Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Repeating my modest proposal about what we used to call marriage

The Illinois Legislature is in its Fall Veto Session this week and -- our overwhelming budget and pension problems be damned -- gay marriage is the only issue that commands the attention of TV news editors.

Yesterday all the pro-gay marriage folks trooped down to Springfield, demanding marriage equality. Gov. Pat Quinn, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, Attorney General Lisa Madigan (daughter of House Speaker Michael Madigan), and Sen. Richard Durbin all spoke at the rally, in the rain. There was even a Republican present, State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, and she was all in favor, too.

Today, a lot of anti-gay marriage folks will make the same trip but demand that gay marriage be blocked. Today's rally will attract more Republicans than yesterday's, but the numbers will come from church groups.

The Illinois State Senate has already passed a gay marriage bill. The overwhelmingly Democratic General Assembly, however, didn't have quite the number of votes in the Spring, and may not have them this time either.

For those of you looking in from out of state, I have not made a typographical error. Illinois is a blue, blue, blue, true blue state. The Democrats drew the maps and, on paper anyway, have a veto-proof House majority. And, of course, all the party leaders claim to be for gay marriage. Yet, somehow, they just don't have the votes.

No, it's not die-hards from Downstate who are holding up the passage of the bill; the biggest single reason the measure can't pass is that a lot of African-American state representatives from Chicago and nearby suburbs are afraid of crossing the anti-gay marriage ministers in their areas.

The Democrats are for gay marriage, and they welcome the donations of gay rights supporters, but they don't actually pass a gay marriage law.

Isn't hypocrisy wonderful?

Meanwhile, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield, Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki warned about any demonstrations in favor of gay marriage, saying anyone outwardly plumping for passage of the marriage bill would be removed from evening Mass. He went so far as to say that praying for gay marriage was "blasphemous."

Um.

Maybe he meant to level such an extreme charge as a sort of counterweight to the pleas of prominent Catholic laypeople, such as the aforementioned Gov. Quinn, Attorney General Madigan, or Sen. Durbin, for gay marriage.

As near as I recall, Jesus had a lot to say about marriage -- but nothing to say about homosexuality. Biblical condemnations of homosexuality can be identified -- but these are in the Old Testament or the letters of St. Paul.

And even if gay marriage is as wrong as Bishop Paprocki thinks it is, people pray all the time -- in church and out -- for things we don't need or shouldn't have. But it's not necessarily blasphemy to pray for the wrong things.

I'd like to move to close the debate. I think it readily apparent that the concepts of civil marriage and religious marriage are undergoing an acrimonious divorce. Let's separate the two and move on.

From now on, I would suggest, the states issue licenses for civil unions only. All benefits that heretofore attached to marriage would apply to civil unions. There will not be two classes of marriage, such as recently concerned Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; there will be only one, for men and women, men and men, women and women and any other pairing or grouping that the legislature sees fit to accept. But it's not marriage. Marriage is reserved to churches. Some will embrace gay marriage (many old line, mainstream Protestant denominations already have); some never will. Doctrinal disputes, like the poor, will always be with us.

With my proposal, however, I can decide what is or is not a marriage -- and I can't interfere with my neighbors from tying the knot at City Hall. Bishop Paprocki may condemn me. But, then, so will gay rights activists. It is the scorn that would be heaped upon this proposal from both sides of the cultural divide that prove mine is the only workable solution. Bishop Paprocki and the African-American ministers save "marriage." Yet gay couples are truly equal before the law with straight couples. It may not make anyone truly happy, but it's a win-win for both sides.

It won't happen, of course. If it did, we might actually have to talk about the pension shortfall in this state.

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