, said the state Senate’s willingness to pass the bill helps the process.
“The Senate passed the bill somewhat symbolically last week for Valentines Day,” he said. “More recently, we’ve seen states passing this on their own without their hand being forced by their Supreme Court. In that sense, it’s good that it’s a more democratic process bringing about same-sex marriage.”
States such as Massachusetts and California were among the first to pass same-sex marriage. However, the decision came through state courts that deemed a denial unconstitutional. Macias said the Illinois Supreme Court is now hearing cases based on those grounds.
“As I understand it, they do have lawsuits pending in state court that the denial of same sex marriage does violate the Illinois constitution,” he said. “That’s sort of, I think, a backup plan. There are court cases pending. I think it will not be necessary to pursue those cases once this bill passes.”
While the law would allow churches to marry same-sex couples, article 209 section a-1 of the bill states the act cannot be used to force any denomination’s religious entities to perform a marriage ceremony. Macias said the clause is unnecessary from a constitutional perspective and is included simply to show that bill proponents are not interested in infringing upon religious freedom.
“The first amendment to the United States Constitution always protects the free exercise of religion, which includes deciding whom to marry and whom not to marry,” he said. “Even if they wanted to, they could not force ministers or priests to marry anyone, gay or straight.”
Josh Swain, pastor of The View Church in Carbondale, said he is unsure whether the law will pass, but he is happy the clause is included.
“Even if it wasn’t there, I still would make my decision on what ceremony I was going to perform,” he said. “I don’t really think that someone would want someone performing a wedding ceremony for them if they didn’t agree with their union.”
Swain said the bill’s potential passing does not excite him, but he is not angry. He said as a Christian, he will love all people and be their friend and pastor no matter their life decisions.
“We are all precious in the sight of God and not one person more than any other person. However, speaking for me individually, I believe that marriage was instituted by God to be between one man and one woman,” he said. “However, the government is going to make the decision that the government is going to make, and what I have found in every aspect of life is that we cannot ask the government to legislate morality.”
The rise in same-sex marriage approval is something assistant sociology professor Christopher Wienke said comes from younger generations.
“The vast majority of people under 30 are supportive of gay marriage,” he said. “People with college educations are much more supportive. The aging of the populations and greater success of somewhat younger generations is driving the attitudinal shift.”
Wienke said marriage’s societal image has changed over time as well.
“Marriage itself doesn’t have the same meaning it once did,” he said. “Marriage is no longer acquainted with children and setting up a household. It has more of an individualized meaning in the sense of personal fulfillment, personal development, personal need.”
Illinois already recognizes civil unions, which Macias said is essentially the same as a marriage from a legal standpoint but lacks the symbolism that accompanies marriage.
“The idea with a civil union is to provide same-sex couples with all of the legal state rights that married couples have,” he said. “In that case, as some courts that force marriage in particular states realized, the only difference between civil unions and same-sex marriage was the name itself.”
Wienke said it may only be a name difference, but the name carries symbolic importance. The idea of same-sex marriage is consistent with American values of acceptance and differences, he said.
“Marriage is a critical component in this culture because it’s something that is taxed by the state, and there is a legal policy component to it,” he said. “Our government has historically privileged marriage as a component of family life. As a preferred kind of arrangement, it’s tied to a lot of legal protections and benefits and rights and responsibilities.”
Mary Sophia Hall, a senior from Boulder, Colo., studying studio arts, said she thinks the bill will be passed into law, and Illinois is ready for the change.
“As a college student in a same-sex civil union, the passing of this bill means that there will be fewer barriers that my partner and I will have to face that married heterosexual couples do not,” she said. “The political climate here is, for the most part, very positive when it comes to equal rights for same-sex couples. It seems that the rest of the United States may not be far behind.”
Hall said although the state may soon allow same sex marriage, she found problems filling out her financial aid application because it is a federal document and does not recognize civil unions.
“A student under 25 in a marriage would be considered an independent adult, whereas a student of the same age in a civil union would not,” she said. “Since then, the LGBTQ Resource Center has worked with a receptive Financial Aid Office to make sure that rules are in place to treat civil unions with as much weight as marriages.”
Hall said she does not care if a religious group or individual does not consider her married. All that matters is that she is in love with her partner, she said.
“What is important to me is that our marriage is afforded the same respect and multitude of rights given to heterosexual, married couples by the government,” she said. “Every moment that same-sex couples are denied these rights is a moment that this country isn’t what it ought to be — a place where we are equal.”
Macias said the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act’s constitutionality next month and potentially recognize same-sex marriage before the spring term’s end.
“It may be by the summer, the federal government will recognize same sex marriages where they are legal,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that they’ll be forced upon other states. In the legal field, same-sex couples have all the same problems everyone else has and the courts generally have been able to deal with them without any sort of discriminatory treatment.”