Peoria Journal-Star: Same-sex couples joined in civil union seek greater equality in marriage (1/24/13)

Posted Jan 24, 2013 @ 03:34 PM
Last update Jan 24, 2013 @ 05:51 PM


When Mary Hibbs met the love of her life, she knew right away it was special.

That was in August. The couple exchanged rings in a simple ceremony Dec. 27 at the Peoria County Courthouse surrounded by their six children from their previous marriages.

“When we met, it was one of those things. We knew. We just knew that was it,” Hibbs said of her partner Dawn (Durham) Hibbs.

Though they describe themselves as married and introduce each other as wives, the Hibbses were one of 33 couples in Peoria County in 2012 to enter a civil union.

Right now, a civil union is the only option for same-sex couples in Illinois. The Illinois Civil Union Act was approved two years ago. The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act would extend full marriage rights to homosexual couples if passed by the General Assembly.

Civil unions and marriages are equal under state law, but same-sex couples in civil unions don’t have access to federal benefits under the Defense of Marriage Act. Many same-sex couples also think civil unions are treated as their relationship is second class compared to a marriage.

“It’s a small difference, but it’s an important difference,” state Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, said. “When the Civil Unions Act passed, the opponents were fearful of what this would do to society … and what we’ve seen is that it’s been very accepted.”

Same-sex couples already in civil unions would be able to convert to a marriage in a simple process under the current wording of the Marriage Fairness Act, which would waive the marriage application fee under such circumstances.

And while the Hibbses said they received letters of congratulations from strangers in the mail after a social announcement was published in the Journal Star, many couples in civil unions report having trouble with businesses, employers, hospitals and pharmacies.

Illinois lawmakers intended same-sex couples in civil unions to have the same benefits as married couples.

“While that’s the case in the law, we’re seeing that in practice that’s just not happening,” said Randy Hannig, director of public policy at Equality Illinois. “People just don’t get it.”

Equality Illinois compiled a report from civil union couples who reported problems in areas such as medical access, name changes and buying a home. Extending marriage to same-sex couples, the report asserts, would eliminate much of the hassle and confusion and give their relationship the status the recognition it deserves.

“We’re not trying to change the definition of marriage. We’re just trying to be a part of marriage,” Hannig said. “It’s a matter of being able to stand up in front of your friends, your family, your loved ones and say, ‘I’m marrying this person, and I want to be with them forever.’”

But that definition is the very reason some groups oppose same-sex marriage. The Peoria Christian Leadership Council issued a statement that is not antagonistic or anti-homosexual, they say, but protects the biblical definition of marriage.

“You can’t generalize (marriage) and make it common, something that God called holy,” said Pastor Harold Dawson, PCLC president. “To go as far as to call it marriage, we disagree with that vehemently.”

The Catholic Diocese of Peoria opposes gay marriage.

“We find the continued affirmation of marriage between a man and a woman essential. The ongoing attempts to alter the definition of marriage in civil law are full of serious danger, primarily by degrading the cultural understanding of marriage,” Bishop Daniel Jenky wrote in a statement.

The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act could be discussed in February when the Legislature returns to session. It is filed as both House Bill 110 and Senate Bill 110.

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