Legislative vote changes game

Legislative vote changes game

Illinois last week embraced social revolution — same-sex marriage.

The winds of change on the marriage issue have been blowing at gale force in recent years, so much so that it was only a matter of time before Illinois joined the ranks of states legalizing marriage between two men or two women.

That day came Tuesday when state legislators put the finishing touches on a same-sex marriage bill that Gov. Pat Quinn has enthusiastically promised to sign.

Given the lopsided majority Democrats hold in the General Assembly and the pressure all-powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan put on recalcitrant members of his caucus, there was no way Illinois would not become the 15th state to approve this measure.

Just as Illinois followed other states, other states will follow Illinois.

Still, the measure remains politically difficult for self-interested politicians to handle. The same-sex marriage bill passed the Illinois House with one more vote than the minimum needed, demonstrating that few legislators whose votes weren't critical were willing to be associated with this sea-change in social policy. At the same time, Republican state Rep. Tom Cross of Oswego, a candidate for state treasurer, was one of the few GOP members to vote in favor, a move that shows he feared casting a no vote would draw opposition from politically active members of the same-sex marriage lobby.

While supporters of same-sex marriage were rapturous in their celebration, religious opponents expressed, not without reason, fear they will be forced into complicity with what they regard as sinful conduct.

The Catholic Conference of Illinois said it remains "concerned about the very real threats to religious liberty that are at stake with the passage of this bill." The Thomas More Society promised to "do our part to insure that those fundamental religious liberties are given robust and unstinting protection."

Defenders of the same-sex marriage law are contemptuous of those who do not share their views, regarding them as ignorant and bigoted. They are especially dismissive of claims that same-sex marriage threatens religious liberty, noting that the bill excuses churches from being required to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.

But that is a meaningless concession because forcing a church that does not recognize same-sex marriage as sanctioned by God to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies would be a clear violation of the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom.

At the same time, however, churches that rent out portions of their facilities for marriage-related gatherings will be required to do so for same-sex marriages. So will individuals who oppose same-sex marriage based on religious beliefs but run businesses that provide wedding services like selling flowers or baking cakes.

It's only a matter of time before same-sex marriage proponents identify those who do not share their views and target them for litigation. Just look how fast Illinois' Catholic Social Services was forced out of adoption services because it could not, in good conscience, place adoptive children with same-sex couples.

It was just two years ago that legislators approved civil ceremonies for same-sex couples, a move that was touted as a huge breakthrough immediately after passage but then quickly denounced as more evidence of irrational discrimination.

Civil unions appeared to be reasonable accommodation that bridged an emotional gap on this divisive issue. But same-sex marriage proponents obviously did not agree, and they have prevailed.

The undeniable good news is that this change was approved by a vote of the people's representatives in the Illinois House and Senate rather forced on the public by the courts.

Voters who either support or oppose local state Sen. Jason Barickman's decision to campaign as a same-sex marriage opponent and then vote for it once in office can hold him accountable at the polls. Voters in other House or Senate districts can do the same with their local legislators.

That's far better than having to live with court-mandated same-sex marriage. The decision by the Iowa Supreme Court to order same-sex marriage prompted a voter revolt there that caused great damage to the judiciary's reputation.

Whatever their personal or religious thoughts on the issue, most people take a live-and-let-live attitude toward other people's personal behavior. After all, there was no discernible positive or negative impact from civil unions.

It's our expectation that will be the case with same-sex marriage, especially considering the relatively small number of same-sex marriages that will take place.

That's as it should be. Illinois has given its blessing to these unions through the traditional law-making process. Absent concerns over religious freedom issues, same-sex marriage, like any other law, deserves appropriate respect.

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