WHAT OTHERS SAY: Illinois embraces marriage equality; Missouri embraces discrimination

Thursday, November 14, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

It wasn't pretty, and it took too long, but Illinois has become the most populous state in the country's midsection to say "I Do" to same-sex marriage.

The House approved the bill legalizing gay marriage on Tuesday, following a yearlong legislative battle. It now goes back to the Senate for a minor technical change. Gov. Pat Quinn has promised to sign it. The law would go into effect in June.

That will officially make Illinois the 15th state in the country, plus Washington, D.C., to grant legal status to same-sex marriages.

Illinois lawmakers turned aside arguments from powerful state religious leaders, public rallying efforts and sustained opposition from conservative groups. There were stalled attempts this year to get the votes needed, but sentiment changed after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June.

Illinois is not the only state that was influenced by the DOMA repeal. Laws barring gay marriage recently toppled in New Jersey, Minnesota and Rhode Island.

The Illinois action came shortly after the U.S. Senate voted to move forward with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill to prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The motion to move ahead got the support of every Democrat and some Republicans — including Mark Kirk of Illinois — making full approval in the Senate a good bet. House passage is far less certain, even if Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, allows it to come to a vote. On Monday the speaker said he opposes the legislation.

Bear in mind this is a bill that says only you can't be fired for having the sexual orientation you were born with.

The votes, both in Illinois and the U.S. Senate, come as polls show growing public acceptance of gay relationships and marriage.

A new Pew poll found that support has risen consistently since 2009. The most recent figures were 45 percent in favor and 46 percent opposed. That's in contrast to 2010, where the figures were 42 percent pro and 48 percent opposed, and 2009, where support was 37 percent and opposition was 54 percent.

A Gallup poll from May 2012 shows even higher acceptance. That survey found 54 percent of American adults consider gay or lesbian relations to be morally acceptable, compared to 38 percent in 2002.

Gallup noted that those figures mirrored the growth in public support for legalizing gay marriage, which rose from 42 percent in 2004 to 50 percent or greater the past two years. Even higher figures were registered when people were asked whether gay or lesbian relations should be legal. That question got 63 percent support last year, roughly double what it was in 1986.

While it is great news that the arc of justice for gays nationwide is becoming rainbow-colored, it's still gray in Missouri. The state's voters in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and that doesn't look likely to change anytime soon. And in Missouri, you can not only be fired for being gay, you can be denied access to any public accommodation. Next June, gay couples in St. Louis can take the MetroLink to Belleville to get married and be kicked off the train on the return trip. Missouri should be embarrassed.

 Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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