Illinois Public Media News
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.
The Illinois House approved legislation Tuesday night that would position Illinois to become the sixth state to allow gay couples to enter civil unions.
An emotionally charged Illinois House narrowly approved the measure Tuesday night. Civil unions are not marriage, but under the proposal, same sex and heterosexual couples who enter one would receive many of the benefits - including hospital visitation and the power of attorney.
State Representative Deborah Mell (D-Chicago) said those are rights she is now denied because Illinois does not legally recognize her relationship with her partner.
"After six years of building a life together, committing our lives to each other," Mell said. "We have a strong faith in God and in family. And after all that we are still not considered family. And I assure you, we are a family. And we deserve the same rights that you enjoy."
Larry McKeon became Illinois' first openly gay legislator when he was elected to the Illinois House in 1996. He is not around to see his successor, Democratic Representative Greg Harris, usher through the legalization of civil unions. McKeon died a couple years ago from a sudden stroke, but his legacy played a role in the measure's passage ... as Harris recounted a tale of how McKeon tried to visit his longtime partner in intensive care.
"The hospital turned Larry away," Harris said. "They said he did not have the proper documentation with him. They did not consider him next of kin. He would have to go home. He would have to go home and find the documents."
By the time McKeon returned with paperwork proving his status, Harris said, McKeon had missed his partner's passing by mere minutes.
"Should anyone have to be absent from the side of the person they most love in life because they don't have access to the proper paperwork at the right time," he said. "Should this not be a right that every person in Illinois be granted?"
If the civil unions measure becomes law ... it will no longer be an issue. Harris lists the benefits it would trigger: "To participate in health care decision-makings, it would allow them to share a nursing home room, it would allow them to be the first in line to make a disposition about their partners' remains when he or she dies, and it would allow them rights in probate."
Harris, who is openly gay, noted that it is not just for same sex couples. It applies to heterosexual ones too. He said many elderly couples don't want to take on a spouse late in life because a new marriage would cut into their social security payouts.
Harris estimated that it is these heterosexual senior citizens who will most take advantage of civil unions. Entering one will be similar to getting married - couples would pay a county clerk for a license. Dissolving the partnership would require a legal proceeding similar to a divorce. There are differences. Only married people can get perks like filing joint income tax returns. Illinois law does, and still would, define marriage expressly as between a man and a woman.
However, critics like David Reis, a Republican representing the Effingham area ... say with approval of civil unions, Illinois is on a direct path to gay marriage. He warned its passage will lead to equal rights lawsuits that could result in a court order requiring Illinois let same sex couples marry.
"And it won't take long for your people back home to know that your vote tonight, while for civil unions and individual rights and hospital visitations, was really a vote for same sex marriage in Illinois," Reis said. "I don't think we're ready for this, I don't think the people of Illinois want this just yet."
Another Republican, Ron Stephens of Greenville, said allowing civil unions may contribute to the crumbling of America's future.
"If you look at the sociological history of a society that has failed, what are some of the commonalities," Greenville asked. "One of those is that open homosexuality becomes accepted in the higher society. Whether it's in Greek times, the Romans or others. And here we are at the precipice again."
Despite advocates' claims to the contrary, critics also say extending insurance and pension benefits to partners will hurt government and businesses' bottom lines. Opponents had cranked up their protest in advance of the debate with such arguments. Prominent Catholics, like the head of the Chicago Archdiocese, Cardinal Francis George, repeatedly called legislators, trying to sway them to vote no. Nonetheless, with a vote of 61 to 52 a solitary vote over the required amount it passed.
While Democrats were the main backers, handful of Republicans including Lake County's Mark Beaubien also lent their support.
"I don't think this is a partisan issue," Beaubien said. "I respect everybody's opinion on this and their believes. My only statement is there comes a time. And for those of you that are on the fence. Now is the time to support this bill."
Charlie Beall was in the House gallery watching it all happen.
"I was the first kid in my school to actually come out of the closet," he said.
The Senate is poised to take up the proposal Wednesday and its passage is expected. As Governor Quinn is an outspoken backer, it's likely to become law.
Beall is now a 19-year old student at Heartland Community College in Normal, but looks back at when he was 16 years old, a sophomore in high school. Just weeks after the football season ended, he first told his friends and family he was gay.
"Well, actually I was going to see my first boyfriend and I was on a date with him - not him," Beall explained. "I lied to my parents because I didn't want them to know."
After his parents discovered he had faked an alibi, Beall said he broke down, and began to hear hear taunts of "fagot" or "queer" when he walked down his high school's hallways. He said with the House's approval of civil unions, he is hopeful that mentality will not continue much longer.
"just the fact that I have almost the same rights as everyone else now," he said. "It changes a lot. And hopefully when I'm having children, my kids won't even know what that was like. To be repressed in a way."
Despite Beall's positive take is that some gay rights activists say they will not be satisfied until they get all of the rights afforded to heterosexuals, namely the right to marry. They say by supporting civil unions, they are settling for inequality.
The Senate's poised to take up the proposal Wednesday, and it's expected to win approval there as well. As Governor Quinn is an outspoken supporter, it's likely to become law. Quinn said it is an important civil rights issue, and called passing it the "right thing to do.
Legislation Seeks to Extend Immigration Rights to Same-Sex Couples
The U.S. Senate is expected to consider ending the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which bans gays from openly serving in the armed services. But there's another issue that many gay rights supporters are pushing. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports on the political deadlock over legislation to extend immigration rights to same-sex binational couples.
Airline passengers are putting up with a new and often unwelcome level of security screenings, but a University of Illinois professor who studies aviation security said those searches may not be useful.
Thanksgiving-weekend travelers at the nation's largest airports reported few slowdowns or other problems with "backscanner" machines that give screeners revealing images of passengers. Those who turned down the scans are subject to intensive pat-downs.
Professor Sheldon Jacobson said he believes federal officials pay too much attention to searching for banned items, and that the high-level searches should not be the first line of defense against terrorists.
"The question is, is this an effective use of a very powerful technology? In our own research, we don't believe it is," Jacobson said. "We believe that using it for secondary screening is far more appropriate and will actually facilitate a far more secure system, which is very counter-intuitive in some sense."
Jacobson says more effective security should focus on a passenger's intent. He said the Transportation Security Administration needs to further its research on ways of filtering out passengers based on background checks and looking for behavioral red flags at the airport.
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