When I took this column on, I said that I would never write about marriage laws. I have always felt that gay marriage was a voter-friendly issue. While important, I hold that other issues, such as the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and a rise in homeless LGBT youth are more pressing in terms of “equality.” But now, I will write on this subject for one reason, my home state of Illinois has approved gay marriage.
The first reason it is important is because my home state has finally approved marriage equality after a fight spanning over a decade. The second reason is that Illinois politics, as I understood them, would never have approved the measure in the first place.
Illinois is a conservative state. Republican nominees tend to win bigger state elections and carry values that are considered far-right on the political spectrum. Typically, these conservatives have a strong say in the state government and would likely control it if not for one small, lakefront reason. Chicago lies in Illinois boundaries.
Chicago has been a safe bastion for the Democratic Party since the early 20th century. An electorate mix of immigrant groups, union workers, and a strong African-American population has ensured the city stay blue. Add in a political machine in the mayoral office and the picture becomes fairly self explanatory: whatever the Democrats want will be enforced in Chicago.
The influence of the city has ensured Speaker Michael J. Madigan, a Democrat from the city, control of the Illinois House since 1993. The last three governors have been from the city. The high population skews seats to the favor of Democrats so much that as recently as last year, Republicans filed a motion for Chicago to become its own state.
Yet, even in its traditional democratic leanings, Chicago stacks the cards against the idea of gay marriage. The split is most clearly seen in the city’s North-South division. A good portion of the city’s well-to-do live on the North Side, typically the more tolerant, affluent section; this is also where Chicago’s gay district lies. But the city’s strong Democratic base comes from the blue-collar South Side. LGBT rights and individuals are more of a joke here. To put it lightly, if you didn’t play as the starting nose tackle for Mount Carmel, St. Rita or Brother Rice you were queer.
The conservatism found here is in an odd place, African American churches. The black community of Chicago is a tight-knit group and often the church lies at the center of the community. Being a pastor therefore gives a minister significant pull over local politicians from their district. And they do not think highly of gay marriage as an issue; in fact the main opposition to the Illinois law was from representatives of traditionally black districts who were threatened with the loss of church endorsement should they support the bill.
In spite of all the opposition, gay marriage is finally approved. To be honest, Illinois really had to, as Illinoisans we can accept when California or New York take the prerogative, but New Jersey and Minnesota beat us to the punch on this. That is a step too far.
Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled for LGBT couples across the state who can now be joined in matrimony. Even though my opinion on the definition of equality has not changed. I couldn’t be happier for them.
Despite my happiness, I also understand that gay marriage is a good first step, but true equality is a far ways away. As long as a person can be fired for their sexuality, rejected by their own family for who they are or fear a prevalent disease with no cure there is no equality.
But marriage is a good start, and I can dream can’t I? And if it can happen in a bonkers state where even the traditional supporters of gay marriage bite their tongues, it can happen anywhere.