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Helmchen: Equality bill marries joy, sorrow in single day

Published: Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013 4:07 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013 5:05 p.m. CDT

It’s often called the happiest day of your life, a day you’ll never forget: your wedding day.

But, as a gay man living in Illinois, it was a day I would never experience. Actually, it was a day I wasn’t “allowed” to experience.

Until this week, same-sex couples could not legally marry in this state.

On Tuesday, that all changed.

Following an emotional 61-54 vote in the Illinois House, marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples soon will become a law of the land in the Land of Lincoln.

I watched in awe as the historic vote made Illinois the largest of the 15 states to allow gay marriage, a sign of Americans’ increasing acceptance of homosexuality. Or at least of our rights. 

The measure now heads to Gov. Pat Quinn, who has said he will sign it into law. 

“Today, the Illinois House put our state on the right side of history,” said Quinn, who campaigned for the measure, which is scheduled to take effect in June.

But, for me, this victory was bittersweet.

While I was thrilled my partner and I will be getting hitched, something was missing.

My dad, who died in 2003.

Each milestone I reach and accomplishment I make in my life triggers a memory of him. 

Tuesday was no different. 

“I wish he would’ve lived long enough to see this day” kept running through my mind.

I then realized the best I can do to honor my dad’s memory is to be a man he would be proud of. I do that by treating others as I want to be treated, as my equal. 

This new marriage equality law does just that for the gay and lesbian community.

“At the end of the day, what this bill is about is love, it’s about family, it’s about commitment,” bill sponsor state Rep. Greg Harris said.

Opponents of the new law (including some of the most powerful religious leaders in Illinois) believe marriage should remain between a man and a woman.

I don’t get it. How does allowing me the right to marry the man I love affect your own marriage?

State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, the only McHenry County legislator to support the bill, agrees. 

In announcing his “yes” vote this week, Franks said he “can’t think of a single way” approving gay marriage would hurt his own marriage to his longtime wife.

“This is not the time to be timid,” Franks said. “Those waiting have waited long enough.”

Right on, Jack. 

Even Pope Francis created some waves in July when he said the Roman Catholic Church had become too focused on its opposition to homosexuality.

“If a person is gay and seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge him?” he said.

Other opponents have said this push for marriage equality is about destroying religious freedoms.

It’s not.

It’s about giving two consenting adults, regardless of orientation, the right to wed. 

House Speaker Michael Madigan says he thinks the country “is at the point where not only is this accepted, it’s expected.”

Marriage is a core, inalienable right for everyone, bestowed by the Declaration of Independence itself. Gay people shouldn’t be “allowed” to be married; we have the right to be married. 

You can have as many debates about gay marriage as you want, and I certainly have had my share. But, to me, marriage should be marriage: a recognition and celebration of the love between two people.

So, today, with our community’s emblematic rainbow flag flying a little bit higher, my partner and I celebrate this historic vote for our state and our family.

After all, love is love, no matter who the people are.

I know my dad would agree.

• Scott Helmchen is the features editor of the Northwest Herald. Reach him at 815-526-4402 or email him at shelmchen@shawmedia.com. 

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