Civil Unions Not Enough for Chicago LGBT Activists Pushing for DOMA Repeal

Candice Bernd

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CHICAGO—After new legislation recognizing civil unions in Illinois took effect on June 1, many gay and lesbian couples held mass civil union ceremonies to celebrate the law’s passage. But other same-sex couples in Chicago aren't satisfied with civil unions and took to the streets this past Saturday, June 11, to demand full marriage equality and the repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Around 100 activists and organizers from a coalition of LGBT rights groups gathered in Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood to advocate for the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, a proposed bill that flips the language of DOMA on its head. The bill, which was introduced by Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) in March, would ensure gays and lesbians are granted all 1,138 rights that straight couples enjoy in a legal marriage. “They told us to be patient, and we waited,” said Ryne Poelker of Join the Impact Chicago. “Patience killed Harvey Milk, patience killed Matthew Shepard, patience killed millions of AIDS victims, patience brought us Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell … Justice is not brought by patience but by impatience.” The rally was organized by the Gay Liberation Network, Join the Impact Chicago, the Bisexual Queer Alliance of Chicago, LGBT Change, the News and Letters Committee, the All Saints Justice Circle and the International Socialist Organization. Civil unions grant only some of the rights of legal marriage, such as hospital visitation rights and the ability to bequeath assets after death. Seven states now recognize civil unions, while five states have legalized same-sex marriage. Obama’s Justice Department has stopped defending DOMA in court, and former President Bill Clinton, who signed DOMA into law, now admits he regrets doing so. The law is still in force, but two legal challenges, Gill v. Office of Personal Management and Pedersen v. Office of Personal Management, might change that. Gay Liberation Network Organizer Brent Holman-Gomez is married (in another state) to his partner Luis Holman-Gomez, a foreign national. Luis, from Mexico, sat in Cook County jail while waiting for his deportation hearing, which lasted for three months. But because of DOMA, Luis is not eligible for citizenship. Holman-Gomez said that this is just one of the important changes that would come if DOMA were repealed. Attorney General Eric Holder halted the deportation of a gay man in a New Jersey civil union in May of this year. Holder asked the panel that decided the man’s case to review whether or not he would be considered a spouse under immigration law were it not for DOMA. Lauren Fleer got married to her partner last week in Iowa. She said that when the judge asked her why they had come to Iowa instead of getting a civil union in Illinois, she said, “We just feel like we deserve all of these basic rights, actually.” Fleer also said that LGBT people need to fight for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would provide protections to employees not only on the basis of sexual orientation, but also of gender identity. ENDA, which was introduced by Barney Frank (D-Mass.) in the House of Representatives and by Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in the Senate, is the first real legislation to be trans-inclusive. “Gay pride is not about going to a parade once a year and getting drunk,” Poelker said. “It is a power, a power that lived through the AIDS epidemic and concentration camps.” After the speeches, protesters marched down Halsted St.d to Belmont, Clark and Addison streets, returning to the original rallying point on Halsted. Marchers chanted, “Out of the bars, Into the streets!” and “One One Three Eight, Civil rights in every state!” referencing the amount of rights granted by same-sex marriage. “We’re spat on, beat up, pushed on, called faggots and queers, and tonight is when we fight back!” Poelker said.

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Candice Bernd is an editor and staff reporter at Truthout. Her work has also appeared in several other publications, including The Nation, In These Times, the Texas Observer, Salon, Rewire.News, YES! Magazine and Earth Island Journal, as well as in Truthouts anthology on police violence, Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? She received two awards from the San Francisco Press Club in November 2018, and the Dallas Peace and Justice Center’s annual journalism award in December 2016. Follow her on Twitter: @CandiceBernd.
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