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Marriage equality ‘going in the right direction’

A same-sex marriage supporter waves rainbow flag front U.S. Supreme Court March 26 WashingtDC as Court takes up issue gay

A same-sex marriage supporter waves a rainbow flag in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on March 26 in Washington, DC, as the Court takes up the issue of gay marriage. | SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

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Updated: April 1, 2013 2:51PM

The battle lines over gay marriage have been long been drawn in Lake County between those who argue that marriage was instituted by God and should be between one man and one woman, and those who see it as a human and a civil right regardless of a couple’s sexual orientation.

But there are areas of gray on the battlefield where the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies certain federal protections to same-sex couples married under state law, is the latest fight before the Supreme Court.

State Rep. Sam Yingling (D-Round Lake Beach) is one of the few openly gay legislators in the statehouse. Yingling said he’s hopeful DOMA will be found unconstitutional.

“The fact that the Supreme Court is hearing the case on DOMA is another strong indicator that the majority of people aren’t willing to accept a government that discriminates,” Yingling said. “The impact is profound and far-reaching. It means less government interference in our personal lives and the constitutional recognition that all Americans have equal protection under the law. It allows someone like me to be elected based on my ideas, my track record, and not who I love or the color of my skin.”

Keith Turner of Waukegan vociferously challenged the idea of the government stepping in to change a long-held understanding of marriage at a recent Town Hall meeting, said he doesn’t object to homosexuality per se.

“I don’t really care who sleeps with who,” Turner said. “It’s none of my business what grown folks do. But gay marriage is not a civil right listed in our Bill of Rights.”

Turner said the government has no business legislating what is a religious r-i-t-e. “It’s not a civil r-i-g-h-t,” he said. “The government should not dictate what’s done in a church. Ten years from now, someone could file suit because a pastor won’t marry them.”

Eric Lewis of Highland Park, who has a civil union with Victor Olvera, his partner of 20 years, said that even if DOMA stands he’s happy it made it to the Supreme Court.

“We consider ourselves married whether there’s a law or no law,” Lewis said. “But to be penalized because we’re not considered married on a federal level is very, very unfair. Hopefully they will decide in our favor.”

Lewis, 51, who works as an analytics manager for CDW, said the Supreme Court should consider the changing tide of public opinion. “It’s finally tipped,” said Lewis. He worries that under DOMA, should he or Olvera die, the survivor will have to pay an estate tax and will not be eligible for other benefits enjoyed by opposite sex couples, such as social security survivor benefits.

Whatever the court decides, Lewis said he’s confident marriage equality “will go in the right direction.”

“These are exciting times,” Lewis said. “We will see equality at the federal level and at the state, where we’re already halfway there.”

But Rev. Arthur Gass, pastor of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Waukegan, insists that same-sex marriage is “not a matter of personal rights” and that the argument for marriage equality “pits personal rights against God’s word.”

“It’s a matter of negating the traditional structure for the family that was established by God, not by man,” Gass said. “Marriage is a holy and sacred right that God established in the Book of Genesis. There is nothing in Scripture to support same-sex marriage in any shape, way or fashion.”

Gass, who is highly respected for his work on behalf of the poor and minorities, said he must uphold this religious teaching: “God has always put a male and female together to reproduce. Man has no human right or authority to overrule what God has established.”

Chris Fox, pastor of First Congregational UCC in Waukegan, a church at the vanguard of gay rights and support for those with AIDS/HIV in Lake County, said it’s wrong to couch gay marriage in religious terms. DOMA, he said, is “egregious based on what this country stands for.”

“I will be thrilled if the Supreme Court overturns it,” Rev. Fox said. “This has nothing to do with religious morality. It’s a civil rights issue.”

Fox said he believes personal biases held by some Supreme Court justices will work against dumping DOMA.

“They need to focus on the constitutional principles of this great nation and that means liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness for all; not some, but for all,” Fox said. “I’m in the trenches. I deal with a lot of LGBT people. I see the low self-esteem, the proclivity for addiction and unhealthy lifestyles, the serial relationships. I can’t say that our laws are not culpable in some form for treating these people as second class citizens.”

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