State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, talks about why it's time for gay marriage in Illinois.
Q: What is the status of the bill, and what is the likelihood it's going to come up in the lame duck session?
A: We are working very hard to try to have the 30 and 60 votes in lame duck, so that we can call it. That's our intent right now. That's the goal. We still think we're close. We'll have a much better feel once we're back there.
Q: So why are you coming back so soon? You passed a civil unions bill two years ago and at least according to the Illinois Family Institute, it was said that civil unions was as far as you wanted to go.
A: At that point, what we were pushing was civil unions. We didn't have the vote for marriage. I think equality is most definitely the goal. What we've seen in these last two years are a couple things: One, nationally as well as in Illinois, public opinion has been moving very quickly on this. We've had the president coming out and supporting it. Now more than 50 percent of the public say they support marriage equality. In Illinois, it's gone up 10 points in two years. The opposition to it's been decreasing by the same amount as well. We've just seen a real shift. The other thing we see is with civil unions, it's not the same as marriage, and there are still problems we're experiencing with that for same-sex couples. The idea is really not to have a second-tier class of folks out there.
Q: What can't same sex couples do now that opposite sex couples can do, that this would change?
A: If the Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act, then you have same-sex couples that are eligible for all the same rights of marriages. Filing jointly on your federal tax returns, being able to get federal benefits and not have to pay taxes on your insurance benefits from your partner. If you marry somebody who's a citizen elsewhere, you don't have the same status if you're not officially married to get them citizenship. A couple in my district goes into the hospital, two moms, and their son is having kidney arrest. There's one mom already in there, she comes into the hospital, oh no, there can't be two moms. You can't go in. You gave to have all kinds of different paperwork to prove things. It's just a very different experience people get when you don't have marriage.
Q: What about the complaints from the Illinois Family Institute on religious liberty? They talked about a bed-and-breakfast owner who was being sued for discrimination for refusing to host a lesbian wedding.
A: No religious institution will have to solemnize a relationship it doesn't want to. This really is a civil marriage. I think there will be some religious institutions that want to perform same-sex marriages, but nobody has to. That [bed and breakfast] case has nothing to do with civil unions. That has to do with the Human Rights Act. Owners are not allowed to discriminate under the Human Rights Act.
Q: What about the Catholic Church adoption issue?
A: That's because they were taking state money. When you are getting public funding, you can't discriminate. Two things I should let you know: one, the Jewish Bar Association came out with a statement that said that the bill that we're talking about right now, the equal marriage bill, provides equality for same-sex couples seeking state recognition of their marriages without redefining marriage under religious law. We're working with the archdiocese right now on language, that no religious institution has to solemnize gay marriage if they don't want to. We're making sure they're comfortable with our language around that.
Q: Is this a tougher sell than civil unions?
A: You know, marriage has a lot of thought in it. The thing that's been so heartening for me and Greg Harris in the House is the kind of conversation we're getting with our colleagues is really different than it was two years ago. People have just moved a long way on understanding it and thinking it's the right thing to be doing.