Online Extra: Wedding Bell Blues: Illinois considers same-sex marriage bill
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Same-sex couples in Illinois could soon see legal recognition of their relationships. State lawmakers there are pushing for a vote on a bill that would legalize such unions.
Out gay state Representative Greg Harris and state Senator Heather Steans, chief sponsors of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, want colleagues to vote in early January, as the Chicago Phoenix recently reported. A spokeswoman for Governor Pat Quinn indicated he's eager to sign the bill into law.
The lawmakers, who're both Democrats representing Chicago, are optimistic after the November 6 elections, which saw votes favoring same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland, and Washington state, along with the defeat of an anti-gay constitutional amendment in Minnesota.
"I really do think we are getting really close, or we would not be doing this big charge now," Steans said in an interview Monday, December 17.
"The governor has said if it's passed, he would sign it, so we are optimistic, but we are working very hard" to get the necessary votes, she said.
Brooke Anderson, a spokeswoman for the governor, said, "Governor Quinn would love to be able to sign language legalizing marriage equality in January 2013." She said that Quinn has "made it very clear that he strongly believes in equal rights for all people."
Anderson pointed to the governor's successful push for civil unions in the state, of which she said thousands of couples have taken advantage.
Marriage equality "is something we think would be good for Illinois, and good for the country, and it is the right thing to do," Anderson said.
In a letter to supporters, Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov said, "It's never been clearer, the time is now for marriage equality in Illinois."
He added, "All couples deserve a chance to have their love and commitment recognized as civil marriage under state law. Our assessment of the experiences of thousands of couples shows that civil unions are separate, unequal and confusing, and have not proven to be an equal substitute for marriage."
Among other provisions, the act, also known as HB 5170, provides that all Illinois laws "applicable to marriage apply equally to marriages of same-sex and different-sex couples and their children."
Steans said she and Harris would only call it for a vote if they think they can pass it in both chambers. They'll need 30 votes in the Senate and 60 in the House.
The biggest challenge now is "getting enough 'Yes' votes," Steans said. She said although public support of same-sex marriage is growing in Illinois and nationally, "Sometimes it takes a while for public officials to keep up with where the public is."
Steans said they're hoping to get a vote on the legislation before the new General Assembly is sworn in January 9.
Couples could start getting married June 1.
Harris's office didn't provide comment.
'Dummies' book for same-sex couples
Those needing help understanding how different state laws may affect them, or wanting assistance with living wills and other documents, may get the assistance they're looking for in Same-Sex Legal Kit for Dummies , a book published this month.
Part of the popular Dummies series, John Culhane, who co-authored the book with Carrie Stone, said a recent conversation he had with an editor helped show why it's needed. The man told Culhane that when his long-term partner died, "he was at a loss on what to do legally," Culhane said. The editor said he wished he'd had "a better idea of how to set things up" in the financial and medical matters he faced.
"Even if we've reached the promised land in 2013," and the U.S. Supreme Court "surprises everybody by saying same-sex couples have the right to marry," couples who choose not to marry "will still have a need for a book like this," Culhane said.
The Supreme Court recently announced that it's taking up the Proposition 8 case. The announcement had been widely anticipated after a federal appeals court upheld a district court judge's ruling that California's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, and opponents of marriage equality appealed to the high court.
The court is also to review the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex unions.
Culhane, 56, is gay. He and his partner live in Philadelphia, where same-sex relationships aren't recognized legally. The men entered into a civil union in Vermont.
The book can be purchased directly from John Wiley and Sons Inc. at http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1118395212.html or Amazon.com.
Wedding Bell Blues is an online column looking at various issues related to the marriage equality fight in California and elsewhere. The column will be taking a break for the holidays and will resume Tuesday, January 15. Please send column ideas or tips to Seth Hemmelgarn at or call (415) 861-5019.