Rhode Island, Illinois Legislators Get Marriage Equality Bills
After four states passed gay marriage measures in 2012, lawmakers in Rhode Island and Illinois have introduced bills that could legalize same-sex marriage in 2013.
The Providence Journal reports that State Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston) will introduce legislation that allows same-sex couples to tie the knot in Rhode Island on Thursday. Handy, the measure's longtime sponsor, said the bill has been drafted but needs signatures from co-sponsors, which includes out-gay House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence).
Like other such laws in the states that have legalized same-sex marriage, there are very specific "religious carve outs." The bill's language will grant religious groups protections if they object -- particularly important in one of the nation's most heavily Roman Catholic states.
A 2011 version of the legislation cited the First Amendment. It stated that every religious institution has "exclusive control over its own religious doctrine, policy, and teachings regarding who may marry within their faith, and on what terms."
It went on to state, "No court or other state or local governmental body, entity, agency or commission shall compel, prevent, or interfere in any way with any religious institution's decisions about marriage eligibility within that particular faith's tradition" and that "ordained clergy, ministers or elders [...] shall not be obligated or otherwise required by law to officiate at any particular civil marriage or religious rite of marriage."
If lawmakers pass the revised bill, Rhode Island would be the 10th state to recognize marriage equality. It is also the last domino in New England. With the passage last November in Maine, all five other states -- plus New York just south of New England -- have marriage equality enshrined as law.
Bipartisan Support in Illinois
Same-sex couples in Illinois may also be allowed to marry this year. A new bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the state will go before a State Senate committee. CBS Chicago reported that supporters include famous Illinois personages such as President Barack Obama and actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson of "Modern Family."
"I am looking forward to raising a family and having our kids grow up in an equal America," Ferguson said.
Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon said she is "optimistic" that lawmakers, who approved civil unions in the state 18 months ago, will pass the bill and that she is "pleased to be part of the effort." Like Rhode Island's measure, the Illinois legislation will also include language that protects religious institutions, according to Democrat Sen. Heather Steans.
Cardinal Francis George, the influential Roman Catholic archbishop of Chicago, vehemently opposes the bill and is fighting to block it as he has sent out a letter urging Catholics to stop the gay marriage bill. "The state has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible," he said in a statement.
The Senate committee will hear the proposed legislation on Wednesday. It will then go to the full Senate later this week.
There was a dramatic development on Wednesday, when the Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady called on fellow GOP lawmakers to support the bill. Although Brady specified that he was making the statement as a private citizen, no one in party-conscious Illinois could have mistaken his message.
As happened in New York State, when the head of the state's GOP released his delegates to vote their conscience, this will allow Republican lawmakers from relatively moderate or liberal-leaning districts to vote for marriage equality.
The National Organization for Marriage is mounting a furious campaign in the state. The group apparently sees its window rapidly narrowing.