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Going to the Chapel Gay Marriage, Immigration Focus This Week
by Faren D'Abell

This article shared 6624 times since Wed Feb 12, 2003
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In Roman times, the story goes, when military enrollment was down, 'Claudius the Cruel' cancelled all weddings and engagements. The Christian priest Saint Valentine secretly married couples, and for this he was murdered.

This week, on Valentine's Day, thousands of gay couples in committed relationships will again ask their local county clerks for marriage licenses. Groups like Lambda Legal, the National Organization for Women, and Human Rights Campaign have, for years, pushed the idea that equal rights for all includes the rights of GLBT people to marry.

While the city of Chicago has been seen by many as a progressive force for GLBT people, residents like Robert Castillo feel slighted by a seeming runaround when it comes to recognition of same-sex couples. Castillo and his committed partner of 12 years, WCT's John Pennycuff, say Chicago discriminates when it co-sponsors the Fox News Chicago Valentine's Day Wedding on Ice promotion.

In its ninth year, Wedding on Ice searches for 'one lucky bride and groom to marry.' Fox viewers choose one couple from a group of three who have been pre-selected based on essays. Castillo says the requirement of a marriage certificate to participate in the contest is discriminatory. He brought his concerns to both Fox News in the Morning executive producer Neil Woulfe and James Law from the city's office of special events. With the program this year being transferred to the Chicago Park District, Castillo says he's had to start all over.

Outside of city publicity stunts, Castillo says he and others lose financial benefits even from groups that would otherwise be supportive of gay partnerships. 'John and I are basically responsible for each other—responsible emotionally, physically, and financially. I don't see that as any different from heterosexual married couples. I actually tried to have John added as a family member at Bally's. They wouldn't do it unless John had the same last name as I did or unless we had some sort of domestic-partnership registration and the city doesn't have one,' he said.

The group that championed the fight in Vermont for civil unions says that domestic partnerships and civil unions are progress, but that the country needs equal marriages for gays and lesbians. 'Marriage, in the regime we live in, is the only true equality. Civil union was a wonderful breakthrough, but nonetheless in our minds, because it sets up a separate but equal system that makes no sense, it doesn't work,' said Gary Buscek, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD). He said the 'separate but equal' stance Vermont took highlights the holes left in equality when the state recognizes a union but does not call it a marriage.

One of the holes is in immigration rights. Federal law allows American citizens, in most cases, to sponsor their spouse for immediate residency in the United States. That's not true for gays and lesbians whose same-sex partners are not American citizens.

Michele Curley experienced this trauma first hand. Curley met her partner on a trip to Italy. Several trips later, the two fell in love. Unfortunately, the best the two could do to stay together was pay for school at out-of-country rates so Curley's partner could remain in the country during the school year. After a degree was earned, all bets were off.

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, says the current immigration act is flawed. 'It ends up keeping a couple apart for a lifetime which is just wanton cruelty,' he said. On Valentine's Day, Nadler will introduce the Permanent Partners' Immigration Act to allow gay and lesbian people to sponsor their partner. 'This is intended to fix what was really, I think, an unintended consequence of the [immigration] law.' In the previous session of Congress, Nadler's bill had 106 co-sponsors, including two Republicans.

Public opinion in the United States, according to Gallup, is split when it comes to offering similar benefits to gay partners, but Americans are decidedly against gays and lesbians being allowed to legally marry.

Internationally, gay marriages are gaining steam. Holland and Belgium both have, what they consider to be, equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. Though Holland places restrictions on married couples adopting foreign children and Belgium bans adoptions by gay married couples altogether. Marriage-like laws in France, Spain, Canada, and several other countries exist for gay couples as well. v Gay marriage in America has not always been so contentious. In 1975, Boulder County Clerk Clela Rorex knowingly issued a marriage certificate to two gay men. Today, the practice could not happen because Colorado, Illinois, and 35 other states now define a marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Nadler says the history of America is one that includes offering narrowly defined rights that are later expanded. 'By 'all men are created equal,' they [founding fathers] didn't mean women, they didn't mean Black people, they didn't mean American Indians … . It's a very narrow definition and the whole history of the country is [one of] expanding the definition … . One of the struggles we're involved in now is to cover people regardless of sexual orientation,' he said.

But on the marriage front, Nadler and others in Congress who support equal rights for GLBT people have an uphill battle. Two years ago, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., introduced a bill that would remove any federal definition of marriage—leaving the decision up to states. The bill had only 21 co-sponsors, including Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.

Rep. Ronnie Shows, D-Miss., introduced the Federal Marriage Amendment last year, garnering 22 co-sponsors. This bill would amend the U.S. Constitution to disallow any state from allowing gays and lesbians to marry.

As for the future of gay marriage and equality, Castillo says it will take personal courage from gay and lesbian people. 'When you actually personally talk to people one-on-one about whether you should be able to visit your partner in the hospital or have some sort of decision-making capability for their welfare, they can see the similarity in relationships. When you can relate on common issues, you can take away some of the fire from the people who are trying to pass [anti-gay legislation],' he said.

Nadler says equality is inevitable. 'The inextricable history of the country is to treat everyone equally, eventually,' he said.

Lambda Legal, with area faith-based and community organizations, will celebrate National Freedom to Marry Day, Feb. 12 with Chicago's Annual Freedom to Marry Reception, at High Risk Gallery, 1113 W. Belmont. 7-9 p.m.

See pages 42-43 for more V-Day events.

This article shared 6624 times since Wed Feb 12, 2003
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