Wedding Bells in Illinois?

You all have got to be tired by now of me celebrating good news for LGBT rights, bouncing around in my Tigger-y fashion, showing yet another way that we're winning. But I can't help it. As we've discussed, I grew up in the Pleistocene era, when you still had to look over your shoulder leaving a gay bar. Now I'm married to another woman, at least in the eyes of Massachusetts. It's crazy to live through so much social change in just a few decades. (A friend of mine says: "E.J., you sound like one of those older black folks who talk about how miraculous it is to no longer live under Jim Crow." Well, it's true! Being me is no longer a felony!)

All of which is to say: here are two more little bright spots that show how fast the tide is changing, coming back in to wash away all the nasty old antigay state DOMA laws that piled up when the shockingly new idea of marrying same-sex pairs was first discussed in 1996, 2000, and 2004. 

Bright spot #1: Recently the ACLU and Lambda brought two separate challenges to Illinois's ban on recognizing same-sex marriages, saying that civil unions don't meet the state's constitutional promise of equal protection. (Note that I didn't say they were challenging a "law making same-sex marriage illegal." There's no threat of jail time for me being married to another woman, just a law saying that Illinois will ignore our marriage. It's not illegal, just unrecognized. K?) That's not news: even LGBT legal advocates themselves can't count all the marriage-equality-related lawsuits underway. Another day, another lawsuit. Ho-hum. 

But here's the news: The Illinois attorney general has announced that her office won't defend the law because it believes the law to be unconstitutional—the same reasoning Obama's Justice Department gives for not defending the national Defense of Marriage Act. In fact, the Illinois AG's office wants to intervene on behalf of the plaintiffs—essentially helping sue its own state to gender-neutralize its marriage requirements. As the indefatigable Chris Geidner reports, that leaves open the question of who is going to step up to defend the disparate treatment. The Cook County Clerk of Courts David Orr (D) says he wants to issue the marriage licenses but has no power to do so under law. Geidner goes on to remind us that in the case of DOMA, the House of Representatives selected a lawyer to defend the law when Eric Holder's office refused. In California's Prop 8 case, the group that sponsored Prop 8 defended the law in court when the state of California wouldn't do so. But, as Geidner writes:

In Illinois, however, there is no anti-LGBT amendment with a proponent to stand up for the law, and the Democrats control both chambers of the legislature. Sen. John Cullerton (D) is the Illinois Senate president, and the speaker of the Illinois House, Michael Madigan (D), is the attorney general's father.

The Illinois legislature has declined to repeal its mini-DOMA this term. Maybe it would be just as happy to let the judiciary handle the execution. 

If Illinois joins the ranks of marriage-equality states, that will be a big deal. Illinois, as election-watchers know, is the fifth most populous state in the nation. California looks poised to join the marriage-equality ranks within two years. New Jersey activists believe they'll get there by 2014. Take that, you Obama critics who believe that change can't happen state by state. Change is underway. 

Bright spot #2: This one's much smaller but still pretty durn cheery, at least to me. Let me just flat-out quote the ABC news story about this: 

More than 300 Mormon church members who are not gay drew shouts of approval and tears from spectators while marching in the Utah Gay Pride Parade in downtown Salt Lake City.

The Mormons say they sought to send a message of love to Utah's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community by joining the annual parade Sunday. Their participation marked the first time such a large group of Mormons took part in the parade, organizers said. 

I remember when parents—pre-PFLAG—started marching in LGBT pride parades, holding handmade signs that said things like, "I love my gay son." It wrecked many of us; people would run up to them and thank them breathlessly, tearfully, for being there, holding their hands. Those parents were often shocked by the cheers they got from the sidelines, thinking that standing up for their children was simply obvious; they had no idea they were heroes. The founding of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) was an enormous step forward for us, marking the first time that our families started working on our behalf. And since our numbers are tiny—contrary to popular belief, we're only about 1.5 percent of the population—we could, and can, only win full social standing and civic equality with our families' and friends' backing. 

Since Utah is dominated by Mormons, having them step up has got to send the same message to Utah LGBT folks: your families are with you. 

Mitt, are you listening?


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