American Foundation for Equal Rights

Marriage News Blog

States to Watch: Illinois Marriage Equality Legislation Reintroduced

AFER is making the case for full federal marriage equality before the U.S. Supreme Court this spring, but there are several states which may see movement before a June 2013 decision. This is the first in a series examining the states to watch for marriage equality developments.

Identical marriage equality bills will be introduced today in the Illinois State Senate and House of Representatives.  Similar legislation passes a Senate Committee last week, shortly before the end of last year’s  session.

According to Equality Illinois:

“On the first day of the new legislative session, sponsors Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and Representative Greg Harris (D-Chicago) say they will work to pass the legislation, known as the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, shortly after members of the 98th General Assembly are sworn in.”

What You Can Do

If you live in Illinois, Equality Illinois has put together ways you can contact your legislator.

This is It

Momentum is quickly gaining for the state to pass the legislation. President Barack Obama urged lawmakers in his home state to pass the legislation. In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times White House spokesman Shin Inouye said:

“While the president does not weigh in on every measure being considered by state legislatures, he believes in treating everyone fairly and equally, with dignity and respect… As he has said, his personal view is that it’s wrong to prevent couples who are in loving, committed relationships, and want to marry, from doing so. Were the President still in the Illinois State Legislature, he would support this measure that would treat all Illinois couples equally,” Inouye said

The president’s comments echo his landmark statement of support for marriage equality last spring.

Additionally, Illinois GOP Chair Pat Brady of St. Charles made calls to lawmakers, as a citizen, urging them to support marriage equality legislation, reports the Daily Herald. In a statement, Brady said:

“More and more Americans understand that if two people want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, government should not stand in their way. Giving gay and lesbian couples the freedom to get married honors the best conservative principles. It strengthens families and reinforces a key Republican value –that the law should treat all citizens equally.”

Last Thursday, actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson and his fiancé Justin Mikita, AFER’s development manager, were in Springfield to for “Bow Tie Lobby Day” and to tell their personal stories:

“I’m looking forward to raising a family with Justin and having our kids grow up in an equal America. I had a hard time coming out and certainly had struggles with my parents. … If the 12-year-old me had been able to turn on the TV and see a sitting president say he supports marriage equality, it would have made all the difference for me and certainly given me a lot of hope,” said Ferguson.

Last year the pair started Tie the Knot, where the proceeds of limited-edition bow ties benefit marriage equality efforts.


Illinois’ civil unions law took effect on June 1, 2011and recognizes the unions of not only gay and couples, but also straight couples, and all unions from out of state. Several marriage equality measures have been introduced in the House since 2007 but failed.

In 1996, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act was amended to state that

“A marriage between 2 individuals of the same sex is contrary to the public policy of this state.”

Attempts to add language outright banning same-sex marriage to the state constitution have not been successful.

A Legal Challenge

In May 2012, Lambda Legal and the ACLU filed two lawsuits in state court on behalf of 25 couples, arguing that the state’s ban on marriages for gay and lesbian couples is unconstitutional. Both the Illinois Attorney General and the Cook County Clerk filed papers in agreement.  The law instead will be defended in court by two Cook County clerks, whose motion to intervene was granted by the court.

The lawsuits argue that by excluding gay and lesbian couples from marriage and relegating them to civil unions, the government has marked the couples as different and less worthy than other Illinois families—and that is exactly how others treat them. Such a restriction is a violation of the Illinois Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and due process.