Quinn To Sign Same-Sex Marriage Bill Today

Nov 20, 2013

Later today, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn is set to sign a bill legalizing gay marriage.

Illinois will be the sixteenth state in the U.S. to allow same-sex marriages.

Credit Credit Elsie esq / Flickr/Creative Commons

Now, the new reality of gay marriage in Illinois is prompting both hope - and concern - for the future.

When Bill Kelley first moved here from Missouri as a teenager, Illinois was a very different place for gay men like him. Kelley was around when Illinois became the first state to repeal its anti-sodomy laws a couple years later.

And he became an established gay rights activist in the decades that followed - when he says the Sexual Revolution and the civil rights movement also let gays and lesbians feel freer.

But looking back, the 71-year-old says those changes took decades - so Kelley is not expecting a drastic cultural shift once gay marriage becomes Illinois law.

"The change in law seldom marks any abrupt change in society. Usually changes in laws follow changes in society as much as they provoke them," said Kelley.

Kelley and his longtime partner don’t have a civil union - and they say they aren’t sure about getting married.

Kelley says they’ve organized their entire lives - finances, estates, health care decisions - all based on the idea that marriage was impossible.

Whatever they decide, Kelley says legalizing gay marriage is an important step in changing how people will think about same-sex couples.

"People who didn’t want to join the army were in favor of repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. So it has an impact broader than just the impact that it has on couples like us," Kelley said.

That broader impact is exactly what worries some opponents.

Pastor Pat McManus heads up the non-denominational Kingdom Impact Center in Aurora.

"Freedom of speech is gone, freedom of religion is gone. And - and truly that is what is being eroded," McManus said.

And he’s in the process of changing the church’s bylaws to make it clear he will not perform gay marriages.

That’s even though Illinois’ same-sex marriage bill already says churches can’t be forced to marry gay couples.

McManus says the laws have been changing so quickly - he worries one day he won’t be allowed to preach his beliefs.

He says he’s talked to a few other pastors who are also changing their bylaws - just in case they ever get sued for refusing to marry a gay couple.

It’s difficult to know exactly how many Illinois churches are taking that step.

But attorney Rich Baker - who works at a socially conservative Chicago law firm - says he’s helped a handful make similar changes, because the bill’s religious protections aren’t strong enough.

"I think the effect of that really is to say that we will give you freedom of worship within your four walls, but the gospel outside of the four walls is not welcome," Baker said.

Baker says the bill’s language doesn’t cover social service agencies or businesses and could leave them open to lawsuits. 

He points to a recent case in New Mexico, where the state supreme court ruled against a photographer who refused to take pictures for a same-sex wedding based on her Christian faith.

In Washington state, the Democratic attorney general sued a florist who refused to sell flowers for a gay couple’s wedding.

Baker says gay rights activists have been moving the goalposts since passing civil unions in 2011.

"We were told at that time, that’s all that was wanted - that’s all that was needed. That was only two years ago. And now we’re told that, you know, it must be marriage. What will it be next?"

Exactly what’s next in the parallel fights for religious rights - and gay rights - could become clearer after June First, when Illinois counties can begin issuing their first marriage licenses to gay couples.