PI Original Ashlee Rezin Monday July 15th, 2013, 3:21pm

Push For Marriage Equality In Illinois Continues With Downtown Chicago Protest (VIDEO)

Local LGBTQ rights activists continued their push for same-sex marriage in Illinois over the weekend. Protesters staged a rally and march in downtown Chicago, taking their campaign for marriage equality to the gates of the Taste of Chicago and the bustling storefronts of the Magnificent Mile. Progress Illinois was there for the action.

Local LGBTQ rights activists continued their push for same-sex marriage in Illinois over the weekend. Protesters staged a rally and march in downtown Chicago, taking their campaign for marriage equality to the gates of the Taste of Chicago and the bustling storefronts of the Magnificent Mile.

Marching down Michigan Ave. with rainbow flags chanting “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, homophobia has got to go”, nearly 150 protesters called for the legalization of gay marriage in Illinois.    

“We pay our taxes, we support other people in Illinois, we’re good citizens; and we want to be treated the same way as everybody else,” said Carol Gordon, 68, a participant in the colorful protest, which kicked off with a 1:00 p.m. rally on the corner of Michigan Ave. and Congress Pkwy. and featured performances from the Windy City Gay Chorus.

Gordon and her partner, Ricky Roth, 65, have been in a relationship for 37 years and have two children and six grandchildren together. They were married in 2010 in Connecticut, which legalized gay marriage back in 2008.

“It’s time to bring equality to Illinois,” said Gordon. “It’s a shame that our state is in the bottom tier when it comes to rights for all citizens.”

Homosexual couples, their allies and advocates for LBGTQ rights have seen some major strides in the movement for marriage equality across the nation recently. Polls continue to show an increased acceptance of same-sex marriage, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that Section 3 of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, a move that granted federal benefits to gay married couples in states that have legalized it.

But Saturday’s demonstration also comes in the wake of several setbacks for the LGBTQ community in Illinois. A mob beating of a lesbian couple in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood over the 4th of July weekend has been dubbed a hate-crime, and the Illinois General Assembly failed to pass legislation during the spring session that would have legalized same-sex marriage in the state.

“Any time you have a separate but equal status, and you say one group is equal and another group is somehow less than those people, you create an environment for discrimination,” said Jim Bennett, Midwest regional director for Lambda Legal.

Having filed a lawsuit back in May 2012 arguing that the Cook County Clerk's Office violates the state constitution's equal protection clause by denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Lambda Legal filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in Cook County Circuit Court last week. According to Bennett, the motion is an effort to expedite the case.

Bennett said marriage equality is a “huge deal” for the 25 couples represented in the lawsuit, one of which has been together for 50 years. He added that he and his partner, who have been together since 1998, had hoped to get married in June.

Here’s more from Bennett:

Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network, said responsibility for violence wrought on Illinois’ LGBTQ community should be placed on elected officials and religious leaders who don’t support same-sex marriage.

“As long as the government says it’s ok to discriminate, as long as pastors say it’s ok to discriminate, it invites people to discriminate with a baseball bat,” he said.

The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, SB 10, a bill that would have made Illinois the 14th state to sanction gay marriage, failed to pass out of the Illinois General Assembly in May.

Saying several lawmakers expressed apprehension over supporting the legislation, the bill’s main sponsor, State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), did not call it up for a vote in the Illinois House before adjournment. The legislation had already received backing from Gov. Pat Quinn and passed out of the Illinois Senate on Valentine’s Day.

“It is embarrassing to be a state representative here in Illinois and not have every single citizen here in Illinois protected,” said State Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago), chair of the Illinois Black Caucus. Dunkin, who endorsed SB 10 in April, spoke during Saturday’s rally just outside the Taste of Chicago.

Illinois legalized civil unions in 2011, granting same-sex couples the rights and benefits heterosexual couples are afforded by the state. But because homosexual couples do not have the right to marry, more than 1,100 federal benefits, including legal residency for non-U.S. citizens who marry U.S. citizens, are denied to same-sex couples.

“It shouldn’t be this difficult for us,” said Thayer. “This is much more important than marriage rights, this is about the mark of shame and mark of discrimination cast upon an entire community. But full equality is within our grasp if we can just keep pushing to grab it.”

Here’s more from Saturday’s demonstration, including comments from Dunkin and Thayer as they addressed the crowd:

Recent polls have revealed that marriage equality is supported by most Americans.

A July 1 USA Today poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates, of 1,003 U.S. adults, found that 55 percent of the respondents support same-sex marriage. The study also revealed that opposition to gay marriage in the South, a traditionally conservative region of the U.S., has fallen below 50 percent.

In 1996, when Gallup first began surveying adults on their support for gay marriage, only 27 percent of respondents favored equal marriage rights.

In Illinois, a poll of 600 adults by Crain’s Chicago Business and Ipsos in February revealed that 50 percent of respondents support legalizing same-sex marriage in the state. Only 29 percent of individuals surveyed opposed the idea, while 20 percent said they were undecided or have mixed feelings on the issue.

More than half of the surveyed Illinoisans who opposed equal marriage rights attributed their disapproval to religious beliefs.

“My understanding of God’s word tells me that equality is for all of God’s children,” said Rev. Suzanne Anderson-Hurdle of Good Shepard Lutheran Church.   

Anderson-Hurdle, who conducts civil unions, challenged former state legislator Rev. James Meeks of Salem Baptist Church and U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R, IL-13), two staunch opponents of gay marriage, to “show me one way where marriage equality is going to affect their religious rights.”

”You know what, they won’t meet that challenge,” she said. “You know why? It won’t affect their religious rights in any way.”

Meanwhile, organizers of the protest, including Thayer, called on concerned Illinoisans to attend a massive rally planned for October 22 in Springfield, the day lawmakers are scheduled to return to the capitol for the fall veto session.

Gordon and Roth said they are considering attending the October protest.

“Our legislators shouldn’t forget that we vote too,” said Gordon. “It’s time they get off their butts and support us.”

Roth says every member of the couple’s large family has expressed support for their same-sex relationship.

“For 20 years you were so far in the closet you were afraid to say anything, but we are so accepted now that when I saw a young couple holding hands in Chicago a few months ago, I actually started to cry,” Roth said. “The far right is fighting a losing battle. There should be no reason to discriminate or deny equal rights to everybody.”

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