Illinois could be next to recognize gay marriage

By Hallie Zolkower-Kutz

Although same-sex couples can’t marry in Illinois, Chicago scored 95 out of 100 for LGBT-friendliness on the new Municipal Equality Index published Nov. 27 by the Human Rights Campaign.

The MEI scores cities based on a list of 47 criteria under six broad categories, including “nondiscrimination laws,” “relationship recognition by the city” and “municipality as employer,” according to Paul Guequierre, the HRC’s deputy

press secretary.

The city received high marks in all categories except “municipality as employer,” the most heavily weighted section. It evaluates nondiscrimination ordinances in city employment, city contractors’ equal benefits ordinances, domestic partner health benefits for employees, legal dependent benefits and equivalent family leave. Chicago scored 16 out of 26 for that section, according to the report.

Chicago lacks city contractor nondiscrimination and equal benefits ordinances but scored 5 out of 5 in the criteria of “nondiscrimination in city employment,” according to the report.

Chicago does not have any ordinances that prevent sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, which Guequierre believes are essential to ensure LGBT residents are protected.

“It’s really become the new normal in employment—typically in the corporate America but growing in the public sector as well—to provide protections for employees,” he said. “It’s become the rule and not the exception.”

Springfield was also evaluated and received a score of 70. State laws were not incorporated into the relationship recognition section of the report because a city can support marriage equality regardless of state laws, according

to Guequierre.

“You have to remember Illinois is very diverse,” said Jacob Meister, governing board president

of The Civil Rights Agenda, an organization that defends the individual rights of LGBT citizens in Illinois through volunteerism and community-driven, project-based education. “Even though Chicago [is] maybe a little more progressive in their view, we are a very large, diverse state. When you move downstate, attitudes haven’t evolved to the same extent as they have in the

Chicagoland area.”

Meister has been working with both Republican and Democratic state legislators to pass a law that would legalize same-sex marriage  in Illinois. Meister said a foundation of support is growing for the issue of same-sex marriage and has been backed up by a Public Policy poll released Dec. 5.

The poll showed that 58 percent of Illinois voters who are younger than 45 years old support same-sex marriage, which could indicate the outcome of the proposed amendment to the state constitution legalizing same-sex marriage. The constitutional amendment will likely be presented to the legislature sometime this year,

Meister said.

“It’s not a question of if it’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s when it’s going to happen.”

Meister added that while he has received support from many legislators of both political parties, he continues to face opposition from organizations such as the Illinois Family Institute, a nonprofit that promotes public policy initiatives that are consistent with teachings and traditions of Judeo-Christianity.

The IFI openly challenges the idea of a marriage bill that would legalize same-sex marriage and is pushing to implement a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a union solely between a man and a woman, according to David Smith, executive director of the IFI.

“The institution of marriage [between a man and a woman] provides the ideal environment to raise the next generation of children,” Smith said. “Any other union doesn’t provide that.”

Smith said he believes the government has not legalized same-sex marriage because it is upholding a traditional and vital institution that cannot be replicated by same-sex couples.

Meister said he thinks marriage equality will be passed in Illinois if residents become more educated about the issues facing the LGBT community.

“I think it’s a matter of making people understand that gays and lesbians are just like [straight people],” Meister said. “The more people who realize that, the more they realize it’s just a matter of civil rights.”