A choice: civil unions vs. inequality

Posted by Carol Marin on suntimes.com:

"When he can’t sleep late at night, Rick Garcia finds comfort going to the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes on Ashland Avenue. The church is locked at that hour but the shrine just off the alley is open 24 hours a day.

“'I would not be able to do the work I do if I was not a practicing Roman Catholic,' said the 55-year-old head of Equality Illinois. 'Sometimes at two o’clock in the morning I go to that little chapel because the day has been so awful.'

"His friends tell him, 'You can’t be a gay rights activist and a Catholic.' But Garcia, who attends mass three or four times a week and observes all the holy days, tells them they’re wrong.

"And so this past week, as lobbyists for the Conference of Catholic Bishops pressed lawmakers in Springfield to vote 'no' on a pending civil union bill, Garcia spent the whole week in Springfield arguing that 'yes' is the only answer to this legislation.

"And it is.

"In an America where slavery was once legal, women weren’t allowed to vote and races were forbidden to intermarry, we know things change. Our understanding grows. New norms replace old ones.

"The chief sponsor of the civil union legislation is state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago).

"It provides that couples, whether of the same or opposite sex, will be 'entitled to the same legal obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits afforded or recognized by the law of Illinois to spouses.'

"It doesn’t mean that churches will be forced to condone those unions. This is about civil, not religious, law.

"But as Harris is quick to point out, while there is a good chance of passage in the current veto session, 'It is not a slam dunk.'

"Harris and his colleague, state Rep. Deborah Mell (D-Chicago) have been counting up their 'yes' votes, encouraged by the support of their own Democratic leadership and by support from some in the Republican caucus. But they are also keenly aware of the chilling effects of the midterm elections across the country on what is viewed as a liberal agenda.

“'One legislator said to me, ‘This is about preserving my job,’ ' Harris said.

... "Harris and Mell are the only two openly gay members of the General Assembly. And they know, better than anyone, that a civil union law doesn’t mean equality. It falls short of that ­— a separate-but-equal compromise.

"Mell, who is engaged to her longtime partner, Christin Baker, will have to go to one of only six other states to get married because her own home state doesn’t permit it. 'It’s hurtful because you’re basically looking at me and telling me I’m not equal to you,' she explains to colleagues who oppose even civil unions.

"Nothing drives home that point better than the story Rick Garcia tells about Harris’ predecessor, the late state Rep. Larry McKeon of Chicago. McKeon, the first openly gay legislator in Springfield, had a partner who was dying.

“'His partner was in the intensive care unit at Ravenswood Hospital,' Garcia recalls. 'It was heart wrenching . . . Larry was told he had to be next of kin or family to visit or make medical decisions. Though he had power of attorney, by the time he raced home to get it, his partner had died. Alone.'

"Civil unions.

"It’s time."

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