Lawmakers might take their time with gay marriage

Two years after the state approved civil unions for same-sex couples, some lawmakers are pondering whether to go forward with gay marriage in the coming weeks.

But the state’s pressing financial challenges could push the issue to the back burner for now.

“There are so many things we absolutely must act on,” said state Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat and top supporter of gay marriage legislation.

Harris said a vote on a proposal to legalize gay marriage in Illinois likely won’t come up this week as lawmakers return to Springfield, and opponents of gay marriage say his comments signal the issue might have to wait.

It’s another issue in Springfield that suburban residents on both sides of the issue are watching as new politics shaped by this month’s election could change how lawmakers move forward.

On the side of the supporters, Dayle Roberts, 58, and her partner, Deeya Roberts, 57, met four years ago at a newcomers’ welcoming table at Countryside Unitarian Universalist Church in Palatine.

The two women hit it off so quickly that they were married in Attleboro, Mass., less than a year later.

They changed their names to reflect their union and bought a home together in Lake Zurich. They chide one another about misplacing their car keys as they head out to run errands.

But their marriage isn’t recognized in Illinois, causing some confusion when the couple explain their relationship.

“If you’re a heterosexual couple and say, ‘I just got off the phone with my wife,’ people don’t think twice about it,” Dayle Roberts said. “But every time I say, ‘This is my wife,’ I go through this whole explanation.”

On the side of the opponents, Republican state Rep. Randy Ramey of Carol Stream said supporters are going forward soon after they had pushed through civil unions partly on the argument that it wasn’t full marriage.

“I knew it was going to happen,” Republican state Rep. Randy Ramey of Carol Stream said of the push for marriage. “It always does. They open the door.”

And David E. Smith, executive director of the Carol Stream-based Illinois Family Institute, argues hasty approval of civil unions helped bring on problems with adoption agencies that weren’t foreseen in advance.

“I would hope that lawmakers are a little gun-shy of going forward with another social experiment,” said David E. Smith.

To get approval for civil unions two years ago, supporters had to wait for the right political moment to get the votes they needed in Springfield. They point to President Barack Obama’s support of gay marriage and voters’ approval in four other states in November as momentum to take another step now.

But momentum might not be enough.

Civil unions were only barely approved in Illinois two years ago and to argue for marriage two years later might be too soon for some lawmakers.

Some who voted for civil unions say they’re not necessarily automatic supporters of gay marriage.

“I think it’s more complicated than that,” said state Sen. Linda Holmes, an Aurora Democrat. “I would have to look at the legislation.”

Still, for supporters, action in the legislature could come more quickly than in the courts, where 25 couples are challenging the constitutionality of a state law that bans them from legally marrying.

Harris says he’ll ask for a vote on the plan only after he knows he has enough support. He might see a new class of lawmakers to be sworn in early next year as major help for his cause. Democrats will have margins of control in the House and Senate unprecedented in recent history, so approval might be easier then.

Though Dayle and Deeya Roberts have a civil union in Illinois and most of the same state benefits as married couples, they say their marriage not being recognized relegates them to second-class status.

“Because we are married, I call her my wife, and she calls me her wife. That term has a lot of meaning. How do you describe someone who you’re in a civil union with? Here’s my ‘civil’?” Deeya Roberts said.

Dayle Roberts, a longtime IT worker at global security firm Northrop Grumman, is able to have Deeya, a humanist minister who specializes in wedding ceremonies for gay and straight couples, listed on her company health insurance. But the federal Defense of Marriage Act recognizing marriage as between one man and one woman makes insurance for the pair more expensive than for a heterosexual married couple.

Deeya Roberts contrasts that to her first marriage, when she and her husband eloped to Maryland for a wedding ceremony.

“When we came home,” she said, “there was no question that we were married. But Dayle and I were married in Massachusetts. Why doesn’t that count in Illinois?” she said.

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