In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., quoting abolitionist Theodore Parker, said that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
When we consider the history of our great nation, the movement toward equality before the law is a defining characteristic of the American experience. This progression is a natural result of our founding ideals – the fundamental right to democratic representation and equality before the law – which remain the operating principles of our democracy today.
We mustn’t overlook, however, that while Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court case that struck down laws prohibiting interracial marriage, was decided in 1967, Alabama did not formally remove from its constitution the text of its ban until 2000. It also is easy to forget that less than one century ago, more than one-third of the Illinois House of Representatives could not have served their districts, or even cast a ballot, simply because they were women. Even today, this is not abstract stuff. On average nationally, women still earn more than 20 percent less than men for the same work; African-American unemployment is nearly twice the national rate. The pursuit for equality continues.
When I voted to pass our state’s civil union legislation, I believed that the measure would make everyone in Illinois equal before the law – that has since proved not to be the case.
While this is an intensely sensitive issue, and I understand and appreciate the concerns of its opponents, I could not ignore unequivocal reports of thousands of Illinoisans living without full access to the rights enjoyed by all other members of our society.
South Africa legalized same-sex marriage in 2006. I refuse to accept that a developing nation, less than 25 years after its founding as a democracy, can be a greater guarantor of the fundamental liberty of its citizens than the home state of Abraham Lincoln.
The creation of civil unions was a noble effort to establish long overdue legal equality. However, independent legal experts have made clear that without marriage rights, same-sex couples will simply never have many of the rights and privileges that others do. The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act recognized this fact. For example, if one person in a civil union is in the hospital, their loved ones do not have the same implied visitation rights as my wife would if I was sick in the hospital. Numerous examples exist. In fact, there are more than 1,000 rights that same-sex couples do not have that others do.
Ninety-five percent equality is not equality; 99.9 percent equality is not equality.
I think reasonable people can certainly disagree about what policies will produce the greatest prosperity, but I think all can agree that whether you are black or white, female or male, gay or straight, Latino or Asian, Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Hindu, you should start at the same place as everyone else. If being gay requires anyone to jump through extra legal hoops for any reason, then our society has legally sanctioned the existence of a class of people with fewer rights than everyone else. I could not accept this in good conscience.
The views of McHenry County residents were an equally important factor in my decision. I have talked extensively with constituents – Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals, independents – and it is my belief that they predominately support the right of all people to a civil marriage recognized by the state. I want to stress the words civil marriage, because I would never have voted for legislation that required any religious institution to recognize or perform same-sex marriages if it elected not to. Nothing in this legislation forces houses of worship or individuals to compromise their beliefs.
My final thought is a very basic one. I have been happily married to my wife, Debby, for more than 20 years. We have two wonderful sons and are truly blessed.
After much reflection, I cannot think of a single way that granting marriage rights to same-sex couples diminishes my love for my wife, our marriage or our family.
Above the entrance to my law office is inscribed a quote from Deuteronomy: “Justice, Justice, shall thou pursue.” I have always considered this passage to be a guiding principle in my legal and political philosophies. Each person who contributes to society, but is barred from enjoying its inherent rights, sets a precedent that officially sanctioned inequality is acceptable. When the government disadvantages anyone, we are all harmed. The legalization of same-sex marriage will simply put everyone in Illinois on the same playing field, without regard to the gender of their husband or wife. I firmly believe that is a goal worthy of the Land of Lincoln and will help lead to a more perfect union.
• Rep. Jack Franks of Marengo represents Illinois’ 63rd House District.