Opinion: Illinois Would Not Vote To Ban Gay Marriage

On Tuesday, North Carolina voters approved a referendum adding a ban on gay marriage to the state’s constitution. Would Illinois voters make the same decision? 

Probably not. Although state law defines marriage as being between one man and one woman, Illinois allows civil unions, making it more gay-friendly than any of the states with constitutional bans. The political forecasting website fivethirtyeight.com compiled a list of how likely each state would be to vote against gay marriage. It predicted that a same-sex marriage ban would receive 49.3 percent of the vote in Illinois.

In a poll taken by the Chicago Tribune in 2010, 42 percent of Chicago-area residents supported legalizing gay marriage, while 42 were opposed.  While the poll omitted the more conservative rural sections of the state, it seems like a pretty good indication of where Illinois currently stands on gay marriage: not ready to approve it, but not willing to ban it, either. (A statewide poll later that year demonstrated how evenly divided Illinois is on the issue: 33 percent favored gay marriage, 33 percent favored civil unions, and 26 percent were opposed to all recognition of gay couples.)

Same-sex marriage has never won a statewide referendum, although it will be on the ballot in Maine this November. 

Earlier this year, the three openly gay members of the state -- Reps. Deb Mell, Greg Harris and Kelly Cassidy, all Chicago Democrats -- introduced a bill to legalize gay marriage in Illinois. The bill, HB5170, has not advanced out of the Rules Committee, and was probably only introduced to help Cassidy win the primary in her Far North Side district. 

A recent Illinois Issues article on gay marriage cited a 2011 Gallup poll which found that 53 percent of Americans favor gay marriage, while 47 percent are opposed. The most significant figure in that survey was that 70 percent of 18-34 year olds are OK with gay marriage, compared to 39 percent of people over 55. As the saying goes, people don’t change, but they do die. 

“It’s headed in the direction of same-sex marriage for all,” Douglas Laycock, professor of constitutional law at the University of Virginia, told the magazine. “It might take another generation to hit all the red states, but it seems pretty clear that same-sex marriage is the wave of the future.”

Prediction: North Carolina’s vote will be the last anti-gay marriage referendum in the United States. Gay marriage has now been banned in every Southern state. Its opponents have maxed out. They have nowhere else to go. Younger voters in more liberal states -- such as Minnesota, which is considering a ban this November -- will defeat future attempts. Also, Illinois can’t be the first state to approve gay marriage. But we won’t be the last, either. We’ll be somewhere in the middle. 

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