Chicago Sun-Times: Decade after domestic partnership registry created in Cook County, it’s time to make gay marriage legal in Illinois (1/3/13)


It will be 10 years ago this summer that the Cook County Board voted to create a registry allowing same-sex couples to officially record their “domestic partnerships.”

Everyone involved at the time was careful to say the registry should not be confused with same-sex marriage, although it was always very clear that it was an important step in that direction.

Illinois was nowhere near ready for gay and lesbian couples to wed in 2003. State legislators were still dragging their feet on a more basic gay anti-discrimination bill.

In that context, 10 years doesn’t seem like such a long time, but then I wasn’t the one forced to wait for the right to get married to the person I loved.

Finally, the Illinois Legislature appears to be on the verge of approving a real gay marriage law with a possible vote in the Senate as early as Thursday.

I don’t know for certain that it will happen in the next week, but I can promise you it’s not going to take another decade.

“If you watch the history of civil rights, it’s always evolutionary,” said U.S Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), who was the sponsor of that domestic registry ordinance while a Cook County commissioner.

“Legislative bodies evolve. People evolve. Familiarity breeds acceptance,” said Quigley, one of many public officials in Illinois who have done their part to hurry along that evolution.

Having witnessed that process, I was reminded Wednesday of the painstaking steps that brought us to this point.

Some opponents will point to Illinois’ civil unions law, approved two years ago, and argue that this marriage bill is being rushed. The truth is that it has been a long time coming.

Even before the registry, Quigley had championed an ordinance providing benefits to the domestic partners of gay and lesbian county employees.

And way before that, in 1988, the Chicago City Council had approved a landmark human rights ordinance barring discrimination against gays in housing, jobs and public accommodations. The ordinance was pushed through with the help of Mayor Eugene Sawyer, capping a 15-year campaign by leaders in the LGBT community. The county later followed suit.

It wasn’t until 2005 — two years after approval of the county’s domestic registry — that the General Assembly got around to passing a state human rights law recognizing those same basic protections statewide.

Then came the civil unions law, sponsored by state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), which took effect June 1, 2011, also after many years of legislative wrangling.

In the meantime, nine other states have moved beyond Illinois with marriage equality laws of their own, although that still would leave us in the decided minority if state legislators vote to take the leap.

Back when he pushed through the county’s domestic registry, Quigley couldn’t come right out and admit the legislation was a stalking horse for gay marriage. That would have scared away some of his support.

“We had hoped then this would evolve toward this end,” acknowledged Quigley, whose target these days is repealing the federal Defense of Marriage Act that continues to take away from gays and lesbians many of the rights that come with marriage.

That will be a tougher fight but also one that will eventually be won as Congress evolves.

“Legislative bodies sometimes lead [public opinion] and sometimes they lag behind,” Quigley said

I remember using the occasion of Quigley’s domestic registry ordinance to write a column suggesting that if you hadn’t already done so, you might want to start wrapping your head around the concept of gay marriage because it was going to happen — and that it should.

This didn’t exactly make me a trailblazer on the issue. Other columnists at the paper had been out there ahead of me, but I had needed to evolve, too.

Sometimes an idea like gay marriage just needs time to sink in, I wrote, making clear that you wouldn’t need to come to grips with the concept in the next days, weeks or even months, never guessing that you’d have 10 years.

Sorry, time’s up.

Illinois Unites for Marriage, a project of ACLU Illinois, Equality Illinois and Lambda Legal
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