SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Throughout most of 2013, “marriage equality” advocates kept up the pressure on the Illinois House of Representatives to follow the Illinois Senate’s lead and change the state’s marriage laws.

This week, that hard-fought campaign paid off: Several “undecided” lawmakers jumped on board, and the bill legalizing same-sex “marriage” passed. Gov. Pat Quinn has said he will sign the legislation by the end of the month, making Illinois the 15th state to allow same-sex couples to “marry.”

The flurry of 11th-hour support for the bill was a blow for Catholic and African-American Protestant leaders who joined together to protect traditional marriage and banked on key lawmakers’ continued resistance to the “marriage equality” juggernaut.

“What we have since learned is that the Speaker of the House of Illinois [Michael Madigan], the most powerful political person in our state, was actively engaged — according to his own words and those of others — in getting at least five legislators to vote for this,” Robert Gilligan, the executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, told the Register.

A similar shift has occurred among lawmakers in Hawaii, where the Hawaii House passed a bill legalizing “marriage equality” on Nov 8. During the week, Hawaiians had gathered at rallies outside Honolulu’s Capitol Rotunda, with the bill’s opponents calling for the issue to be put on the ballot: “Let the people vote,” they said, according to news reports.

In both Hawaii and Illinois, Catholic and other religious leaders have labored to block changes in state marriage laws, but they have encountered a powerful surge of support for “marriage equality.” Activists on both sides said that the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark June 26 ruling that overturned part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) helped overcome lawmakers’ objections at the state level.

Early this year, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., was among several bishops in the state to press the case against same-sex “marriage,” issuing a pastoral letter that condemned the proposed Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.

Bishop Paprocki argued that the law would result in the redefinition of marriage as a purely emotional relationship because same-sex couples cannot have biological children of their own.

“After all, if marriage is an emotional union meant for adult satisfactions, why should it be sexually exclusive? Or limited to two? Or pledged to permanence? If children don’t need both their mother and father, why should fathers stick around when romance fades?” he asked.

“As marriage is redefined, it becomes harder for people to see the point of these profoundly important marital norms, to live by them and to encourage others to do the same.”

However, the Illinois Senate passed the bill on Feb. 14, and the state’s Catholic Conference turned its attention to the House, meeting regularly with undecided lawmakers to remind them of the unintended consequences of changing the state’s marriage laws.


Supreme Court Effects Debate

Then, in June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that overturned part of the Defense of Marriage Act, which had defined marriage as a union of one man and one woman for the purposes of federal law.

“Marriage equality” activists went back to the undecided legislators and explained the high court’s decision had set up an unjust two-track system for same-sex couples: Only those living in states that had legalized same-sex “marriage” could receive both state and federal benefits.

“In May, we could say, to legislators, ‘Whether you vote for or against this, nobody gets any additional benefits.’ But that changed after DOMA,” Gilligan acknowledged.

In early November, House Speaker Madigan, D-Chicago, made a final push and secured the bill’s passage on Nov. 5. Catholic Conference of Illinois lobbyists would later discover that Madigan and another Catholic Democrat justified their support for the measure, in part, by misinterpreting remarks from Pope Francis on the need for compassion toward people with same-sex attraction.

The Pope, while speaking with reporters during his flight home from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro had offered a lengthy response to a question dealing, in part, with Church teaching on homosexuality. He outlined Catholic doctrine and suggested, toward the end of his response, that when a person has atoned for his past behavior, forgiveness should be offered. “If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has goodwill, then who am I to judge him?” said the Pope.

The House Speaker, according to the Chicago Tribune, referenced the Pope’s comments to defend his own vote on the bill.

“For those that just happen to be gay — living in a very harmonious, productive relationship, but illegal — who am I to judge that they should be illegal?” said Madigan.

State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, made a similar point in an interview with the Tribune.

“As a Catholic follower of Jesus and the pope, Pope Francis, I am clear that our Catholic religious doctrine has at its core love, compassion and justice for all people,” said Rep. Chapa LaVia.


Illinois’ Weak Religious Exemption

Lawmakers who backed the bill showed little concern for an additional problem posed by the bill, which offers a weak religious exemption for churches that oppose the legalization of same-sex “marriage” on moral grounds.

Gilligan noted that the Catholic Conference of Illinois had focused on opposing the redefinition of marriage, rather than arguing for stronger religious-liberty provisions.

In his pastoral letter, Bishop Paprocki predicted that the legalization of same-sex “marriage” in the state would threaten the integrity of all Catholic institutions. But the bishop, a noted canon lawyer, argued that introducing religious-liberty protections would not shield Church-affiliated schools, hospitals or charities and that any individual, himself included, will be under pressure to accommodate the law.

“Why should we expect it be otherwise? After all, we would be people who, according to the thinking behind the bill, hold onto an ‘unfair’ view of marriage,” the bishop said.

Gerard Bradley, a constitutional scholar at The Notre Dame Law School, agreed that a broader religious exemption would ultimately have little effect.

“There is no possible set of religious-liberty protections which would be adequate. Repeat: none,” Bradley told the Register.

But Douglas Laycock, a leading authority on religious-liberty issues at the University of Virginia School of Law, argued that stronger religious exemptions in same-sex “marriage” laws were important and should be secured.

“None of these exemptions has been litigated yet,” Laycock acknowledged, noting the 14-state “marriage equality” laws have various provisions, “but I’m confident they are constitutional.”

“I think religious groups would do much better to stop trying to kill same-sex marriage, which is a lost cause, and fight for exemptions before they lose all bargaining leverage,” Laycock told the Register.

While Laycock deemed the Illinois bill’s language to be inadequate, he noted that provisions in Hawaii’s proposed legislation were somewhat stronger.


Hawaii’s Marriage Fight

In Hawaii, the Catholic Conference, Church of Latter-Day Saints and individual Protestant pastors  have raised concerns about the societal impact of redefining marriage, as well as the threat such changes pose to the free exercise of religion for churches and individuals who believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman.

Two decades ago, in response to a legal challenge filed by a same-sex couple, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that the denial of a marriage license for such couples violated their right to equal protection guaranteed under Hawaii’s Constitution.

In 1998, Hawaiians voted to amend the state Constitution, and the Hawaii Legislature received authority to secure laws that defined marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on DOMA and Proposition 8, California’s ballot initiative that effectively barred same-sex “marriage” in the Golden State, reignited the push for “marriage equality” in Hawaii.

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who has endorsed “marriage equality,” cited the high court’s decisions and vowed to pass a bill by the close of 2013. He called for a special legislative session to debate the issue.

Meanwhile, Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu issued a pastoral letter that called on the faithful to fight the bill, and the Hawaii Catholic Conference launched a postcard campaign that asked Catholics to contact their representatives to signal their opposition the bill.

More than 5,000 Hawaiians signed up to testify, but only 1,000 were permitted to do so.  Most were opponents of the bill, and they outlined their moral and practical objections to a law that would give same-sex “marriage” moral equivalence with marriage between one man and one woman.

Religious-freedom concerns were also raised, and Bishop Silva told the Register that the “House, to its credit, is looking to strengthen a religious-freedom exemption.”

At present, the bill’s language would shield clergy from presiding at weddings for same-sex couples. But the bill provides no protection for the many churches that now earn income from renting their facilities for wedding-related events. Those churches would have to discontinue the rentals or they would be required to make their facilities available to same-sex couples who want to marry.

But even if Church leaders secured a broader religious exemption, Bishop Silva said he remains deeply troubled by the societal implications of the law.

He said, “If you have to treat all marriages as equal, then our children will have to be taught that, and parents who believe otherwise will not be able to counter that very effectively. Their parental rights will be curtailed.”

Joan Frawley Desmond is the Register’s senior editor.