Originally appeared in Windy City Times on April 13, 2011
In a narrow victory for gay rights activists SB 1123, which would have effectively allowed religious child welfare and adoption agencies to bar adoptions and foster care by gay parents was just struck down.
The vote was seven to six. Yes votes: Christine Radogno (R-41), Dale A. Righter (R-55), Matt Murphy (R-27), David S. Luechtefeld (R-58), Bill Brady (R-44), Antonio Muñoz (D-1).
No votes: Don Harmon (D-39), Ira L. Silverstein (D-8), M. Maggie Crotty (D-19), Jeffrey M. Schoenberg (D-9), Kimberly A. Lightford (D-4), John J. Cullerton (D-6), Donne E. Trotter (D-17).
As per procedure, one opponent and one proponent was allowed to testify. Mary Dixon of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) spoke against the bill and Robert Gilligan of the Illinois Catholic Conference spoke in favor of it. The ACLU, The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA) Equality Illinnois (EI), Protestants for the Common Good, the Chicago Bar Association, the Illinois Bar Assoication and Lutheran Social Services of Illinois were among those monitoring the situation as opponents, as was the activist Rick Garcia.
Speaking to Windy City Times immediately after the vote, Ed Yohnka, communications director of ACLU said, “This means that the senate executive committee has rejected an effort to write discrimination into the law. On the back of the historic civil unions law, that really would have been a tragedy. The hard work that folks did in the last forty-eight hours in terms of really spreading the word about this and making the damage that this would has really paid off. I think people were well-educated in terms of what this would mean.”
Antonio Muñoz was the only Democrat who voted for the bill, and Rick Garcia offered the paper a behind the scenes look at how that came to be, saying that, “Senaor Muñoz only voted yes because [as he indicated] that yesterday when he had talked to Senator Koehler, he was “unaware” of the great opposition to this bill. And he said, 'Because I gave you my word, I will vote yes, but I don't think that, if it gets out of committee, I don't think I can vote on the floor for it.' Here again, this is very interesting because what that was about is that we were down here and we were visible and we did a really excellent job in articulating that this is not acceptable.” Garcia was among those who were initially nervous about the bill going to the floor for a vote: “I thought for sure there was better than even chance that he bill would get out of committee.”
Garcia also spoke about the role of the Catholic Conference's stand on the matter, saying that, at one point, “[They were] asked by one of the dissenters, what would happen to the children in the charity's care if this bill does not pass. And the spokesman suggested that the Catholic charities would have to get out of the child welfare business. I think that's a bluff...other dioceses have threatened it. But fine. Let them get out of the child welfare business, if they're basing everything on anti-gay messages, let them get out. Some people have said we have to stop antagonizing faith-based organizations and to that I say a resonding, “Bullshit.” Because if we weren't here antagonizing the Catholic Conference...we would have lost. Garcia praised Mary Dixon who, he said, did an excellent job in giving the testimony for the opponent: “She outlined exactly what the problems were, and explained that this was not just unpopular but bad for the children, and about codifying discrimination intot he law.”
Anthony Martinez of TCRA, talking to Windy City Times, expanded on the Catholic Conference's arguments, and said that they “spoke about why they opposed the bill, which goes back to their covenant of marriage and not placing children in homes without parents that are married.” Like Garcia, he was pleasantly surprised that the bill was held in committee, adding that, “This is such an amazing victory and shows what an organized community can achieve in a short amount of time.”
Bernard Cherkasov of EI spoke with us about the significance of the vote and what lies ahead: “If this amendment had become law, tens of thousands of children across the state of Illinois who are in a welfare or adoption process right now would have been denied their best interests because agencies would have been allowed to reject otherwise perfectly qualified couples only because they were same sex couples in a civil unions relationship.” He added that “We have to continue educating our lawmakers on just how serious these issues are. It is clear that they may not have understood clearly some of the key issues around the bill in adoption and foster care especially when it comes to prospective LGBT parents. We have to continue having that conversation with them; there are no permanent enemies in the political world, no door is ever closed and no conversation is ever finished. So we just have to go back to our supporters and those who didn't support us this time and continue educating them.” He also pointed out that the bill's defeat would not have been possible if “thousands” of people had not called in immediately after hearing the news to express their opposition with their state senators.