Illinois Public Media News
In a major policy reversal, the Obama administration said Wednesday that it will no longer defend the constitutionality of a federal law banning recognition of same-sex marriage.
Attorney General Eric Holder said President Obama has concluded that the administration cannot defend the federal law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. He noted that the congressional debate during passage of the Defense of Marriage Act "contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships - precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus the (Constitution's) Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against."
The Justice Department had defended the act in court until now.
"Much of the legal landscape has changed in the 15 years since Congress passed" the Defense of Marriage Act, Holder said in a statement. He noted that the Supreme Court has ruled that laws criminalizing homosexual conduct are unconstitutional and that Congress has repealed the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
Holder wrote to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, that Obama has concluded the Defense of Marriage Act fails to meet a rigorous standard under which courts view with suspicion any laws targeting minority groups who have suffered a history of discrimination.
The attorney general said the Justice Department had defended the law in court until now because the government was able to advance reasonable arguments for the law based on a less strict standard.
At a December news conference, in response to a reporters' question, Obama revealed that his position on gay marriage is "constantly evolving." He has opposed such marriages and supported instead civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. The president said such civil unions are his baseline - at this point, as he put it.
"This is something that we're going to continue to debate, and I personally am going to continue to wrestle with going forward," he said.
The Indiana House has approved a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage and civil unions in Indiana.
The Republican-controlled House voted 70-26 on Tuesday to advance the proposal, which must clear two separate Legislatures to get on the ballot for a public vote.
State law already bans gay marriage, but supporters say the amendment would provide an additional layer of protection for traditional marriage. Opponents say the proposal would write discrimination into the state's constitution.
The proposal now moves to the GOP-led Senate, where it is expected to pass. If both the House and Senate pass the proposal this year, it would have to pass again in 2013 or 2014 to be on the ballot in 2014.
The U.S. Department of Justice will not pursue a civil rights case in the 2009 police-shooting death of Champaign teenager Kiwane Carrington.
The city of Champaign released a letter it received Monday, saying the Justice Department's Civil Rights division had closed its investigation into the incident and "concluded that the evidence in the case does not establish a prosecutable violation of any federal criminal civil rights statute."
The 15-year-old Carrington was shot to death in October of 2009 when Police Chief R.T. Finney and Officer Daniel Norbits confronted and wrestled with Carrington and another teen behind a Vine Street house. Police had suspected that the two were trying to break into the home, but it was later discovered that Carrington was welcome in the house, which was unoccupied at the time. A state police investigation concluded that Norbits' gun discharged accidentally during the altercation. Finney had been working a regular patrol that day. Norbits was given a 30-day suspension for not properly controlling his weapon.
The incident added fuel to long-standing suspicion against police in the African-American community.
In a complaint to the Department of Justice shortly after the shooting, Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice was critical of the local investigation, claiming that evidence was mishandled and that Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz poorly analyzed the case. The group's Aaron Ammons said he has not heard back from the Department of Justice regarding that complaint, and added that he is not surprised by the outcome of the department's recent investigation into the shooting.
"I guess deep in our hearts and the recesses of our minds, we'd like to believe that there would be some justice at some level within our government," Ammons said. "When you don't see that, it is disappointing."
The case has been reviewed by various local, state, and federal agencies. The Department of Justice's recent investigation came as no surprise to Seon Williams, a friend of the Carrington family.
"The situation and outcome has been the same, so I don't think the community's surprised on the next phase of this thing." Williams said. "I think we're all just trying to heal and trying to move forward."
In a statement, Chief R.T. Finney said, "We are confident of the thoroughness of all investigations and satisfied that the outcomes were all the same. This was a very tragic incident for all involved and the closure of this investigation will help us all move forward."
The city settled a civil lawsuit with Carrington's family last year. A second civil suit filed by the family of the other juvenile is pending.
It's Black History Month, and Al Letson, who's the host of NPR's State of the Re:Union, recently finished a documentary honoring the life of someone who he calls the most important civil rights figure with very little name recognition. Bayard Rustin was involved in the freedom rides, he served as the chief architect of the March on Washington, and by the end of his life, he became influential in the gay rights movement.
Al Letson was in Champaign this week to talk about Rustin's legacy, and he spoke with Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers.
(Photo courtesy of Warren Leffler)
Dozens of people have lined up to speak to Indiana lawmakers about a proposal that its sponsor says would lead to an Arizona-style crackdown on illegal immigration in the state.
Sponsor Republican Sen. Mike Delph of Carmel opened a public hearing Wednesday by saying those from other countries have an obligation to follow U.S. laws. Supporters testify that illegal immigrants have been taking jobs from Indiana residents and that the state has the right to enforce immigration laws because federal officials had failed.
Opponents outside the Senate chamber have held signs such as "Welcome to Indiana ... where you will be racially profiled."
State Attorney General Greg Zoeller earlier Wednesday expressed reservations about the proposal, saying Indiana shouldn't try to assume authority over what is a federal responsibility.
Republican lawmakers in Indiana are determined not to fail this time around in pushing for a state constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage and civil unions.
On Monday, a Republican-controlled House committee approved the amendment requirement by a 8-4 vote along party lines. It now moves to the full Indiana House and then the Senate, both of which are controlled by Republicans.
But Republicans were not the amendment's only supporters.
Democratic backers include state Rep. David Cheatham, who hails from the 69th district in southeast Indiana. He co-sponsored the measure.
"Since we have a state law already, why do we need to have this part of the constitution?" Cheatham, of North Vernon, asked. "My view on that is this: We have laws that deal with situations. We have a constitution that deals with foundation issues; fundamental issues. This is a foundation, fundamental issue. Marriage between one man and one woman."
The House committee also heard from critics who provided emotional testimony. They included Jessica Wilch, president of Indiana Equality of Indianapolis.
"There's a force in this state that is determined to undermine the rights of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. Those rights affect domestic-partner benefits to hospital visitation," Wilch said. "And now there seems to be a significant effort to change the constitution of this state to question whether the LGBT community should even reside here."
This is the second time Republicans have taken on such an amendment.
In 2005, as now, the Indiana House and Senate were controlled by Republicans. The party got a similar amendment through both chambers, but under Indiana law, amendments must pass through the legislature twice. By 2006, Democrats took control of the legislature, and the amendment stalled once Republicans were out of power.
If the GOP prevails in back-to-back legislative cycles this time around, the measure would still face hurdles. For one, it would have to win support in a state-wide referendum. Most constitutional amendments in Indiana take years to pass.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn today is expected to sign a bill that legalizes civil unions. About 1,000 people are expected to be on hand for the ceremony at the Chicago Cultural Center.
Illinois legislators approved civil unions late last year. The bill would allow same sex couples hospital visitation rights and the ability to share insurance policies. State Rep. Greg Harris was instrumental in getting the bill passed.
"This is a huge moment for people in Illinois and people feel that they have a lot of their future invested in this," Harris said.
But David Kelly, with the Illinois Family Institute, said he opposes the legislation. He said civil unions could lead to the state allowing gay marriage.
"Marriage always will be the union of one man and one woman," Kelly said.
Gov. Pat Quinn calls the legislation a civil rights issue. Once signed, the measure will go into effect June 1st.
The first African-American to wear a major league baseball uniform in Chicago said the sport was ingrained in his blood at an early age, and he owes everything to it.
May 1 marks 60 years since Orestes "Minnie" Minoso broke the city's color line with the White Sox in 1951. He is also the first black-Latino in the major leagues, breaking through with Cleveland two years earlier.
Minoso was honored on the University of Illinois campus Thursday night as part of events commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. He was part of a panel discussion on the Latino integration of baseball, part of two days of events entitled 'Pioneering Latinos: Building a Legacy On and Beyond the Playing Field.'
Minoso said he has always learned to keep a smile on his face, no matter the circumstances. He recalled working in sugar fields as a child in Cuba.
"I had to cut the sugar, clean the sugar field, and plant the sugar field, everything you do, you name it" Minoso said. "I had to get up at 3 o'clock to get ready to make $2.50 a day to find out God opened the door for me to play baseball."
Minoso was honored with an award from the U of I's Latina/Latino studies department, reading: "In recognition of the courage, spirit, and excellence demonstrated as the integration pioneer for the Chicago White Sox."
Appearing with Minoso in Thursday's panel was filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz, Chicago Cubs outfielder Fernando Perez, and moderator and U of I History Professor Adrian Burgos.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
The West African nation of Ivory Coast recently took a step towards democracy with a historic election, but with the sitting president disqualifying the results, Ivory Coast is now on the brink of Civil War. University of Illinois instructor Carol Spindel visited the Ivory Coast as the momentous vote took place.
Gay rights advocates celebrated Wednesday as the Illinois Legislature voted to legalize civil unions, although some wondered whether the measure that the governor is expected to sign will make it easier or harder to someday win approval of same-sex marriage.
The state Senate approved the legislation 32-24, sending it to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. It passed despite complaints from some senators that civil unions threaten the sanctity of marriage or increase the cost of doing business in Illinois.
After Quinn signs the measure, gay and lesbian couples will be able to get official recognition from the state and gain many of the rights that accompany marriage - the power to decide medical treatment for an ailing partner, for instance. Illinois law will continue to limit marriage to one man and woman, and the federal government won't recognize the civil unions at all.
Five states already allow civil unions or their equivalent, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Five other states and Washington, D.C., let gay couples marry outright.
Some supporters of civil unions in Illinois hope they'll be a step toward full marriage.
"The ultimate goal is not to be separate but equal," said Jacob Meister, president of The Civil Rights Agenda, a gay rights organization. Meister said civil unions are a necessary compromise because they will provide important protections for gay couples.
But even advocates acknowledge it's possible that by accepting civil unions now, they may be delaying movement toward being able to marry. The compromise could weaken any arguments that gay people are being treated unfairly by not being allowed to marry.
The sponsors of the civil unions bill said Wednesday they don't plan to push for legalizing same-sex marriages, which have limited support in the Legislature.
"As soon as the governor signs it, it's the law of the state of Illinois and that's what we're going to live with and going to make work," said Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria.
The executive director of a gay community center in Chicago said he welcomes civil unions but worries the legislation may stall ultimate approval of same-sex marriage. Modesto Valle of the Center on Halsted said it will take "tremendous work" to turn civil unions into "a platform to move toward marriage equality" in Illinois.
Courtney Reid, 48, of Chicago said she and her partner of 12 years have decided they won't pursue a civil union, preferring to wait until same-sex marriage is recognized by federal law and homosexual couples get all the tax benefits and other rights available to heterosexual couples.
"It's a stand on principle for us," Reid said.
Supporters presented the civil unions legislation as a matter of basic fairness for all Illinois residents. With civil unions, state law will treat gay and lesbian couples as if they were married. They would inherit property when a partner dies, for instance.
"It's time for us to look history in the eye and not flinch," said Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg, D-Evanston.
Opponents argued it moves Illinois closer to legalizing same-sex marriages. They said civil unions are basically marriage by another name and that they could give the courts a reason to step in and order Illinois to allow full marriage to everyone.
Some senators also criticized the time being spent on civil unions at a time when the state faces a massive budget crisis.
"Here we are, forced to debate an issue that may be political payback to a small but very politically powerful special interest group," said Sen. Chris Lauzen, R-Aurora. He called gay sexual activities dangerous and questioned whether the state has a role in regulating relationships that don't produce children.
The Illinois Family Institute accused legislators of failing to examine the legislation clearly.
"Proponents engaged in embarrassing and maudlin displays of sentimentality intended to emotionally manipulate rather than intellectually persuade their colleagues," said executive director David E. Smith.
Cardinal Francis George and other Catholic leaders fought civil unions vigorously. Conservative groups also lobbied to block the measure. They argued it could hurt religious institutions.
The measure wouldn't require churches to recognize civil unions or perform any kind of ceremony, opponents acknowledge, but critics fear it would lead to other requirements, such as including same-sex couples in adoption programs run by religious groups or granting benefits to employees' partners.
Some religious leaders welcomed the legislation. In Chicago, Rabbi Larry Edwards said he's looking forward to planning celebrations for couples in his Jewish congregation who may decide to form civil unions under Illinois law.
"To those who say it's a slippery slope and eventually will lead to marriage, I say, 'I hope so,'" said Edwards of Or Chadash synagogue. "I would like to be on a slippery slope that slides in the direction of justice."
The Rev. Vernice Thorn, associate pastor of Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago said she considers the vote a hopeful sign. "Same-sex legalized marriage is going to happen. It's just a matter of when.
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