While the Washington state House passed a Senate-approved state marriage equality bill that will soon be signed into law by Governor Christine Gregoire (D), three out LGBT Illinois state representatives -- Kelly Cassidy (D), Greg Harris (D) and Deb Mell (D) -- introduced the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act to legalize marriage equality in Illinois.
The Illinois bill would amend the 2011 Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act to grant the state's currently existing civil unions the legal designation of marriages with "the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law."
Currently, Illinois enforces the 2010 Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, which specifies valid marriages as only those between a man and a woman.
Although the state has civil unions granting same-sex couples such rights as shared employment benefits, co-adoption privileges, and medical decision making among others, Bernard Cherkasov, executive director of the Equality Illinois statewide LGBT equality organization, said in a news release today:
"In following experiences of thousands of couples in civil unions over the past year, we confirmed what we always suspected to be true: that creating a separate institution to provide substantially the same rights did not add up to full equality under the law.
"A pharmacist who denied prescription pick-up to the patient's civil union partner didn't think it's the same thing as marriage. A coroner who refused to issue a death certificate to civil union partner survivor did not think that civil unions are the same as marriage. Tax preparers, estate planners, employers and employees do not think that civil unions are the same as marriage.
"Separate is not equal."
Rep. Harris first introduced the marriage equality bill on February 22, 2007 and then again on January 14, 2009, but both times it died in committee.
Though state legislators eventually legalized civil unions with a 61-52 House vote where five Republican votes helped the bill pass despite 12 Democrat nays. Only one Republican Senator, Dan Rutherford supported the Senate bill which passed in a 32-24 vote.
Cherkasov warns that the marriage equality bill is not a slam-dunk and that advocates will have to reach out their elected officials and fellow voters to compel legislators to pass the bill.
A 2010 poll of Illinoisans found that two-thirds favored legal recognition of gay couples the majority were split over their preference for civil unions and marriage.
However, shifting national attitudes in favor of marriage equality and the 2010 U.S. Census results showing 32,469 gay and lesbian couples living in Illinois could have positively affected public opinion in favor of marriage equality since the state's civil unions began.