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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Anti-gay bill struck down in state Senate
News update posted March 21, 2011
by Yasmin Nair, Windy City Times
2011-03-23

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SB 1993 was recently struck down in the Illinois Senate Human Services Committee. The bill would have allowed religious organizations to deny a child's adoption or foster care with a prospective parent if the adult practiced a different faith or are atheists or agnostics. Civil- and LGBT-rights activists were concerned that this would also allow the organizations to deny adoptions to gays and lesbians if a particular religion deemed that their relationships went against the faith.

In Chicago, Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois said, "It's good news for foster care in Illinois, it's good news for children who need a loving home that these private agencies that are conducting a state function can't discriminate against them in finding a loving home and that the primary interest that those agencies will take into consideration when deciding where to place these children will be: will they be safe and will they be happy — not the sexual orientation or the religious background of the [ possible ] parent. That's really a victory for kids. We've got too many kids who've already need good homes, we don't need to start carving up the pool of potential foster parents or parents on the basic of ideology or bias."

According to the ACLU website, Tim Bivins, Pamela Althoff, Darin LaHood and Dave Syverson voted "yes" on the bill; Steve Landek voted "present;" and Mattie Hunter, William Delgado, Terry Link and Heather Steans voted "no." Chicago gay-rights activist Rick Garcia had gone down to Springfield two weeks ago to work with lawmakers against the bill. Garcia said he had gone there as a "longtime gay civil rights activist with 30 years experience at the state house" and because he felt he needed to use his "relationships and talent" to prevent the bill. Garcia worked with Mary Dixon, legislative director of Illinois ACLU, and he emphasized that "you can't let your guard down, especially when it comes to exempting religious organizations—that touches upon lots of people's buttons and you could easily lose one of those votes. Happily, the Senate committee did the right thing and they weren't able to generate enough of the votes in favor to move it forward."

Garcia has been critical of his former employer, Equality Illinois, for not paying enough attention to the issue of SB 1993. While he would not speculate on why, he pointed out that there was no mention of this or the other anti-gay bills on the Equality Illinois website: "There's one in the House and one in the Senate, a constitutional amendment identifying marriage as between a man and a woman. Those bills have not moved—one has been assigned to the executive committee in the Senate. It's not moving but it's something we need to keep an eye on."

Bernard Cherkasov, executive director of Equality Illinois was asked, via email, about SB 1993 and the organization's work on other current gay issues, as well as about Garcia's point. In an emailed response, Cherkasov wrote, "When any agency takes public funds to provide a public service on behalf of the State, it should not be allowed to discriminate. That's plain and simple, and Equality Illinois opposed the bill for that reason." He went on to write, "Sometimes we can accomplish our legislative goal ( such as defeating a bad bill ) more effectively when we are not the public face of the opposition. Having the state's largest LGBT advocacy organization lead a public fight against a faith-based adoption bill would have done more to antagonize our opponents than to add to our success. Instead, we continue to work with our allies in the General Assembly, and we are especially grateful to State Senator Heather Steans for her leadership in ensuring that the bill does not succeed."

The ACLU worked with Lambda Legal on SB 1993; that organization did not respond to a request for an interview by press deadline.


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