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With Senate’s Approval of Gay Marriage Bill, Religious Leaders Weigh in

Chicagoans protest for equal marriage rights. Photo by Kevin Zolkiewicz/Flickr

In 2008, when same-sex marriage became legal briefly in California thanks to Proposition 8, Gary Cozette and his partner of 18 years, citizens of Illinois, took a trip to San Francisco to get the official marriage they had long been looking for.

Although Proposition 8 was banned by the Supreme Court after a mere 8 months, the decision stated that all marriages performed while same-sex marriage was legal were perfectly valid.

Since then, Gary has been waiting for the day when his marriage will be recognized in his home state. As it turns out, that day may be fast-approaching.

In early June 2011, civil unions became legal in Illinois for same-sex couples. Since then, the gay rights movement has turned its sights towards official, state-recognized marriage. In late December, lawmakers proposed to make Illinois the tenth state in the nation to alter the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

Running off of momentum gained by electoral victories in Maine, Maryland, and Washington last November, proponents of gay marriage in Illinois seem to have many factors in their favor. Both Houses of Illinois’ Congress are controlled by the Democrats, with Senate Republican leader Pat Brady even attempting to rally members of his own party to vote in favor of the bill.

The supporters of the bill won a monumental victory on Feb. 14, when the Senate approved it by a vote of 34-21. The eyes of the constituents now turn their gaze towards the House of Representatives, where it will face a more difficult obstacle than it did in the Senate.

“There’s still persuasion to do in the House,” Governor Patrick Quinn said in an interview. Yesterday, the bill moved one step closer to being law, as the House Executive Committee allowed it to go to a full House vote.

“I think it’s going to pass,” said Cozette, 62, who is the program director at the Chicago Religious Leadership Network for Latin America. “Things are changing so quickly, and I think that the support of one of the Republican leaders has opened the door to bipartisan support.”

Cozette has been openly gay for 20 years, and has faced much opposition since, not the least of which was from his own church.

“I was a member of an Evangelical church here in Chicago. I came out in my congregation as gay and I was dismissed as a liturgist, and I struggled for three years to be reinstated as a liturgist,” Cozette said. “I finally was, but at the same time they passed a policy stating that, if they’re out, and seeking to have relationships, that they would not allow them to be in leadership positions.”

This contributed to his leaving of that church, later joining the Chicago Religious Leadership Network for Latin America.

“There are some [in our organization] who do not approve of gay marriage, and would not offer in their congregation full support for gay and lesbian people, but we tend to have the religious leaders that are most progressive,” Cozette said.

Out of the 600 “networks” in the organization, about half are Catholic, and half are Protestant. While the Protestants are accepting religious same-sex marriages, he says, the Catholics he works with are less likely to concede the issue.

The Catholic Church itself provides the most serious opposition to the passage of the bill in Illinois. A statement from the Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George to the Catholic parishes in the city reminds the parishioners of the Catholic position on same-sex marriage.

“The state has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible,” the Cardinal said in a statement, later claiming that gay-marriage undermines the natural family.

Simultaneously, he sternly condemned any form of violence, hatred, or discrimination against the LGBT community, and upheld the position that the Catholic Church has consistently held: “The Church welcomes everyone, respects each one personally and gives to each the spiritual means necessary to…maintain friendship with Christ.”

Proponents argue, however, that the bill states that “religious congregations and clergy may continue to choose which marriage ceremonies to perform,” according to the press release on the Marriage Fairness Act from the Office of Senator Heather Steans, who sponsored the bill.

Many opponents of same-sex marriage would potentially be appeased by “civil unions,” which grant the legal rights of a marriage. Steans says that, while acceptable, civil unions are not enough.

“Civil unions were an important first step,” she said, “but there’s still confusion over what a civil union is and what it grants. Everyone knows what a marriage is.”

For those in favor of same-sex marriage, the future looks bright, as last November’s elections saw Maine, Maryland, and Washington joining the list of states that have legalized same-sex marriage. Supporters of this bill will try to make Illinois one of these states when it is voted on in the House of Representatives.


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