I traveled to the Illinois State Capitol this week with a busload of faculty, staff, and students from Adler School of Professional Psychology, for a rally and march in support of SB 10, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, which passed the Illinois Senate earlier this year but did not pass in the Illinois House. The hope was that it would be taken up by the House during the veto session, and would overcome the perceived resistance of some religious groups, particularly of traditionally African-American churches.
As part of the effort to counter the perceived religious opposition to the bill, a number of African-American church leaders spoke in support of the bill. Numerous other churches were represented at the rally as well. These included the groups that would be expected to be supportive, such as Unitarians, Presbyterians, and some Lutheran churches. One group that made an appearance called themselves “Straight Catholics for Marriage Equality.” Apparently, these people were wiling to risk the condemnation of the bishops. Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield called the effort “blasphemous” and Chicago’s Francis Cardinal George also expressed strong condemnation.
As the veto session wound toward a close, it became obvious that no vote would be taken, so it will remain to be seen whether the House will take this issue on among the pension and budget problems that they are also choosing to ignore, seemingly. But it was clear from the rally that many Illinoisans are comfortable with the idea of marriage equality. I was struck by the “maturing” of gay and lesbian pride over the years, something that can only help convince the general public that LGBT people are like all of us – really, that they ARE all of us – and deserve the same legal protections that heterosexual couples take for granted. The people at the rally came across as businesslike and friendly rather than angry or provocative. The one point on which the crowd seemed to adopt a challenging tone was the issue of civil unions being a second-best solution, one that deserves an “upgrade” (as one speaker put it) to full legal marriage.
The other message that came through clearly was that the supporters of this bill respect the right of churches and people of faith who do not wish to perform or sanction same-gender marriages. That seems to have spurred the effort to label this as respecting religious freedom rather than infringing upon it.
It will be interesting to see how this effort plays out in Illinois, where the legislative leaders are not known for taking risks (or, much of the time, taking action at all).