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Kavya Sukumar/MEDILL

"I live my life one time and I intend to get married," says Jim Darby, an 80-year-old gay veteran who hopes to marry his partner of 49 years.

Same-sex marriage debate heats up as the bill heads to Senate floor

by Kavya Sukumar
Feb 13, 2013

With Senate Bill SB0010, also known as the marriage equality bill, on Illinois Senate’s agenda for Thursday, both opponents and proponents of the bill are shifting into high gear.

"This is a victory we have been long waiting for,” said Chicagoan Jim Darby, an 80-year-old gay veteran who hopes to get married this summer to Patrick Bova, his partner of 49 years.

Mike McHugh, a spokesman for the Church of Christian Liberty, is among those who disagree. “This is an attempt to redefine what is morally right,” McHugh said.

Something both Darby and McHugh agree on is that the bill is likely to pass in the Senate. Sen. Heather Steans (D -7th), the sponsor of the bill, is “absolutely confident,” according to her Chief of Staff, Cathy Smith.

“We are cautiously optimistic,” said Randy Hannig, director of Public Policy at Equality Illinois. “Every single senator we talked to said they are feeling positive. It is no longer a question of if, but when.”

Equality Illinois along with the ACLU and Lambda Legal, a national organization that fights for gay rights, formed the Illinois Unites for Marriage Coalition to lobby for this bill. The advocacy group has been trying to get people to reach out to their senators to make sure the bill passes.

Groups that oppose the bill are also encouraging people to reach out to their representatives, but mainly in Illinois State House. “I hear this bill will pass in the Senate. But we have an opportunity to stop it in the House,” said Laurie Higgins, the cultural analyst at Illinois Family Institute.

Once the bill passes through the Senate, it will be put to a vote in the House. Gov. Pat Quinn will then sign it into a law. Quinn has already announced his support for redefining marriage.

Opponents of the bill hope to quash it in the House. The Illinois Family Institute, along with other groups, have organized a “Lobby Day” in Springfield on Feb. 20, hoping to stop the legislative attempt to redefine marriage.

Among the groups’ reservations are concerns that the bill encroaches upon religious freedom.

“This bill is telling the church that they will sue the pants off you and bring you to your knees,” said McHugh, a spokesman for his church.. “It is asking for (an) ability to punish people who are not ready to accept their moral choices.”

But Darby questions McHugh’s intentions.. “What right do these people have to interfere in my life? “ Darby said. “I want to say, ‘How dare you?’ I have said it to their face, and will do that again.”

However, Smith clarified that the bill does not affect religious institutions. “It is not a question of religious liberty at all. It is a civil right we are talking about,” Smith said. “From the start, the bill had no language or indication that religious organizations will have to marry people of same sex. We have made that clear.”

McHugh said he is still not convinced. “They are cleverly wording it as religious freedom. They are slowly but surely tightening the noose around the church,” he said. ”Organizations that fit the narrow definition of ‘church’ are exempted. But a Christian organization or a person of sincere religious conviction that runs a bed and breakfast will have to allow such acts on their premises.”

Reservations against the bill are not limited to questions about religious freedom.

“We are an intellectually lazy culture,” Higgins said. “ We do not stop to think what things really mean and imply. Marriages are sexual complementary unions - the ones that produce children. Government has a vested interest in promoting this.”

“What I wish to ask the people across the aisle is why limit (marriage) to two?” Higgins continued. “If marriage is just a relation between people who love,-- and have no reproductive potential -- why not let two brothers marry? Why not make it such that five people can marry each other?” And McHugh voiced a dire warning: “Any culture that has attempted to redefine marriage has gone to ruins.”

Even so, people like Darby are not letting opinions like Higgins’ and McHugh’s dampen their spirits. “This is like (the) Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy,” Darby said. “They repealed it after years of fighting. Nothing happened. World did not end. This will happen, too, and the world will not come to an end.”

If Senate Bill SB0010 passes, Illinois will be the 10th state (not counting the District of Columbia) to legalize same-sex marriage, although civil unions have.been legal for over a year in Illinois.

“I am 80 years old. I have been to a lot of weddings and bought a lot of people toasters,” Darby recalled “Now I want people to get me toasters.”

“The only thing I am afraid of,” Darby added,” is that I’ll end up with too many toasters.”