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Testimony of John Knight Director of the ACLU of Illinois’ LGBT Project - Featuring Well Known Republicans such as Governor Quinn and Kenneth Mehlman
Testimony of John Knight Director of the ACLU of Illinois’ LGBT Project Supporting House Bill 5655 Senate Executive Committee January 2, 2013 My name is John Knight. I am the Director of the ACLU of Illinois’ Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. The purpose of House Bill 5655 is simple. It would at long last recognize the freedom to marry of lesbian and gay Illinoisans. Both Democrats and Republicans support marriage for same-sex couples. To list just a few, Mayor Emanuel, Governor Quinn, former GOP National Chairman Ken Mehlman, and New York Mayor Bloomberg all support marriage for same-sex couples. President Obama made clear earlier this year that "it's wrong to prevent couples who are in loving, committed relationships and want to marry, from doing so." This bill corrects that wrong. We ask this Committee to right this wrong against lesbian and gay Illinoisans. As public support for marriage has grown exponentially over the last few years, more and more states have recognized that the freedom to marry must be extended to same-sex couples. In nine states, including neighboring Iowa and most recently Maryland, Washington, and Maine, same-sex couples may marry. The public’s support for allowing same-sex couples to marry has grown by leaps and bounds in Illinois and nationally as the public has come to realize that the loving commitment of a couple who wishes to marry is what matters, rather than their gender or sexual orientation, and these numbers will only continue to grow as lesbian and gay couples, their families and friends, continue to talk openly about the couples’ love and commitment. There is little question that a majority of Americans now support granting the freedom to marry to same-sex couples. A Gallup Poll released on November 30th of 2012 shows that 53% of all Americans support the freedom to marry for all couples, including same-sex couples. Those numbers track with recent national polls from USA Today, ABC News/Washington Post and NBC/Wall Street Journal. In Illinois, a May 2012 poll found a majority of Illinois voters support the freedom to marry. And, to demonstrate the growing support for marriage, the 2012 Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll showed that a plurality of Illinois voters support the freedom to marry in our state. That same poll found that support for marriage in Illinois has grown by 10 points over the past twenty-four months -- while opposition is receding at a rate of 3% each year. Marriage is a central institution in our society. It is an esteemed and universally recognized social structure and legal status. It serves a crucial role in expressing the serious commitment and love of two people – privately to one another and publicly to their family, friends, and the community at large. You heard from Mercedes and Theresa who eloquently described why marriage is so important to them. Another couple in the audience, Suzi and Danielle, from Bloomington, also long to publicly express their more than ten-year commitment to each other by being afforded the opportunity to marry. Other couples have been together as committed couples for close to 50 years and hope in their lifetimes to finally have the chance to celebrate their 1 commitment with marriage. And there are more than 30,000 other couples in Illinois whose families will benefit from your vote for their freedom to marry. Ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from the ability to marry will strengthen marriage by allowing same-sex couples to join in and celebrate it. Civil unions cannot measure up when compared to marriage. Although civil unions serve an important role in providing the basic legal protections that the State of Illinois can provide, they fail to achieve the many benefits associated solely with marriage. First, they are not accorded anywhere close to the same degree of respect or understanding as marriage by, for example, hospital and other health care workers, employers, and the school administrators of same-sex couples’ children. Second, denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry while offering them a separate and inferior status sends a message that same-sex couples and their children are undeserving of the same respect as heterosexual couples and invites and sanctions discrimination against these couples and their children. Third, civil unions place same- sex couples at risk when they travel, since civil unions will not be understood or recognized in most other states to the same degree marriage would. Finally, there are more than 1000 federal laws that provide a multitude of federal protections to married couples, but those protections are currently denied same-sex couples by the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The U.S. Supreme Court will decide this term a case challenging the constitutionality of DOMA. And if, as we expect, it strikes down DOMA as unconstitutional, more than 30,000 same-sex couples in Illinois will be denied those federal protections, even if they have a civil union. Those protections include social security survivor benefits, family medical leave, veteran’s benefits, health insurance for spouses of federal employees, income and estate tax benefits, among many others. It would be grossly unfair for Illinois to delegate its lesbian and gay citizens to a second-class status by denying them the protections and responsibilities available in nine other states and the District of Columbia. Passing HB 5655 fulfills the General Assembly’s responsibility to ensure its laws are consistent with the Illinois Constitution. HB 5655 ensures that all Illinoisans, including lesbians and gay men, are treated fairly by recognizing their fundamental right to marry the one person with whom they wish to share their lives as a family. The highest courts of four states – Iowa, California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts – have found that maintaining a separate legal status such as civil unions for a minority, rather than treating everyone the same, is a violation of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. The Illinois Constitution’s liberty and equality protections1 also guarantee same-sex couples the freedom to marry. Consequently, by passing HB 5655, the General Assembly will be fulfilling its independent responsibility to ensure that Illinois law fulfills the requirements of our Constitution. 1 See Illinois Constitution Article I, §2 (the rights to due process, including the fundamental right to marry, and equal protection); Article I, § 6 (the right to privacy, including the fundamental right to marry); Article I, § 18 (the right to be free from gender discrimination); and Article I, § 13 (the guarantee against special legislation). 2 House Bill 5655 protects the religious liberty of churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions. The bill makes clear that clergy members will never be required to celebrate or solemnize a marriage that is inconsistent with their religious beliefs or the beliefs of the denomination of which they are a part. Moreover, it promotes religious liberty by allowing the hundreds of religious leaders from a variety of religious traditions the choice to celebrate and solemnize the marriages of same-sex couples, if doing so is consistent with their religious beliefs and traditions. I applaud Senator Steans and Representative Harris for meeting extensively with the Catholic Conference and representatives of the Archdiocese in an effort to be sure that their concerns about the protection of religious liberty were considered, and the original bill language was changed to reflect their concerns. The amended bill continues Illinois’ long-standing commitment to non-discrimination while expanding it to include the freedom to marry that has long been denied lesbian and gay couples. Religious liberty is a core concept of our nation and its protection has long been a central part of the ACLU’s commitment to upholding the Constitution. I support the changes made to the original bill, because they clarify and strengthen existing and crucial protections for religious freedom. I urge your support for House Bill 5655. Thank you. 3
"Testimony of John Knight Director of the ACLU of Illinois’ LGBT Project - Featuring Well Known Republicans such as Governor Quinn and Kenneth Mehlman"