In 2011, when the General Assembly passed the law allowing civil unions, Illinois took an important step forward to recognize that gay and lesbian couples have the right to build lives together and create strong, loving families.
The civil union law, however, has created two types of marriage. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently described it, we have “full marriage,” and we have “this sort of skim-milk marriage.”
Thankfully, in keeping with Illinois’ long tradition of equal protection, the Legislature is poised to do away with this watered-down alternative and legally authorize the civil marriage of individuals, regardless of whom they love.
I believe that passing the marriage equality bill is the only way to fulfill the promise of equal protection under the Illinois Constitution. While I have supported marriage equality since my days as a state senator over a decade ago, I have since conducted an extensive legal analysis that has only emboldened my support as attorney general.
A ban on same-sex marriage violates the state Constitution’s equal protection clause. The law does not allow the state or federal government to create a separate class of marriage based on a person’s sexual orientation. There is no other way to describe this than to call it discrimination. That is why, in state court, I have intervened in a lawsuit challenging Illinois’ current marriage law, and at the federal level, my office has filed briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court that support overturning California’s same-sex marriage ban and finding the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.
Legal arguments aside, this issue at its heart is about one of the most fundamental decisions we can make — with whom to share our lives. In every community in Illinois, same-sex couples have chosen to join together and, in many instances, to raise families of their own. These couples are our relatives and friends, our neighbors, co-workers and parents of our children’s classmates. They deserve the same rights and responsibilities that civil marriage offers straight couples.
The General Assembly has worked diligently to craft a bill that would give these families that opportunity while protecting the rights of churches and religious organizations to practice their faith. With the Illinois House poised for final action on this legislation, the direction forward is clear. It is time for Illinois to join the states that recognize the value and dignity of equal rights for all committed couples.
Lisa Madigan is the attorney general of Illinois.