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VIEWPOINTS Marriage equality: Nothing to fear in Illinois
by Charles Martel
2013-01-09

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Eight years ago, the citizens of Massachusetts were given a long list of fears by some as to the predictions of what would happen to marriage now that same sex couples had been given the legal right to marry. Now—15,000 couples later—not only has nothing bad happened, and none of those fears realized, but also we have come to experience the reality that love really did win out. And so has society.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is unique in terms of being the first state to grant civil marriage rights to same-sex couples, but what is not unique is experience in now eight other states and the District of Columbia, where these couples have stood before family and friends to make the same commitments of love that is the core of what we call the institution of marriage.

There were those who feared that somehow the granting of these rights to same sex couples would diminish our understanding of marriage, or that it would it reduce the specialness of such a pledge, one to another. Some worried that this was a "dangerous social experiment," that instead of seeing this as a matter of fairness to same-sex couples, it would introduce chaos into the social fabric, creating confusion. This has not happened.

There were those who were afraid that this legal right would infringe on the rights of religious denominations to decide what constituted for them a sacramental marriage, that somehow they would be forced by the government to officiate at weddings they did not wish to bless.

None of this has come to pass, but rather the laws in each state protect the rights of each religious denomination to determine whom they choose to marry, as has always been the case. Religious liberty has been preserved. Religious denominations that wish to bless same sex couples are free to do so, and those who choose not to, do not have to.

When I was invited to join the Board of the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry in 1997, an organization of Massachusetts' clergy—as a lay Roman Catholic—the idea that marriage equality would ever become a reality was a distant hope. But we were committed to this endeavor, each mindful that a movement of justice evolves over time, grounded in the belief that the stories of love would be the source of change. Recalling when we had the 100th clergy signer to our declaration, a faith-based statement of support for marriage equality, we began to see the possibilities.

When the signing of the 1,000th member of the clergy took place in the Great Hall of the State House in Boston, by the Suffragan Episcopal Bishop of Eastern Massachusetts Gayle Harris, clergy of 23 denominations throughout Massachusetts had attached their names to the Declaration. While this was in support of the rights for civil marriage, it was a witness that God was not absent from these proceedings.

As a practicing Roman Catholic, the challenges were never easy with the hierarchy continuing their opposition at every opportunity to recognizing same sex couples. But what became very clear and evident to me was that the laity saw this very differently, for these couples were their families and friends, those whom they loved, and whose love for each other they witnessed on a daily basis. For them, this was not an abstraction but a reality, and they were advocates and allies throughout the political journey, which followed the ruling of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.

Right now, the legislature in Illinois is at an important juncture with the possibility of upcoming vote on marriage equality. Many of the same stories of fears have been told, and repeated over and over again. But Illinois lawmakers and citizens are in a very different position than were the citizens and lawmakers of Massachusetts eight years ago, for our Massachusetts story, and the stories of all the states with marriage equality, offer you the experience and knowledge that these fears are unfounded.

Now, in Illinois, perhaps it is your turn to ensure that love, in the end, wins out.

A Boston-based licensed clinical social worker in private practice, Charles Martel is a co-founder of Catholics for Marriage Equality, an advocacy organization.


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