Chicago Tribune Hosts Revealing Marriage Forum
Chicago Tribune Hosts Revealing Marriage Forum
Written By Laurie Higgins   |   10.03.13
Reading Time: 7 minutes

In a stunning public admission during a debate on the future of marriage in Illinois, the chief sponsor of SB 10, the proposed bill to legalize same-sex “marriage,” homosexual State Representative Greg Harris (D-Chicago) acknowledged that the bill does not provide religious liberty or conscience protections for individual Christian business owners. Further, it was clear that both he and homosexual Chicago Alderman Deb Mell (a former state representative and co-sponsor of of SB 10) oppose any such protections.

In the unfortunately titled “Marriage Equality” debate, sponsored by the Chicago Tribune, moderator Bruce Dold asked Harris about the absence of conscience protections in the bill:

Dold: The bill specifically protects churches, but it does not have any language about individual conscience…. Would the bill not have a better chance if it had an individual conscience protection in it?

Harris: [D]ecades ago when the Human Rights Act was passed, it said, we the people of Illinois have decided not to allow discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, veteran’s status in housing, employment, or public accommodations. The question of should we treat all of our citizens equally in all of those three areas has been answered. But also there are exemptions for religious institutions in the Human Rights Act. There’s also the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and specific language in this bill…that explicitly protects freedom of religion for those churches and denominations which do not want to consecrate same-sex marriages.”

Harris publicly admitted that this bill protects the religious liberty of only religious institutions, churches, and denominations—not individuals. It was clear that Harris has no desire or intent to include such protections.

That said, the inclusion of such protections would not make this a good bill. It would simply make it a less terrible bill.

Harris tried to claim that SB 10 poses no threat to religious liberty, but was challenged by both Robert Gilligan, Executive Director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, and Peter Breen, Vice President and Senior Counsel with the Thomas More Society, who talked about the Illinois bed and breakfast owner who is being sued for his refusal to rent out his facility for a same-sex civil union ceremony  (read more HERE).

Mell, who earlier had claimed that warnings about future religious persecution were dishonest “scare tactics,” responded “But [the bed and breakfast] is a business that does business in the state of Illinois, and in Illinois, we don’t allow discrimination.” While claiming that warnings about loss of religious liberty were deceptive and false “scare tactics,” she vigorously defended this religious discrimination. She apparently didn’t notice her own contradiction.

Neither she nor Harris seemed to notice that while they obsess about Illinois’ prohibition of discrimination based on “sexual orientation,” they pay no attention to its prohibition of religious discrimination. They don’t care if the bed and breakfast owner is discriminated against because of his religious beliefs.

Former Georgetown University law professor and current EEOC Commissioner, lesbian activist Chai Feldblum has written that when same-sex marriage is legalized, conservative people of faith will lose religious rights. She argues that it’s a zero-sum game in which a gain in sexual rights for homosexuals will mean a loss of religious rights for conservative people of faith, which she finds justifiable. She, Mell, and Harris share the view that the sexual “rights” of homosexuals trump religious rights.

Harris cited the Illinois Human Rights Act as his justification for not protecting the rights of people of faith to refuse to use their labor and goods in the service of an event that violates their deeply held religious beliefs. Well, the Illinois Human Rights Act also prohibits discrimination based on religion; hence the conflict of which Chai Feldblum spoke. Harris finds discriminating based on religion tolerable and justifiable but not discrimination based on sexual predilection.

By the way, choosing not to participate in a same-sex “wedding” does not reflect discrimination against persons. It reflects discriminating among types of events. The elderly florist who is being sued by the state of Washington for her refusal to provide flowers for a same-sex “wedding” did not discriminate against a person. She made a judgment about an event. She had previously sold flowers to one of the homosexual partners. She served all people regardless of their sexual predilections, beliefs, sexual activities, or relationships. She just wouldn’t participate in an event that she (rightly) believes the God she serves abhors. She takes seriously Jesus’ command to “Render unto Caeser what is Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”

Prior to the debate, I had a conversation with one of the event planners in which I predicted Harris would refuse to answer the critical question regarding why marriage should remain a union of just two people. Dold twice asked, if marriage is a right, why should it be limited to two people? Twice Harris obstinately refused to answer.

It was an embarrassingly obvious and intellectually dishonest dodge. Harris tried to use the language of the current bill to deflect the question saying in essence that the bill’s language says nothing about plural unions. This is the same embarrassing dodge ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka used in a program on which both he and I were guests. Three times I asked him why marriage should be limited to two people, as he claimed it should be. Three times he awkwardly refused to answer.

It doesn’t take much intellectual wattage to understand that once the ideas that marriage is just about love and has nothing to do with sexual complementarity or reproductive potential are embedded in law, there remains no reason to restrict marriage to two people. The legalization of plural unions becomes not merely possible but inevitable.

Harris also said, “All families should be created equal,” to which I would have asked, “Even polyamorous families?”

And he said marriage law should “expand to reflect the reality of society,” to which I would have said, “But there exist polyamorous families in society.”

A few additional thoughts on the debate:

  1. “Progressive” language police: At one point Mell attempted to compel Breen to use the term she wanted him to use for her partner (whom she “married” in Iowa). She attempted to compel him to use the term “wife.” She correctly insisted that “terminology is important.” But the law is not the ultimate arbiter of truth and reality. Compelling Breen to use the term “wife” would rob him of the right to use the term he wanted to use and believes reflects truth and reality. Conservatives have the ethical right and obligation to use the language they believe reflects truth and reality. Conceding terminology to the Left, as conservatives too often do, is not smart, not truthful, not helpful, and not compassionate.

    In reality, a wife is the spouse of a man (and each partner must actually be the sex they claim to be). No one is ethically obligated to participate rhetorically in any fiction the government has foolishly decided to join.
  1. Media bias and the “equality” chimera: The importance of terminology is the reason I described the title of the debate, “Marriage Equality” as unfortunate. “Marriage Equality” embodies and reflects assent to “progressive” assumptions. Conservatives recognize that the notion of “equality” in this context is strategically effective non-sense.  Treating different things differently does not reflect unjust, unequal treatment. Equality demands we treat like things alike. When homosexual men and women say they are attracted only to persons of their same sex, they are acknowledging that men and women are fundamentally and significantly different. As such, a union composed of two people of the same sex is fundamentally and significantly different from a union of two people of opposite sexes. Society has no reason to treat them as if they are the same.

  2. The connection between marriage and children: Both Mell and Harris talked about children deserving, in Mell’s words, “the label” of marriage. Inconsistencies abound. While homosexuals claim that marriage has no inherent connection to reproductive potential, they use arguments about children as justifications for the legal recognition of same-sex unions as marriage. This points to the fact that homosexuals are pursuing the acquisition of children, which necessarily means that in their view, children have no inherent, unalienable right to be raised by their biological parents. Homosexual couples are creating children who will be wholly unconnected to either their biological mother or father or both. In addition, they are creating intentionally motherless or fatherless children, which means homosexuals believe children have neither a right to be raised by both their mother and father, nor a right to be raised by a mother and father.

    The issue of children naturally and inevitably arises because marriage is centrally about the next generation. If marriage weren’t centrally about the procreation of children, if children weren’t procreated via sexual unions, there would be no such thing as marriage. The government has no more vested interest in recognizing inherentlysterile homosexual relationships as marriages than it does in recognizing platonic friendships as marriages. The government simply has no vested public interest in recognizing or affirming loving, inherently non-reproductive relationships. If it does, Harris and Mell need to explain what it is. And remember, they cannot include children in their answer, because the Left says marriage has no inherent connection to children (and by extension, their rights).

    If the government is compelled to recognize as marriage any loving relationship that involves the raising of children, then, for example, a grandmother and aunt who are raising the children of their deceased daughter/sister, should be permitted to marry.
  1. Appeals to emotion and redefining marriage: Mell’s “arguments” amounted to little more than appeals to emotion: She really loves her partner. She and her partner have been together for nine years. Her partner has stuck with her through difficult times. Therefore, the government should legally recognize their relationship as a marriage.

    Say what? If marriage has an inherent nature, it doesn’t change simply because she and her partner wish it were different. Harris and Mell have concluded that because they are not attracted to people of the opposite sex, marriage has nothing inherently to do with sexual complementarity or reproductive potential.

    What’s interesting is that they don’t deny marriage has a nature that is inherent and immutable. They believe marriage is inherently and immutably constituted solely by the presence of love between two people. But then they can’t provide a single reason for their stubborn insistence that marriage is an inherently binary institution. Harris and Mell need to provide reasons for jettisoning sexual complementarity from the legal definition of marriage while retaining the less essential requirement regarding number of partners in a marriage. Simply asserting that marriage is a union of two people is not an argument.
  1. Catholic Charities and religious discrimination: During the debate, a brief discussion arose about Catholic Charities being forced to drop out of the adoption business following the passage of Illinois’ civil union law—a change that Harris views as serving the “best interests” of children. Neither Harris nor Mell expressed concern about the clear presence of religious discrimination—something which deeply concerned Princeton University law professor Robert George. In a 2011 CNN debate among candidates running in the Republican primary, George asked the following question and in so doing, told congressmen and women what they should do:

    In Illinois, after passing a civil union bill, the state government decided to exclude certain religiously affiliated foster care and adoption agencies, including Catholic and Protestant agencies, because the agencies, in line with the teachings of their faith, cannot in conscience place children with same-sex partners.

    Now, at least half of Illinois’ foster and adoption funds come from the federal government. Should the federal government be subsidizing states that discriminate against Catholic and other religious adoption agencies? If a state legislature refuses to make funding available on equal terms to those providers who as a matter of conscience will not place children in same-sex homes, should federal legislation come in to protect the freedom of conscience of those religious providers?

There is no more critical legislation pending than SB 10. Despite what some lawmakers and pundits fecklessly claim, this issue is more important than even pension reform. The rights of children, parents, and people of faith are at risk.

Demonstrate that you care more about preserving marriage than the Left does in destroying it. Demonstrate your willingness to endure hardship and even persecution in the service of truth.

Please call your lawmaker, and please try to attend the Defend Marriage Rally in Springfield on Oct. 23. The Left will be marching on Oct. 22. 

Click HERE to make a donation to the Illinois Family Institute.

Laurie Higgins
Laurie Higgins was the Illinois Family Institute’s Cultural Affairs Writer in the fall of 2008 through early 2023. Prior to working for the IFI, Laurie worked full-time for eight years...
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