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Oak Park forum focuses on marriage and civil unions
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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More than 50 people attended a forum to discuss marriage equality and civil unions at the Oak Park Temple April 1.

Annika Rothbaum organized the event. Speakers included Oak Park Temple Rabbi Max Weiss; Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov; Jaime Garcia and Daryl Rizzo (a couple who entered into a civil union last year) along with their daughter, Siena; Oak Park Village Trustee Colette Lueck; and state Sen. Don Harmon. (State Rep. Camille Lilly was also a member of the panel, but Harmon spoke on her behalf.)

Weiss provided a brief overview of homosexuality and marriage equality within Reform Judaism. He noted that the Women in Reform Judaism group passed a resolution calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1965 and, in 1977, the entire Reform Jewish community embraced the idea and began to welcome LGBT people into its congregations.

"In the year 2000 we were the first group of clergy [Reform Judaism] in America to suggest that marriage equality should happen and we also began performing marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples," said Weiss, adding that a call to action is needed to move equality forward.

Cherkasov then talked about Equality Illinois' relationship within the Jewish community before shifting to the 648 rights and responsibilities that are afforded to people in civil unions in the state. He then explained the Equality Illinois and Lambda Legal Civil Union Tracker, which aims to ensure that same- and opposite-sex couples who are in civil unions are treated fairly under Illinois law. Through this tracker, Cherkasov said, they are learning that the concept of civil unions does not legally work, especially when couples travel to other states where their relationships are not recognized.

Cherkasov also asked attendees to sign Equality Illinois' petition for marriage equality called "I Do support marriage equality," and to also call their representatives and senators and ask them to support the federal Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) that would prohibit discrimination and bullying in schools based on sexual orientation and gender identity nationwide. Current co-sponsors for SNDA from Illinois include Sen. Dick Durbin and Reps. Danny Davis, Luis Gutierrez, Jesse Jackson Jr., Mike Quigley, Bobby Rush and Jan Schakowsky.

Garcia and Rizzo spoke about their journey as a couple and the ways in which their civil union has legitimized their relationship to the wider world. They related that, before their civil union, Garcia needed an emergency appendectomy; when they got to the hospital, not only was Rizzo barred from signing the surgery papers (they had to wait for Garcia's brother to arrive to authorize the surgery) but he was also denied the right to visit Garcia in the hospital. They also spoke of the importance of the word "marriage" and what that means to the wider world in terms of recognition and access to the same rights and responsibilities that opposite-sex married couples enjoy.

Lueck talked about the trouble she and her partner had when they wanted to adopt their son. (Lueck is the biological parent.) First, Lueck had to relinquish her rights as a parent to the state; then she and her partner had to prove to the state that they were fit parents to her biological son. Lueck said that this process was very unsettling to their then-4-year-old son, who couldn't understand what why this process was taking place. Lueck said that getting a civil union has helped them but "language matters and has meaning and in our culture the word marriage is incredibly meaningful."

Harmon updated the crowd on the status of the newly introduced marriage equality bill in Illinois. (It was referred to the rules committee, which means it is dead at the moment.) Harmon also talked about the general slowness of the legislative process and, as an example, used the Illinois Anti-Discrimination Bill SB3186, which protects the state's residents against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, credit, employment and public accommodations. The bill was introduced, Harmon said, in 1975, adding that it took until 2005 to get it signed into law.

However, Harmon also noted that some things are moving faster in terms of LGBT legislation, and that acceptance of same-sex marriage is growing—especially among the younger generations.

During the Q&A, Lilly was asked if she supported marriage equality in Ill and she expressed her support.

See and for more information.

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