Prop 8 momentum could lead to local change
by Jen Thomas - Medill Reports Chicago - LINK
Nov 13, 2008
Andy Thayer has been working to secure marriage rights for gay couples in Chicago for more than 10 years.
But Thayer, one of the co-founders of the Gay Liberation Network, a local gay and lesbian action group, predicts equal rights will become a major issue in Illinois as more local voices join the fight spurred by the passage of Proposition 8 in California. The vote seems like a setback for the gay marriage movement, Thayer said, but the nationwide backlash is an opportunity to build momentum for local discussions on equality.
“I’m glad marriage rights are on the front burner and people aren’t taking this lying down,” Thayer said. “This is not just a California issue or a Florida issue or an Arizona issue. This is an Illinois issue. People shouldn’t have to travel halfway around the continent to have equal rights.”
“We may be seeing marriage equality here in Illinois much sooner than we think,” said Thayer, who is helping organize a protest on Saturday at the Federal Plaza at Dearborn and Adams, as part of a national movement. Rallies are also planned coast to coast, from Massachusetts to California.
Proposition 8 amends the California Constitution so that only marriages between a man and a woman will be recognized and considered valid by the state.
With national attention focused on gay marriage bans, Thayer said this is the time to use the anger, enthusiasm and energy of the equal rights movement to advocate for local change.
“We’ve got a Statehouse which is plumb full of Democrats at every level and they, on a legislative level, can't even get off their butts to pass civil unions. Change has always been people demanding it. If we take an uncompromising position, regardless of politics, we could see a broad, sweeping movement,” he said.
The day after California voted, gay rights advocates filed three lawsuits in California Supreme Court, arguing the ballot question was an illegal constitution revision.
In Chicago, Corrinne Mina and Nikalas Maciejewski watched the angry response to Proposition 8 and decided to do something locally. Recent college graduates who had never been involved with any political issue or movement before, Mina and Maciejewski worked with JointheImpact.com to help organize the downtown protest on Saturday.
“We just kind of snapped and I will admit Obama’s winning sparked a fire in me and so I wanted to do something,” said Maciejewski, a 21-year-old who works as a barista. “I will be continuing to do this. It’s selfishly a great experience for me. I now realize what a group can do.”
Mina, 22, said she didn’t know what to expect when she volunteered to help organize the rally but the Facebook group she created grew to more than 2,300 people in just a few days.
“We’re hoping this is the start right here. Gay marriage isn’t a huge issue here yet but hopefully, after Saturday, people will come together to achieve something. We want to push legislation here,” she said.
The Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act, introduced to the House of Representatives in early 2007 by State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions, which would grant the same protections, benefits and responsibilities as marriage. Harris, the only openly gay member of the legislature, told Time Out Chicago in October that he expects the measure to become law in 2009. On May 31, the bill was re-referred to the Rules Committee.
Thayer, though, isn’t satisfied with the prospect of civil unions.
“We want full equality, no ifs, ands or buts,” he said.
Sidney Stokes, president of Columbia College's LGBT group, will join the protest, hoping his voice will help influence lawmakers to take up the issue of equal marriage rights.
“We’re going to use the energy from this for positive change,” he added. “This is the new civil rights movement.”
Maciejewski plans to make the protest an event that showcases art, music and performances from the LGBT community, but he knows the mood of the rally will be serious.
“This is how the African-Americans won their rights. It’s how women got their rights. We need to hit the streets. It may not be an immediate solution but we need to keep showing up,” he said.