Last edited: December 18, 2004

Battle for Gay Rights Builds

Daily Herald, June 29, 2003
P. O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL, 60006

By Teresa Mask Daily Herald Diversity Editor

The world is changing.

For better or worse, depending on whom you ask.

With the recent Supreme Court ruling and a record crowd expected at today’s gay pride parade in Chicago, advocates and foes say the gay rights movement is picking up steam.

The high court Thursday ruled it unconstitutional for states to have laws forbidding gay men and women from having sex in their own homes. That ruling has both sides of the movement boasting a burst of energy as the fight for and against equal rights for gays and lesbians continues.

Gay people and supporters say they now are more optimistic the fight for full equality indeed will occur during their lifetime. They believe that will include an amendment to Illinois’ Human Rights Act—and eventually gay marriages.

Those morally opposed to homosexuality are vowing to fight to their last days against those measures. They say the approval is wrong and could leave society scarred.

“To the day I die, I’m going to continue to speak the truth,” said Kathy Valente, state director of the Illinois chapter of Concerned Women. “I’m not hateful toward homosexuals. What I hate is their behavior. I know that Jesus died for them, too.”

But people like Wheaton resident Mark Pence long ago turned a deaf ear to the opposition. He said he’s focused on the future and believes the Supreme Court ruling has set the pace.

“It energizes,” Pence said. “Something like this energizes you, because you work so hard (for equality).”

Others agree.

“The world changed (Thursday). It was a groundbreaking decision,” said State Sen. Carol Ronen, a Democrat from Chicago.

She believes that ruling, coupled with Canada’s recent decision to legalize gay marriages and a proposal before Cook County commissioners to allow same-sex couples to register and have their relationships legally recognized, will pave the way for passage of an anti-discrimination bill she is sponsoring.

Ronen’s bill seeks to add sexual orientation to the Illinois Human Rights Act, which outlaws discrimination in other categories, such as race and age. The measure, which has been proposed since the 1970s, already has passed the Illinois House. It failed last session in the Senate, even with a Democratic-controlled legislature, often seen as more liberal. Ronen plans to reintroduce it the fall.

“We’re lagging behind the rest of the world,” she said. “Legislators haven’t caught up with their constituents. By November, we expect to have more people aboard.”

What Ronen and others are doing sends symbolic messages that will be heard loud and clear by young gays, said Patrick Finnessy, director of the Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual and Transgendered Concerns at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“It is going to be healthier and safer to come out,” Finnessy said.

That image is scary to those who morally oppose homosexuality.

“We’re looking at a trend here all over the world,” said Arlene Sawicki, a South Barrington resident and staunch Catholic. “People are becoming more tolerant and embracing homosexuality as a civil right.

“Same-sex marriage is really what bothers me. God ordained marriage before we did,” she says.

But many believe it’s just a matter of time before the state rules that same-sex couples can legally marry.

“This really is a new era,” said Lisa Neff, editor of the gay newspaper Chicago Free Press.

She said people she has interviewed on the issue used to think gay marriages wouldn’t happen in their lifetime. Now they are predicting legality could come fairly soon.

Paul Caprio is fired up to redouble efforts against the movement. He said he’ll fight the anti-discrimination bill and the Cook County domestic partner registry proposal. The document recognizes gay couples but does not give them marriage rights.

“That registry is not worth the paper its written on,” said Caprio, executive director of the conservative Family PAC Illinois group. “Marriage is something that is much more serious.”

Rick Garcia, political director for Equality Illinois, said that while not truly a marriage license, the document will offer hope for the future and a sense of approval for gays and lesbians in committed relationships.

Garcia, who in 1987 was arrested protesting the Supreme Court decision upholding a Georgia sodomy case similar to the one ruled on last week, said the decision affirms the human dignity of gays and lesbians, so he is not worried about the future.

“Increasingly, anti-gay foes are small and fringing,” Garcia said, adding that a recent poll had 70 percent of Americans agreeing with the high court’s decision.

Concerned Women’s Valente concedes those on her side of the fight have been less vocal in recent years.

“I guess I have to be painfully honest and say unless a majority of people stand up and do something about it, they (gays) are just going to have their way,” she said. “I see this movement gaining momentum. I see it almost as a locomotive out of control.”

Pence said, for now, he believes the train is headed in the right direction.

“I would say if (President) Bush put in someone conservative, then for the rest of our lives, the gay movement is dead,” Pence said. “If he puts a moderate in there, things will be better.

“People will soon realize we are not a three-headed monster and we will assimilate into society and it (being gay) will be no big deal.”

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