Same-Sex Marriage in the United States by Jason Pierceson

Same-Sex Marriage in the United States by Jason Pierceson

Author:Jason Pierceson
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: undefined
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Published: 2012-10-15T00:00:00+00:00

Illinois: Avoidance of Litigation Leads to Success

From the perspective of relationship equality policy advocates, until 2010, Illinois was the worst of both worlds—it had both an unsympathetic judiciary and legislature, neither reflective of public opinion in this blue state. Based upon Democratic Party dominance and strong public opinion support for LGBT rights, Illinois should have easily enacted relationship equality legislation. The state is solidly Democratic, with large party majorities in the legislature. According to Gallup, the state is the seventh most Democratic state.[82] Lax and Phillips measure mean public opinion support for gay rights in Illinois at 60 percent, with 53 percent support for civil unions and 42 percent support for same-sex marriage.[83] As measured by public opinion, Illinois is the most supportive of LGBT rights in the Midwest.

However, a bill legalizing civil unions was stalled in the legislature for several years. It was enacted only after it appeared that a conservative governor would be elected in the fall of 2010, thereby putting the issue off the table for at least another four years. Advocates in Illinois intentionally focused on a legislative, rather than judicial, strategy to enact relationship equality policy. In fact, the courts have been actively avoided as potential policy makers. This dynamic does not only apply to LGBT rights issues; progressive policy advocates in the state have generally been wary of the courts. According to Samuel Gove and James Nowlan, “The Illinois political system and culture seem to discourage the state from being a national leader in progressive causes, and the courts are generally conservative and nonactivist.”[84]

The avoidance of social activism describes not only the Illinois courts but also the other branches of state government, which tend to focus more on “bread and butter” issues like taxes, spending, and so on. In a state where political patronage has a long history, “who gets what” has long been the focal point of politics. As one of the leading commentators on Illinois politics, Kent Redfield states, “In a system like Illinois that’s very pragmatic and job-oriented, we tend to not work on the social issues. If I vote pro-life and abortion is not criminalized, the people that voted for me are not going to throw me out of office. But if I don’t get a road paved like I promised, watch out.”[85] As a result, LGBT rights issues struggled to gain a foothold on the policy agenda, and enactment of policy has lagged far behind generally supportive public opinion until recently.

Before working to enact civil unions, activists in Illinois worked for years on adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s antidiscrimination law. The bill was able to get through the Democratic House, but had failed repeatedly in the Republican Senate. In 2002, Democrats took control of the legislature and the governorship, opening up the stalemate. However, even the Democrats acted slowly, finally enacting the law early in 2005.

This history indicates that partisan control is important in Illinois, but it is not a guarantee of LGBT rights successes. Legislation enacting civil unions languished for two consecutive legislative sessions.


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