Testimony of John Knight                  Director of the ACLU of Illinois’ LGBT Project                           Support...
commitment with marriage. And there are more than 30,000 other couples in Illinoiswhose families will benefit from your vo...
House Bill 5655 protects the religious liberty of churches, synagogues,and other religious institutions. The bill makes cl...
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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

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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

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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

  1. 1. 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 GayBisexual and Transgender Project. The purpose of House Bill 5655 is simple. It wouldat long last recognize the freedom to marry of lesbian and gay Illinoisans. BothDemocrats and Republicans support marriage for same-sex couples. To list just a few,Mayor Emanuel, Governor Quinn, former GOP National Chairman Ken Mehlman, andNew York Mayor Bloomberg all support marriage for same-sex couples. PresidentObama made clear earlier this year that "its wrong to prevent couples who are in loving,committed relationships and want to marry, from doing so." This bill corrects thatwrong. 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 tosame-sex couples. In nine states, including neighboring Iowa and most recentlyMaryland, Washington, and Maine, same-sex couples may marry. The public’s supportfor allowing same-sex couples to marry has grown by leaps and bounds in Illinois andnationally as the public has come to realize that the loving commitment of a couple whowishes to marry is what matters, rather than their gender or sexual orientation, andthese numbers will only continue to grow as lesbian and gay couples, their families andfriends, continue to talk openly about the couples’ love and commitment. There is little question that a majority of Americans now support granting thefreedom to marry to same-sex couples. A Gallup Poll released on November 30th of2012 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 USAToday, ABC News/Washington Post and NBC/Wall Street Journal. In Illinois, a May2012 poll found a majority of Illinois voters support the freedom to marry. And, todemonstrate the growing support for marriage, the 2012 Paul Simon Public PolicyInstitute poll showed that a plurality of Illinois voters support the freedom to marry inour state. That same poll found that support for marriage in Illinois has grown by 10points 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 anduniversally recognized social structure and legal status. It serves a crucial role inexpressing the serious commitment and love of two people – privately to one anotherand publicly to their family, friends, and the community at large. You heard fromMercedes and Theresa who eloquently described why marriage is so important to them.Another couple in the audience, Suzi and Danielle, from Bloomington, also long topublicly express their more than ten-year commitment to each other by being affordedthe opportunity to marry. Other couples have been together as committed couples forclose to 50 years and hope in their lifetimes to finally have the chance to celebrate their 1
  2. 2. commitment with marriage. And there are more than 30,000 other couples in Illinoiswhose families will benefit from your vote for their freedom to marry. Ending theexclusion of same-sex couples from the ability to marry will strengthen marriage byallowing same-sex couples to join in and celebrate it. Civil unions cannot measure up when compared to marriage. Althoughcivil unions serve an important role in providing the basic legal protections that theState of Illinois can provide, they fail to achieve the many benefits associated solely withmarriage. First, they are not accorded anywhere close to the same degree of respect orunderstanding 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 andinferior status sends a message that same-sex couples and their children areundeserving of the same respect as heterosexual couples and invites and sanctionsdiscrimination 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 orrecognized in most other states to the same degree marriage would. Finally, there are more than 1000 federal laws that provide a multitude of federalprotections to married couples, but those protections are currently denied same-sexcouples by the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The U.S. Supreme Court willdecide 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 inIllinois will be denied those federal protections, even if they have a civil union. Thoseprotections include social security survivor benefits, family medical leave, veteran’sbenefits, health insurance for spouses of federal employees, income and estate taxbenefits, among many others. It would be grossly unfair for Illinois to delegate itslesbian and gay citizens to a second-class status by denying them the protections andresponsibilities available in nine other states and the District of Columbia. Passing HB 5655 fulfills the General Assembly’s responsibility toensure its laws are consistent with the Illinois Constitution. HB 5655 ensuresthat all Illinoisans, including lesbians and gay men, are treated fairly by recognizingtheir fundamental right to marry the one person with whom they wish to share theirlives as a family. The highest courts of four states – Iowa, California, Connecticut, andMassachusetts – have found that maintaining a separate legal status such as civil unionsfor a minority, rather than treating everyone the same, is a violation of the constitutionalguarantee of equal protection. The Illinois Constitution’s liberty and equalityprotections1 also guarantee same-sex couples the freedom to marry. Consequently, bypassing HB 5655, the General Assembly will be fulfilling its independent responsibilityto 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 tomarry, and equal protection); Article I, § 6 (the right to privacy, including the fundamental right tomarry); Article I, § 18 (the right to be free from gender discrimination); and Article I, § 13 (the guaranteeagainst special legislation). 2
  3. 3. House Bill 5655 protects the religious liberty of churches, synagogues,and other religious institutions. The bill makes clear that clergy members willnever be required to celebrate or solemnize a marriage that is inconsistent with theirreligious beliefs or the beliefs of the denomination of which they are a part. Moreover, itpromotes religious liberty by allowing the hundreds of religious leaders from a variety ofreligious traditions the choice to celebrate and solemnize the marriages of same-sexcouples, if doing so is consistent with their religious beliefs and traditions. I applaud Senator Steans and Representative Harris for meeting extensively withthe Catholic Conference and representatives of the Archdiocese in an effort to be surethat their concerns about the protection of religious liberty were considered, and theoriginal bill language was changed to reflect their concerns. The amended bill continuesIllinois’ long-standing commitment to non-discrimination while expanding it to includethe freedom to marry that has long been denied lesbian and gay couples. Religiousliberty is a core concept of our nation and its protection has long been a central part ofthe ACLU’s commitment to upholding the Constitution. I support the changes made tothe original bill, because they clarify and strengthen existing and crucial protections forreligious freedom. I urge your support for House Bill 5655. Thank you. 3

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