Despite celebrations that the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) struck down a portion of the federal 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Wednesday, activists in Illinois are calling the victory “bittersweet” and ramping up efforts to advocate for marriage equality in the state.
“The fact is, even though people in 13 states, including California, got their full federal equality today, here in Illinois we’re still waiting,” said Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network (GLN), who organized a massive rally and march on Chicago’s North Side Wednesday evening.
Nearly 500 marriage equality advocates gathered at a 7-Eleven parking lot, at 3407 North Halsted St., in the “heart of Boystown,” to advocate for the legalization of same-sex marriage. Activists also marched through Chicago, chanting “What do we want? Equal rights! When do we want it? Now!”
DOMA was found to be unconstitutional by the high court. The law, enacted by former President Bill Clinton (who has since endorsed same-sex marriage and renounced “discriminative” provisions in the law), defined a “spouse” as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” The bill therefore denied homosexual couples more than 1,100 federal benefits, such as survivor’s benefits from Social Security and military veterans' spousal benefits, even if they were in a civil union.
Thanks to the Supreme Court ruling, same-sex couples legally married in 13 states will soon qualify for the same federal benefits that have been available to heterosexual married couples.
“While we got a great decision, the court failed in its major responsibility of recognizing that LGBT people are human beings, deserving of full legal equality,” said Thayer, noting that the court could have issued a sweeping decision to legalize same-sex marriage across the nation. “We demand nothing less than a 50-state legal equality solution.”
The court also ruled against California’s Proposition 8, legalizing same-sex marriage in the state.
Here’s more from Thayer and Wednesday’s demonstration:
Following the SCOTUS decision, nothing has changed for the LGBTQ community in Illinois, prompting all eyes to turn toward Springfield during Chicago’s Wednesday night rally.
“This battle is not over, we haven’t gained any additional rights here in Illinois,” said David Neubecker, who participated in Wednesday’s demonstration with his spouse of 13 years and two adopted children. “There is still much work to be done. We have got to reach out to our House reps. and make sure that they take the vote in the fall session to make sure all families in Illinois are treated equally.”
Although Illinois legalized civil unions in 2011, which provides same-sex couples the same rights and benefits as married heterosexual couples in the state, the Land of Lincoln is one of the 37 states to outlaw same-sex marriage.
Neubecker and his family joined hundreds of marriage equality supporters in a trip to Springfield last month with the hopes of witnessing the Illinois General Assembly legalize gay marriage in the state.
“We need to make sure that every child in every family knows that their family matters too,” said Neubecker.
The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, SB 10, a bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage in the state, was not called for a vote in the Illinois House before lawmakers adjourned the spring session in May. Neubecker and other advocates who had hoped to witness history left the state capitol disappointed.
The bill’s lead sponsor, State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), indicated several of his colleagues were not prepared to support the legislation. The bill passed in the Illinois Senate on Valentine’s Day and Gov. Pat Quinn had endorsed the legislation.
Advocates at Wednesday’s rally devised plans to apply pressure on lawmakers to support the bill when the Illinois General Assembly reconvenes for the fall veto session on October 22.
“We are painfully aware that here in the great state of Illinois our families are not recognized, our relationships are not protected,” said Rick Garcia, policy director for The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA). “And so, while the federal government is moving to recognize us and protect is, my question is where is the great state of Illinois?”
Here’s more from Garcia:
Garcia, Thayer, and several activists from organizations such as Lambda Legal and the Bisexual Queer Alliance Chicago, called for demonstrators to travel to Springfield on October 22 for a march and rally at the Statehouse.
“We know from experience of other social justice movements, that legal equality is not everything, that hidden bigotry can still persist, but we haven’t even gotten to square one in terms of full legal equality in all 50 states,” said Thayer, who added that a march and rally is also planned for July 13 in Chicago.
Donations were accepted to help fund the planned protests and impending trip to the state capitol.
“We are not going to lay down and say ‘thank you Supreme Court,’” he said. “This decision is bittersweet, although we took a step forward, the courts still failed to recognize our humanity.”