Gays, lesbians prepare to lobby for same-sex unions

Diversity of Rockford, ACLU aim to launch grassroots, door-to-door campaign


Lance Mitchell, Diversity of Rockford board president, said that concept should play a bigger part in the same-sex union debate. People should examine whether allowing straight couples to enter into legal unions, while denying gay and lesbians the same right, is fair, he said.

Mitchell bristled at equating same-sex unions with marriage.

“That’s why we’ve lost ground, because they use that word,” he said.

Diversity helped find ways to shore up support for same-sex unions. The non-profit organization participated in an Equal Marriage Illinois-sponsored May 9 Action and Activism training workshop. Equal Marriage Illinois came out of a partnership between ACLU of Illinois, Equality Illinois and Lambda Legal.

Mitchell said Diversity plans to launch a grassroots, door-to-door campaign. The campaign would be launched when the ACLU finalize its plans.

Jim Coulter, a Diversity member, is optimistic about the campaign’s impact. “I expect people to understand the object of fairness to be paramount,” Coulter said.

He and his partner, Bryan Latham, have been a couple for more than 20 years, though Latham and Coulter have only resided in Rockford for three of those years. According to Coulter, he and his partner registered as a domestic couple in Washington, D.C.—one of the places to offer the opportunity—in 1985.

“We wanted to do that to show people that we were absolutely 100 percent together,” Coulter said.

Chris Greenwood, Mitchell’s partner of nearly 20 years, said “I hope it gets people to think about fairness and (how) to relate to our children.”

Another Diversity member, Abby Rose, said, “I hope that it’s a way to get gay and straight people together.”

Mitchell said the U.S. Constitution isn’t meant to foster intolerance.

“We’re all equal,” he said.

According to Mitchell, President George W. Bush’s push for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions sends another message. The amendment failed in the U.S. Senate last week.

“That spoke volumes (about) his whole administration,” Mitchell said.

Illinois Family Institute Executive Director Peter LaBarbera said same-sex unions aren’t essential to mankind.

“I don’t believe society has a vested interest in promoting gay couples,” LaBarbera said.

He also said society shouldn’t encourage putting children in same-sex or “intentionally motherless and fatherless” households. According to LaBarbera, “current thought” of activists is that denying gays and lesbians the right to adopt is discriminatory.

He said widespread gay adoption would lead to schools teaching students that being gay or being part of a gay family is normal. When posed the question, LaBarbera said divorce was just as detrimental to society as same-sex unions.

“We’re opposed to the ‘no-fault’ divorce,” he said.

He said his organization or others like it hadn’t taken a stronger stand on divorce before gay marriage came to the forefront, because the threat to marriage “wasn’t always too clear.” LaBarbera said same-sex unions present a clear and palpable danger.

“It’s a very active threat. It seems to be coming from judges,” he said.

According to LaBarbera, the other issue allegedly eroding the sanctity of marriage has been put on the back burner.

“We want to do more on divorce, but we have this threat to answer,” LaBarbera said.

Diversity member Lynn Salley said gays’ and lesbians’ quest for the right to enter into a legal union isn’t driven by disdain for the church or thumbing their nose at anyone.

“It’s not about trying to change anybody’s religious beliefs,” Salley said.

Coulter concurred.

“Let the church recognize the marriages it wants to recognize,” Coulter said.

Coulter noted same-sex unions haven’t led to the Netherlands’ downfall. According to Associated Press, same-sex unions were legalized in 2001. Gay couples were allowed to adopt children. The law also provides couples with legal standing regarding inheritance, pension rights and divorce.

Currently, Coulter said, couples must assemble financial and personal property protections piece by piece—at a high cost. He said that it can cost gay and lesbian couples thousands of dollars to acquire the same rights and privileges as straight couples. So, Coulter said, the fight over same-sex unions is about more than just fairness and equality.

“It’s really become an economic issue as much as a privilege issue,” he said.

Gay and lesbian couples argue they deserve financial equality when it comes to acquiring those protections.

“We shouldn’t have to fight for that or pay extra,” Mitchell said.

Lambda Legal Senior Legal Counsel Patricia Logue said marriage provides about 1,400 benefits at the federal level, while the state of Illinois offers hundreds. Logue said constructing a safety net—piece by piece—for gay and lesbian couples is nearly impossible.

“Most of (the protections) you can’t construct on your own,” she said.

Logue said, for example, couples can’t just acquire parental rights or get access to Social Security benefits. She said inheritance and rights to make medical decisions are available, but can be revoked. Couples can also enter into “second-turn” adoptions—where a partner adopts the other’s child, Logue said. According to Logue, those adoptions can cost thousands of dollars.

“It’s children that are caught betwixt and between,” she said.

Logue said the cost of a simple will varies by jurisdiction and is also dependent on the size of the estate. According to Logue, powers of attorney and medical powers of attorney are relatively inexpensive, but rarely enforceable.

“The real issue comes to light in a hospital setting,” she said.

From the June 14-20, 2006, issue

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