The End of Religious Liberty in the Land of Lincoln

By Robert Gilligan

The Illinois House of Representatives yesterday completed a mission started by its Senate counterparts in February by redefining what is outside of its authority: a nature-ordered union of one man and one woman, the institution of marriage.

Come June 1, marriage in Illinois will be defined as "between two persons."

During floor debate, lawmakers threw out words such as "equality" and "fairness." But one important term was glossed over -- religious freedom.

It's in the title of the bill, lawmakers said, the "Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act." They further noted that no church or clergy will be forced to solemnize any same-sex marriage or rent their parish or fellowship halls for any type of same-sex wedding recognition.

It's all good, lawmakers assured faith groups and religious organizations. Your religious freedom is secure.

Where have we heard that before?

How about three years ago, when Illinois lawmakers promised during floor debate on civil unions legislation that no faith-based social service organizations would be affected. But within six months of civil unions becoming law, all Catholic Charities in the state were pushed out of their longtime mission of caring for abused, abandoned, and neglected children. The state refused to renew contracts for foster care and adoption services because of Charities' religious belief of not placing children with unmarried couples, be they heterosexual or homosexual.

We know better this time. We know our religious freedom is not protected. And when we asked for more protection, our pleas for fairness were rebuffed and spurned.

Senate Bill 10 offers no specific protection regarding employment practices. If a current church employee chooses to "marry" a same-sex partner, the legislation offers no specific protection regarding the church being forced to pay -- from funds collected every Sunday from faithful church-goers in the pews -- for benefits for the "spouse."

The legislation offers no conscience protections to health-care facilities, educational facilities, or social service agencies. So, faith-based hospitals, colleges, and universities that own and operate venues for rent are not protected.

Individuals and independent business owners whose religious beliefs do not condone same-sex marriage are also left in the dust. There are the stories about the photographers, bakers, florists, and bed-and-breakfast owners who have come under fire for refusing to serve same-sex weddings. What about the county judge asked to perform a same-sex wedding, or a public school teacher forced to teach about a family with two moms, two dads, or some other permutation?

They get nada.

Is this fairness, or tolerance?

As other states grapple with redefinition of marriage efforts, we urge them to learn from Illinois. Hold on to the natural order of marriage as one man and one woman joining together to form a union of body, mind, and spirit, with the intent and hope of creating children with whom to share their love.

Hold on to marriage as the only institution that ties children to their biological mother and father, and serves as the cornerstone of the family and society.

And hold on to the religious freedom that allows us to practice our faith beyond the four walls of a church.

Robert Gilligan is the Executive Director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois.

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