On November 30, 2010, the Illinois Senate passed SB 1716, “Illinois Religious Freedom and Protection and Civil Union Act.” This law will grant legal recognition of same-sex
couples. Governor Quinn has pledged to sign the bill into law in early 2011. Urbana High School hosts a local chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) student group, where students can meet to discuss LGBTQ issues in a safe environment. In light of the recent passage of SB 1716, several students from the GSA wanted to discuss their views of civil unions, gay marriage, and gay rights in general. Here is what a few of them had to say:
On why some people disagree with gay marriage
I’m always interested when people approach marriage equality from a religious standpoint, or this standpoint of “well, it’s not a right,’ or ‘it’s going to ruin the idea of the nuclear family.” I personally think that while a lot of gay couples would love to be married just to say they’re married, a lot of it is that they’re living just like a heterosexual married couple, only they’re not getting the same legal and financial rights. I don’t think civil unions address the civil rights side of it. In a way, civil unions establish a’ separate but equal’ precendent for marriage, which is something we’ve just got to keep working on. I understand the viewpoint of people who say ‘you can’t create a child, therefore you shouldn’t be married’. I don’t agree, but I see where they’re coming from. When people have been raised on an idea it’s one of those deep-set things, and I don’t necessarily think you can change their minds. People try so hard in this world to extinguish love. With all the violence that’s going on and hatred and people who are hungry, why would you put your time and energy into telling someone they can’t love someone else. That just seems so trivial to me. I really see marriage equality as my generation’s big civil rights issue. For my parents and grandparents, it was race equality. Now, I have the opportunity to give my children a world that is more accepting, where there won’t be this weird stigma connected to someone loving someone of the same gender.
On the recent passage of the “Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act” and other legal actions taken by the state of Illinois to protect persons identified as LGBTQA
It’s really cool to see how excited the gay community is about this bill. It’s cool to see a step in the right direction toward marriage equality. Laws being set in place are going to
help. It’s hard to say it’s perfect, because once you leave the state of Illinois, you’re not guaranteed any of these rights, and you still can’t file your taxes together. There’s stuff that’s missing, but it’s definitely still a good thing. There’s also an Illinois comprehensive bully act that passed in June that specifically named gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation within it so there’s more protection for LGBTQA youth.
On how Urbana High School’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) student group has affected students
I think that this club is really important for raising awareness because high school is one of the worst places for a student who is LGBTQA. High school is a place where everyone is incredibly judgmental and bullying is really bad. You hear students in the hallways using these gay slurs and they don’t even know they’re being offensive. Nobody is there correcting them or explaining why it’s not alright. A lot of people are scared of having anything to do with someone who’s gay. They’ve grown up being scared of it. They’ve never known someone who’s gay and this club puts a face on these issues, as if to say, ‘There are people in your school for whom this is the way they live. You need to accept them and they need to feel safe here.’ I think the club is important for working within
our school to create a positive image. Obviously we want to do work on issues at a higher level like marriage equality or civil unions, but it’s going to start by first changing people’s perceptions and attitudes here, within the high school.
On the response of high school students to the presence of the GSA
Both the other co-president and myself identify as straight. The biggest thing is that people don’t understand why [as a straight woman] I’m involved in this. There’s not a
lot of blatant homophobia in this school. I’m proud of that. We’ve made great strides. We have pink signs in the hall with derogatory terms that aren’t going to be accepted. We have a social justice committee. But there’s more of an underlying homophobia, which is more difficult to attack. This idea of people saying they don’t mind gay people, but then still treating them differently. Like I said, I think this world could be enhanced greatly if everyone would just be more accepting. It’s less of an issue of being gay or straight. It’s about human compassion and as humans, we should have compassion for one another, raise each other up and make each other feel like it’s okay to be ourselves.
Why do some people oppose gay marriage?
In modern day society, I believe everyone (or almost everyone) is brought up to be heterosexual. Most people are not exposed to the concept of being gay at an early age.
When they do see [homosexuality] for the first time in middle or high school, it seems strange and is often delegitimized as a result. Most youth are pulled into the modern
social trend that being gay is wrong and a sin. When they ask their parents (if they even get to that stage), they only hear what most Christian families are taught: that [being gay] is a sin. Many grow up never having a second thought about homosexuality, let alone gay marriage, and most likely never questioning their own sexuality. Thus, the belief of homosexuality as a foreign and disagreeable thing is built. In addition to this “straight-ness” being forced upon kids, they probably hear marriage to be a spiritual bond between a man and a woman, rather than “two people who love each other.” They never stop to think that the equation could work with two men or two women, making it impossible to see that a gay couple, like a straight couple, could be in love.
What “social or cultural meanings” does marriage convey to you? Do any of these meanings prohibit gay marriage? Why or why not?
I look at marriage as something two people decide to do to make their love official in the eyes of their friends, the state, and/or God. To me, it does not seem very important to
one’s relationship, though I acknowledge that it is to others. I believe everyone is entitled to the right to marry, especially since it is no longer only a religious joining. Should persons be granted the civil right to marry someone of the same sex? Why or why not?
I believe any two people should be able to marry each other, regardless of any reason anyone else tells them not to, whether it be race, or sex, or religion. It is not that other person’s choice to make… If you don’t like gay marriages, don’t have one. Is there extra stuff you’d like to express about gay rights? As long as we are a “freedom of religion” state, religion should not cloud our ethics. As long as we protect the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we should protect one’s right to love.
Basically I feel like it’s great that Illinois has finally taken a step toward equalizing relationships of straight and gay individuals. On the other hand I’m afraid that the government will use this as an excuse to push the decision on legalizing same sex marriages even further back. As was brought up in our meeting, I’m wondering if having half a loaf will become a problem, instead of a good thing.