PI Original Ellyn Fortino Tuesday March 26th, 2013, 2:58pm

LGBT Advocates Rally Across The Nation As The Supreme Court Hears Same-Sex Marriage Cases (VIDEO)

Hundreds of LGBT advocates marched on Chicago’s downtown streets last night, calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favor of marriage equality as it begins to hear arguments today on two cases that challenge the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8, which both ban same-sex matrimony. Progress Illinois was there for the candlelight march.

Hundreds of LGBT advocates marched on Chicago’s downtown streets last night, calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favor of marriage equality as it begins to hear arguments today on two cases that challenge the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8, which both ban same-sex matrimony.

Today, the nine justices are hearing arguments on California's voter-approved ban on gay marriage, Proposition 8, and whether or not it can be deemed as discrimination.

Tomorrow, the justices will consider DOMA, which prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, even in states where it’s legal, and bars the couples from receiving federal benefits.

“We are on the cusp of making sure that all of us are treated fairly and justly under the law,” Rick Garcia, director of the Equal Marriage Illinois Project at The Civil Rights Agenda, said at the rally.

“We call upon the Supreme Court to say, ‘No.’ To just say, ‘No’ to ballot-box bigotry and overturn the anti-gay Proposition 8 in California, and we call upon the court to declare unconstitutional the Defense of Marriage Act to make sure that the opportunities and protections some of us have, all of us have.”

If the court doesn’t side with the LGBT community, Garcia said advocates won’t back down without a fight.

“We’ve come a very long way, but we still have a long way to go, and we ain't no ways tired,” he said.

Last night's marriage equality march from Federal Plaza to Pioneer Plaza in Chicago was one among many coordinated actions taking place across the country in anticipation of this week’s court arguments.

“You need to do the right thing, Supreme Court,” added Richard Streetman, a long-time Chicago political advocate. “We’re watching you, and we expect it.”

The Supreme Court could release its decision on the two cases sometime in June.

Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Chicago-based Gay Liberation Network, said the issue at hand is “very simple,” and the justices should keep in mind that equal protection under the law is as valid today as it was hundreds of years ago.

"That’s why we are not asking the Supreme Court,” he said. “We’re not trying to persuade the Supreme Court. We are demanding legal equality from the court.”

Rev. Suzanne Anderson-Hurdle of Good Shepherd Church in Romeoville also voiced her support for marriage equality at the gathering and said religion should not be interjected into the conversation.

“No one’s religious beliefs, including my own, should stand in the way of another American citizen having the same rights that I have,” she said.

“However, it has become somewhat of a religious fight for me, rather against my choice, solely because I am tired of those who stand against equality using the sacred book that I believe in and look to as a reason to withhold rights from others.”

Some same-sex marriage supporters said they hope the week’s arguments will make an impact on Illinois' efforts to pass its own bill on marriage equality.

Charlie Tobin from North Riverside is one of those people. He's been with his partner for 17 years.

“We made a commitment to each other in front of family and friends in 1997, a year-and-a-half after we met,” he told Progress Illinois. “Then in 2003, we had a domestic partnership and a year ago, we had a civil union, and we’re still not married.”

Illinois’ Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, which would legalize same-sex marriage, passed the state Senate and was approved by the House Executive Committee last month.

The bill is awaiting floor action in the House, although Speaker Michael Madigan said the measure remains shy of about a dozen votes for approval. The bill’s main sponsor, State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), said he remains optimistic the 60 votes will come through, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Gov. Pat Quinn said he would sign the bill into law, if passed.

"Although Proposition 8 doesn’t directly affect Illinois, I think as the gay marriage law goes through the House and the Senate here in Illinois, the ruling on Proposition 8 could have a big affect on the House,” added Anna Feldmann, a student at William Fremd High School in Palatine.

Progress Illinois recently looked at how gay marriage in the state could add some economic relief to Illinois’ budget crisis and help boost its struggling economy.

Another demonstrator, Stephen Barker, who’s originally from Kansas but has lived in Chicago for four years, chatted briefly with Progress Illinois about why he participated in the action supporting same-sex marriage:

Mike Oboza, co-founder of the Bisexual Queer Alliance Chicago, said bisexual people would stand strong for marriage equality.

“Whether we are staying invisible, or we’re not, we still need to walk with our gay, lesbian and transgendered brothers and sisters,” he said to the crowd at Pioneer Plaza just as the sun began to set.

“We will walk with the straight community. We will walk with the LGBT community, because bisexual people also exist.”

Marriage equality is not only a civil right but also a pathway to economic security for vulnerable families in the LGBT community, said Kim Hunt, executive director of Affinity Community Services, a Chicago-based social justice organization providing services to African American members of the LGBT community.

"Many of our constituents have children," Hunt said. "Many of our constituents are in loving families, and if other people have the right to marriage, our constituents should have the right to marriage too, and everyone should."

Thayer also called for those at the rally to stand in solidarity with other communities facing struggle.

“We are a rainbow community, and we can’t live in a country where teachers are under attack, where immigrants are under attack, where African Americans are under attack, who are all part of our LGBT community,” he said. “We are not deserving of legal equality for ourselves if we are not standing up for every other person who are oppressed in our society.”

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