Illinois Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) introduced the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, a bill that would allow same-sex marriage in Ilinois, in the General Assembly Wednesday.
“It marks the next step in our journey toward full marriage equality in our state,” Harris told Chicago Phoenix. “It’s not going to happen quickly, it’s not going to happen without a lot of hard work.”
The bill, HB5170, comes on the heels of Tuesday’s 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision declaring the California gay marriage ban, Proposition 8, unconstitutional. It is the latest of many bills Harris has filed as a state representative for marriage equality in Illinois.
Harris, however, said that the bill was introduced today due to deadlines for new legislation, and that he has always worked to achieve marriage equality. Harris, who is openly-gay, has devoted his career to it, he said.
“They call it a struggle for a reason,” Harris said. “We all have to keep calling our legislators, talk to our religious leaders and work hard to make this happen.”
Out lesbian lawmakers Rep. Deborah Mell (40th District) and Rep. Kelly M. Cassidy (14th District) have been added as co-sponsors of the bill. Rep. Ann Williams (11th District) has also been added as a co-sponsor, and the bill has been referred to a rules committee after its first reading Wednesday.
“We are very lucky to have three very strong openly gay legislators here in Illinois,” said Cassidy. “The opportunity to work so closely with representatives Harris and Mell is great — it’s a great opportunity to work together this way.”
If passed, the new law would amend the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, allowing the voluntary conversion of a civil union to a marriage.
“This bill is the first of its kind,” said Harris. “In the past, we didn’t have civil unions, so this bill takes that into account and offers a means to transition from civil unions to marriage.”
Language in the bill is far-reaching, promising the equal rights, protections and responsibilities of marriage to couples regardless of whether they are a same-sex couple or different-sex couple.
“All laws of this State applicable to marriage apply equally to marriages of same-sex and different-sex couples and their children; parties to a marriage and their children, regardless of whether the marriage is of a same-sex or different-sex couple, have the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law…,” according to a summary of the bill on the General Assembly website.
The bill also includes specific definitions for language used for couples and their families when defining marriage under law.
“…Parties to a marriage are included in any definition or use of terms such as ‘spouse’, ‘family’, ‘immediate family’, ‘dependent’, ‘next of kin’, ‘wife’, ‘husband’, ‘bride’, ‘groom’, ‘wedlock’, and other terms that refer to or denote the spousal relationship, as those terms are used throughout the law, regardless of whether the parties to a marriage are of the same sex or different sexes…,” according to the summary.
“I am just really hopeful that we are going to get there and that we are going to get there soon,” Cassidy said. “It is long past the time when our families need to be treated and proteted equally as opposite-sex couples and families are. Until we achieve full equality we are not done.”
Local LGBT activists have reacted to the news, offering perspective into what is next for the bill and the struggle for marriage equality.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to finally be able to advance the goal of marriage,” Anthony Martinez, the executive direction of The Civil Rights Agenda told Chicago Phoenix. “It’s always been seen by TCRA as one of the biggest goals for advancing the rights of LGBT community in Illinois.”
Martinez said that TCRA activists are on the ground in Springfield working to build a coalition of support for the new marriage equality bill.
“We at TCRA supported the Civil Union bill as an initial step to providing rights and benefits to same sex couples, but separate is never equal,” Martinez added in a press release. “Marriage has always been one of the principal goals for our organization and we are pleased to finally be able to move forward towards achieving that goal. We thank the leadership of Representative Harris, Cassidy and Mell, and look forward to supporting their efforts. TCRA will work tirelessly to ensure that Illinois recognizes that all families deserve to be equal.”
“We commend these leaders for taking yet another step towards full equality for lesbian and gay families in Illinois, and we are grateful to them for their leadership,” said Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov. “This is just the beginning: the road to marriage equality is sure to be long, but it is one that we must travel together.”