The General Assembly, rather than the courts, is the appropriate place to decide whether same-sex marriage will become legal in Illinois.
Is same-sex marriage coming to Illinois? Political observers are speculating that the answer to that question is in the affirmative now that two backers of the bill to legalize marriage between men and men and women and women say they'll call for a vote when the lame-duck General Assembly meets in January.
It was just two years ago that legislators, again acting in a post-election, lame-duck session, approved civil unions for same-sex couples. Now that change, lauded as a revolutionary accommodation, is perceived as insufficient by the same people who praised it at the time.
Rep. Greg Harris and Sen. Heather Steans, both Chicago Democrats, did not predict outright that their proposal will carry the day, stating only that they believe they are "within striking distance." However, if they did not feel they could attract a majority of votes in both the House and the Senate, it's unlikely they would have announced their intentions.
There is no question that political momentum is on the side of supporters of same-sex marriage. In the recent elections, residents of four states either voted to approve it or rejected proposals to limit marriage to one man and one woman.
Those results stand in stark contrast to votes in previous state elections affirming what is now quaintly called "traditional marriage." That's an apt description, considering that marriage between a man and a woman has held sway through all of human history until just a few years ago.
Many people will have a hard time swallowing this new approach, viewing it as both a religious blasphemy and a perversion of the basic concept of family life. Indeed, legislators, perhaps a majority, fear that many Illinoisans still feel that way.
Why else would they hold the issue for passage until the lame-duck session, a time when many legislators — either defeated or retiring — are leaving office and have no fear of public reaction? If legislators were truly confident of public support, the issue would be addressed by the new General Assembly that takes office in mid-January. Then gay marriage supporters could run for re-election boasting of their revolutionary decision.
But two truisms come to mind.
Passing legislation is a little bit like making sausage. Strangers to the process ought not pay too much attention to the details lest they become ill.
The other is that under our representative system of government, the majority rules. If a majority of the Legislature approves same-sex marriage, so be it.
It's far more appropriate and legitimate for the public's elected representatives to take the public's temperature and pass such controversial legislation than for high-minded, high-handed judges to determine what should be appropriate social policy.
Even as the General Assembly is considering this legislation, a lawsuit seeking court-ordered same-sex marriage is pending in Cook County Circuit Court. In our view, neither the U.S. nor Illinois Constitution mandates or prohibits same-sex marriage, leaving the decision up to the people's representatives. But judges all across the country, intolerant of the democratic process on this question, have repeatedly intervened in this legislative issue.
If the Legislature does indeed approve gay marriage, one might question the wisdom of the decision. It will, however, be impossible to challenge the political legitimacy of the General Assembly's policy-making authority.
Times change. Attitudes change. It's legislators' jobs to assess the shifting landscapes and act as they see fit.