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State legislature refutes latest anti-gay attempt
News update posted Thursday, May 26, 2011
by Chuck Colbert

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The most recent attempt to exempt religiously affiliated child welfare agencies from providing adoption and foster-care services to gay couples has failed.

The gay-rights win came May 25, when the Illinois Senate passed an ethics-reform bill sponsored by openly gay Rep. Deb Mell, D-Chicago; the measure had already cleared the House.

The vote to approve ethics reform was 38-17, but not without an attempt by Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, to gut the measure and replace it with language that would have, in effect, allowed religious institutions to discriminate against same-sex couples in civil unions.

The language to carve out an exemption to the new civil-unions law—which is set to take effect next Wed., June 1—was the same wording proposed by the Illinois Catholic Conference, the lobbying arm of the Church, and Catholic Charities in previous attempts.

In passing ethics reform, however, the Senate tabled Righter's amendment.

"I am happy to report that an anti-gay amendment to HB 3184 is effectively dead for now," said gay-rights activist Rick Garcia, in an e-mail from Springfield, shortly after the vote.

A previous attempt in the Senate to carve out a religious exemption failed last April in committee. Earlier this month, Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Edwardsville, introduced a similar bill in the House.

Even as the legislative session in Springfield comes to a close, LGBT-rights activists, gay leaders and legislators are taking no chances.

"This is why one must be vigilant," openly gay Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, told Windy City Times. "There's a long time between today and midnight, May 31," he added, referring to the date when lawmakers are expected to adjourn.

The reason for Harris' concern involves the "tens of millions of dollars" at stake, he said, pointing to the reportedly $30 million of state funding that Catholic Charities receives annually for its services.

For some time, the Catholic Conference has been pushing for an exemption, saying that Catholic agencies would be forced out of providing foster-care and adoption services if they are not able to opt out.

"It's an issue of conscience," said Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference, according to the Associated Press.

"These are powerful organizations," Harris said. "They are not going to roll over."

So far, LGBT-rights activists, leaders and legislative allies have met the challenge.

Immediately, in response to the anti-gay Senate amendment, Equality Illinois "sent out an action alert, urging our members to email or call their state senators, and more than 600 people participated in our call to action," Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of the statewide LGBT organization, told Windy City Times.

At the same time, he credited an "aggressive bipartisan advocacy team is on the ground in Springfield" for its efforts.

Still, Cherkasov said, Equality Illinois has its eye on yet another anti-LGBT measure, House Bill 3447, which could still come up for a vote in the Legislature.

The Civil Rights Agenda, another statewide advocacy group, also helped to defeat the Senate anti-gay amendment.

"It seems to me that this [ was ] a hallow attempt [ by the Catholic Conference ] that some anti-equality legislators are using to raise funds and galvanize their base," said Anthony Martinez, executive director.

Sure enough, gay-rights detractors—namely, the Illinois Family Institute, among others—have scheduled a rally in defense of traditional marriage and in opposition to civil unions. The demonstration is schedule for Friday, May 27, at 11 a.m., at St. Peter's Catholic Church, 110 W. Madison, followed by a march to the Thompson Center.

Equality Illinois, however, has called for a counterprotest at the same location, beginning at 10:45 a.m.

"Bring your signs," urged Cherkasov in an e-mail alert.

Also please see related article Catholic Charities drops adoptions in Illinois, at the link,

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