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GLBT Mon Dec 07 2009
[Editor's note: This op-ed was submitted by Patrick F. Kelly]
Gays and lesbians can go ahead and scratch Civil Unions off their holiday wish list this season, as a Nov. 30 deadline for moving on Civil Unions legislation passed with almost no action by the Democratic-controlled Illinois legislature -- except to create a new deadline nearly half a year away.
The fact that the deadline was missed comes as no surprise, considering the state legislature has been adjourned for weeks and is not scheduled to meet again until Jan. 12. Still, this is just one more turn in a complex holding pattern the state Democrats have locked this bill into.
The Nov. 30 deadline was set near the end of the Spring legislative session. For months prior to that, the state House had sat on HB2234, a Civil Unions bill proposed by Rep. Greg Harris, an openly gay Democrat serving Chicago's North Side.
Then all the sudden on May 26, there was a political earthquake in California. The California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, a controversial ballot initiative that banned gay marriage in the state. Gays and lesbians throughout the nation were stunned, frustrated, even angry. In Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood, the heart of Chicago's gay community, protesters gathered on the streets and demanded justice.
The Illinois state legislature responded to the outrage, not by real action to promote equality, but by moving quickly to pacify their LGBT political and fundraising base. They used a little legislative sleight-of-hand that created the convincing illusion of movement on the Civil Unions bill without actually doing anything to further the cause. House Democrats took the language in Harris' stalled Civil Unions bill and inserted it as an amendment into a totally unrelated bill (SB1716, amendment 1) that had already passed the Senate. Then they passed the bill out of committee.
The end result was a bill that had gone no further than the original bill introduced by Harris. But to the casual observer it might appear that the bill was really moving, and may in fact be near passage. And in the days following the Prop 8 decision, right up until the May 31 end of the legislative session, the paper-shuffling and busywork on the bill continued, furthering the illusion of progress.
The fact is, though, like HB2234, SB1716 would still have to be approved by votes in the full House and the full Senate, as well as get the signature of the governor before becoming law. After a whirlwind of activity, the two bills ended up at exactly the same station in the legislative process and both were nowhere near passage.
And as the legislative session drew to a close, with the LGBT community still burning with rage, Democratic leaders could not simply let the bill die with the end of the session. So they extended the deadline for passage to Nov. 30, leaving open the slim possibility that the legislature might address the issue in the Fall "veto" session. But the session ended weeks ago, Thanksgiving came and went, and so has the Nov. 30 deadline for Civil Unions.
And although they won't get Civil Unions, the Illinois Democrats were sure to not leave the gay community empty handed this holiday season.
What did the gay community get in lieu of rights? Another rain check. The deadline for the legislation has now quietly been extended yet again to April 30, 2010 -- a date much closer to April Fool's Day than Gay Pride Day.
After all, in a 2010 election year when the Democrats are likely to lose seats, a year when they are getting hammered on fiscal issues as well as corruption, are they really going to take risks on controversial social issues? Are they really going to put the rights of gays and lesbians ahead of their own re-election prospects?
Patrick F. Kelly is a political activist, a member of the Illinois Green Party, which proudly supports marriage equality, and a resident of Wheaton.