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Houses of worship, gay couples ponder questions raised by same-sex marriage in Illinois

Todd Sivia
Provided by Mr. Sivia

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - When Alton Tea Party co-organizer Rhonda Linders heard about 
Tuesday’s approval of same-sex marriage in Illinois, her first thoughts were about its religious implications.

“I believe marriage is between a man and a woman; that’s what it says in the Bible,” Linders said.

Linders, who says she has gay friends who join her in opposing legal marriage between two men or two women, sees the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage as part of a larger picture she called “a war on Christianity.” Casualties already include freedom of speech, she said.

“We can’t say ‘Merry Christmas’ anymore. It has to be ‘Happy Holidays,’” Linders said.

Some of those concerned about the marriage law’s religious implications are more worried about actions than words. They wonder whether churches and other places of worship will be forced to preside over same-sex marriages. Still others worry that Elks Clubs and other organizations not explicitly religious-based will have to offer their facilities for celebrating marriages between two people of the same gender.

Same-sex marriage opponent Illinois Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, is among those troubled by the law’s impact on religious liberties. If a civil judge is asked to perform a marriage between two people of the same gender, will that judge have the right to defer the task to another officiant? What if no other judge is available?

“Is this going to be the day that he or she decides to either keep working or give up that job?” Kay asked.

Another concern is how the law will trickle down into the public school system. Kay is afraid that schoolchildren will be taught that same-sex marriage is just another option.

“I think they may have to say it’s not abnormal, that it happens and you should understand this is a part of marriage,” Kay said. “This is very worrisome to me and it should be worrisome to the people of this state and this nation.”

Churches and judges can say no, but ...

Illinois attorney Todd Sivia points to the state's two-and-a-half-year-old civil unions law to answer the question about whether the new marriage law might affect public schools.

"I personally, through any of my cases, haven't heard of anyone having that kind of concern about the civil union law," Sivia said.

Just one day after the passage of Illinois Senate Bill 10 allowing same-sex marriage, there are gray areas in its legal implications, Sivia said. But many issues are already clear-cut.

Religious officiants will not have to perform any marriage against their wishes, Sivia said. The bill spells out that churches, synagogues, temples and other houses of worship will not be required to sanction any union. The measure also allows for facilities built on the grounds of religious institutions to turn away anyone they choose.

This would allow, for example, a Knights of Columbus hall located on church property to refuse a same-sex couple, Sivia said. But the legalities are not spelled out for such halls not on the same grounds as a place of worship.

“Then it might be a battle,” Sivia said.

Elks Clubs and VFW halls will not be free to turn away same-sex couples, Sivia said. But that’s been the case for eight years. The addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s nondiscrimination laws in 2005 already settled the matter.

Another issue that’s not new is a judge’s right to refuse a same-sex couple. Again, Sivia harks back to civil unions, legal since June 2011.

“I have not heard of any court or judge in any way denying anyone a civil union,” Sivia said.

If a judge does object to marrying a couple based on his or her religious beliefs, that refusal would be legally supported, Sivia said. But what if the objection is related to something other than religion?

“I think it would probably end up in court,” Sivia said. “If it’s just because they don’t want to do it, then it’s inherently discriminatory. The judiciary would have to review that for disciplinary action against the judge.”

Illinois Rep. David Reis, R-Olney, who opposed the law, wants to know why "the constitutional rights of a priest are more important than those of a judge." He's also worried about the rights of reluctant wedding-service providers who must serve same-sex couples. Although it's been illegal to discriminate with regard to sexual orientation since 2005, the new marriage law will add an extra layer of concern, Reis said. It's about "loving the sinner and hating the sin," with marriage being the sin.

"If I have a restaurant, I'll still serve them food. If I'm the owner of a flower shop, I'll sell them flowers," Reis said. "But it's about the ceremony itself. There's no religious exemption for people who want no part of the ceremony."

Implications for relationships

Illinois couples who’ve been granted civil unions by the state will have two choices when the new law takes effect June 1. They can keep their civil-union status or apply for a marriage license. If they marry within one year after the bill becomes law, they may choose to make their marriage retroactive to the date of their union. Civil unions will continue to be available for same- and opposite-sex couples even after same-sex marriage takes effect.

Not getting married when you have a civil union is also an option to consider, Sivia said. While he doesn’t want to discourage anyone from marrying, he advises couples to find out how marriage might change their financial situation.

“You’ll want to make sure you’ve talked to a financial planner or your accountant to ensure this is the best avenue for you,” Sivia said.

For example, a partner in a same-sex relationship might be able to collect a larger Social Security amount based on their previous marriage of 10 years or more to a higher earner of the opposite sex. A civil union doesn’t change that but remarriage ends that eligibility. Another scenario is the possibility of marriage putting someone in a higher tax bracket -- just as it might in a heterosexual marriage, but not a civil union.

Deb Dial, left, and Susan Schultz
Credit Provided by the couple
Deb Dial, left, and Susan Schultz

Edwardsville  couple Deb Dial and Susan Schultz are leaning toward getting married this coming June. They were united in a civil union in September 2013, believing that legal marriage was on the horizon in Illinois. Having their marriage date retroactive to their civil-union date will be a bonus.

“We don’t want to have to have two anniversaries,” Dial said.

For Dial, who’s been with Shultz four years, getting married isn’t something radical but traditional. “It’s not crazy for two people to want to commit to each other; it’s the most normal thing there is,” Dial said.

Dial’s two grown children give her one more important reason to contemplate legal marriage.

“Someday, I’ll have grandkids, and it means something to me that the grandkids know Grandma’s married, that she’s made that commitment,” Dial said.

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.