US Senate Approves Gay Rights Bill

This afternoon, the United States Senate passed historic gay rights legislation in its approval of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would provide protections in the workplace to workers and job applicants who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. Any private employer with more than 15 employees would be precluded from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status. However, an exemption is included for religious groups.

The measure adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of characteristics that cannot be discriminated against in the workplace passed by a vote of 64-32 — a slightly stronger showing than an earlier vote to move forward on the legislation, which passed 61-30.

The bill, widely referred to as ENDA, was introduced with bipartisan support.

Unfortunately, ENDA is not expected to come up for a vote in the House of Representatives, due to opposition to the measure voiced by Speaker John Boehner.

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Same-Sex Marriage in Illinois

By Erika N. Chen-Walsh

On February 8, 2012, Illinois Representatives Greg Harris, Deborah Mell, Kelly M. Cassidy , and Ann Williams introduced an historic bill, House Bill 5170, entitled the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act (“HB 5170”).

HB5170 seeks to amend 750 ILCS 75/1 et seq., otherwise known as the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act (the “Civil Union Act”), which became effective on June 1, 2011.  The Civil Union Act created a new form of legalized relationship in Illinois for which both opposite-sex and same-sex couples were eligible.

Illinois residents should support the passage of HB 5170 into law.  Opponents of same sex marriage argue that marriage should be reserved for heterosexual couples and that the creation of civil union creates a separate, but virtually equal unionization for same sex couples.  History and case law have demonstrated that there is no such thing as separate but equal.  In its holding that the segregation of school children based on race was an unconstitutional violation of the Equal Protection clause, the U.S. Supreme Court held that:

 Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other ‘tangible’ factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does. . .To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.
Brown v. Bd. of Ed. of Topeka, Shawnee County, Kan., 347 U.S. 483, 493-94, 74 S. Ct. 686, 691, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954) supplemented sub nom. Brown v. Bd. of Educ. of Topeka, Kan., 349 U.S. 294, 75 S. Ct. 753, 99 L. Ed. 1083 (1955) (internal citations omitted).As I have written previously, there is no meaningful distinction between discrimination based on race and discrimination based on sexual orientation.  When equal protection can be denied to one group of people based on discrimination, all of our rights are in jeopardy.Illinois residents should applaud the representatives that introduced HB 5170 and should contact their own representatives and encourage them to support equal protection under the law.

The full text of HB 5170 can be reviewed here:  http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/fulltext.asp?DocName=09700HB5170lv&SessionID=84&GA=97&DocTypeID=HB&DocNum=5170&print=true.

The full text of the Civil Union Act can be reviewed here:  http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=3294&ChapterID=59.

Loving v. Virginia and Thoughts on Gay Marriage

By Erika N. Chen-Walsh

In June 1958, Mildred Jeter, a black woman, married Richard Loving, a white man.  Although the newlyweds were residents of Virginia, they married in the District of Columbia because Virginia had a criminal statute that prohibited interracial marriages between a white person and a person of color in addition to a statutory provision that rendered all such marriages void under the law.

Upon their return to Virginia, the Lovings received a grand jury indictment to which they plead guilty and were each sentenced to one year in prison.  Their sentences were stayed upon the condition that they left the state of Virginia, never to return.  The Lovings moved to the District of Columbia, and in 1963, they filed a motion to vacate the trial court judgment and to set aside the sentences under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Virginia Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the antimiscegenation statutes and upheld the convictions.  The Lovings appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which forever changed history when it held as follows:

Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival.  To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.


Loving v. Virginia
, 388 U.S. 1, 12, 87 S. Ct. 1817, 1824, 18 L. Ed. 2d 1010 (1967) (Internal citations omitted).

Sadly, here we are in 2012, and same sex marriage is legal in only six states and the District of Columbia (as well as the Coquille Indian Tribe, and the Suquamish Indian Tribe).  There is no meaningful distinction between race discrimination and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In 1996, then President William Jefferson Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act which states in pertinent part that, “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

The arguments in favor of same sex marriage are overwhelming.  It is impermissibly discriminatory to allow religious dogma to deny legal rights that our Supreme Court has already held are “fundamental.”  It further seeks to impose religious tenets on all Americans in violation of our rights to reject them.

Allowing same sex marriage does nothing to undermine or diminish the value or sanctity of marriage between heterosexual couples.  To the contrary, establishing and promoting family bonds helps society.

Marriage is an institution that is not only a fundamental freedom on a personal level, it is also a societal institution that helps to strengthen communities, providing in-home caregivers to the infirm, providing family units to share financial obligations and income, and providing two parent households to support children.  These benefits to society are not dependent upon sexual orientation.

In addition, the legalization of same sex marriage would provide an economic boost to the economy. In 2004, a study (.pdf) conducted by the Congressional Budget Office found that if all 50 states and the federal government extended the rights and obligations of marriage to same-sex couples, gay weddings alone would generate almost $1 billion in revenue each year.

2011 Gallup poll suggests that 25% of Americans are gay or lesbian.  Religious dogma and bigotry cannot be allowed to deprive 25% of Americans a fundamental freedom.    Those opposed to big government, intrusive government, should support gay marriage because the government has no place in the most personal  relationships of its citizens.  Individuals decide what their families look like and the state has no business interfering with the Due Process Rights and fundamental freedoms of consenting adults.

On this Valentine’s Day, I encourage you to follow the Loving  decision and support same sex marriage.  When fundamental rights can be denied to one class of people based on discrimination, all of our rights are in jeopardy.