Not quite equal rights

By Darryl Holliday

In the wake of the vote to legalize civil unions, many residents are looking ahead to the future of LGBTQ rights in Illinois.

If Gov. Quinn signs the legislation early next year as he has said he will, same sex couples will have the opportunity to have their unions recognized by the state in June 2011. This comes after a long struggle from many groups and individuals in the region to obtain equal rights for the LGBTQ community. But according to many, including

Rick Garcia, public policy director for Equality Illinois, the fight for gay rights in the state continues.

“We believe everyone should be treated fairly and equitably,” Garcia said. “There should be one set of rules and one yardstick for all. We view the civil union bill as a stop-gap measure to provide necessary protection and recognition to people until such time we have equal marriage rights.”

The “Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act” passed 32 to 24 by the Illinois Senate on Nov. 30 and will be available to both same-sex and heterosexual couples.

Because the legislation is without precedent in the state, questions on specific interpretations remain.

However, the bill will provide same-sex couples with many of the rights afforded to married couples, including the ability to visit and make medical decisions for partners in emergencies and to automatically be considered legal parents of children in the relationship, among other benefits.

The bill, however, will not allow those couples to be recognized by the federal government—as a result, same-sex couples in the state will not be eligible to receive a partner’s social security benefits and will not be able to file joint tax returns.

“The whole issue with marriage made me not want to actually get married,” said Bernard Brinas, a psychology major and president of the GLBT-Str8 Alliance at Roosevelt University. “I didn’t want to go through that—I didn’t want to realize I’m denied that.”

According to Brinas, legalization of civil unions in the state gave him some hope. Overall, he said the decision is a good step, though he doesn’t understand how the state will allow civil unions, yet remain undecided on full marriage rights.

“The whole [title, marriage or civil unions] aside—why shouldn’t we have the right to get married?” said Brian Leichtman Smith, a 20-year-old Columbia photography major. “I feel patronized because what they’re saying is no matter how long we’re together or how in love we are, our relationship will never be as important as a heterosexual relationship.”

While Leichtman Smith and his partner Nathan Baer don’t have any immediate plans for marriage, both are hopeful that full marriage rights will someday be available to gay and lesbian couples in the state.

“What we’ve learned is this a generational issue,” said Garcia, noting the push for equal marriage rights will become more likely as the current generation become policy setters. “People under 40 don’t understand why it’s been a problem … the older you are the more difficult it is to have an understanding of the issue.”

According to Garcia, educating the legislature and the public is important to creating attitudes that favor equal rights for all.

“Part of our job is to be vigilant and to make sure the gains that have been made are maintained,” he said.