(Photo: REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach)
The Thomas More Society, a national not-for-profit law firm that advocates for life, marriage, and religious liberty, has written a letter to the Illinois General Assembly warning lawmakers of the consequences associated with passing a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.
"This bill is titled 'The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.' But the alleged religious freedom protections are slim to none," Peter Breen, Executive Director & Legal Counsel of Thomas Moore Society and one of the writers to the letter, explained in a phone interview with The Christian Post on Friday.
"There is no serious protection for religious freedom concerns in this bill. Even with strong protections, we would not be in favor of the bill, but at this point we identified that in the 2010 civil union bill, that bill included a limited religious freedom protection that did cover social service agencies that allows them to perform private adoptions and the like."
Illinois's state Senate Committee voted 8-5 in favor of same-sex marriage on Thursday, but with key lawmakers missing, the Senate decided to adjourn a full vote on the issue until the body reconvenes on Tuesday for a special session, Reuters reported.
President Barack Obama's home state began offering civil union partnerships in June 2011, but the "Illinois Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act" seeks to grant gay and lesbian couples a full marriage license. Currently, nine U.S states, including the District of Columbia, perform same-sex marriage.
Illinois's House and State both have a Democratic majority, with the vote on same-sex marriage largely divided among party lines, but Breen insists that the vote is still close.
"At this point, we don't see that they have the votes to pass. However, it is close. We are working very hard on that. Our role at the Thomas Moore Society is to help provide education, and some of the legal issues that will be caused if the legislature adopts the same-sex marriage proposal that is before it," the Executive Director told CP.
In a detailed letter addressed to the state's General Assembly, the Thomas More Society outlines two of the biggest dangers they see with lawmakers passing the same-sex marriage law.
On one hand, the organization says there is a danger that supporters of traditional marriage will be called bigots and discriminators for their stance, since gay marriage will now be official government policy.
The Thomas More Society also says that Catholic charities and faith-based adoption agencies opposed to helping gay and lesbian couples adopt children may lose the protection that they received in the 2010 civil union bill, which allowed them to continue operating regardless of their stance on adoption and homosexual couples.
Breen explained that under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, churches would be protected from being forced to perform same-sex marriages even if the bill passes.
"At the same time, the real issues arise not necessarily inside the four walls of the church, but when you are dealing with adoption issues, dealing with your Christian and Catholic schools, with your service organizations such as Catholic Charities and Evangelical family agencies," Breen added.
Thomas Brejcha, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Society, explained in the letter that the only benefit to same-sex couples from the passing of the bill would be a change in wording from "civil union license" to "marriage license," which the Society says is "a vanity not worth the disenfranchisement of large segments of the state's population. The current law already provides same-sex couples the rights of married couples."
Religious leaders in Illinois have expressed opposing views regarding the coming vote.
Chicago's Roman Catholic Church Cardinal Francis George reminded believers in a letter that same-sex relations are "unnatural" and that the government should not be trying to change the traditional definition of marriage.
"Civil laws that establish 'same-sex marriage' create a legal fiction," Cardinal George and other Catholic bishops wrote in a letter sent to priests on Tuesday. "The state has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible."
"Does this mean that the Church is anti-gay? No, for the Church welcomes everyone, respects each one personally and gives to each the spiritual means necessary to convert to God's ways and maintain friendship with Christ," the Cardinal clarified. "The Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Chicago has consistently condemned violence toward or hatred of homosexually oriented men and women. Good pastoral practice encourages families to accept all their children and not break relationships with them."
The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee, Episcopal Bishop of Chicago offered a counter perspective, however, and sent a letter to his diocese expressing his support for the passage of the bill, although he encouraged members to come to their own conclusions on the same-sex marriage debate.
"I am writing today to express my support for the bill currently before the Illinois legislature that would allow same-sex couples to marry legally," the Rev. Lee began in his letter.
"As I am sure you are aware, my support for this legislation imposes no duties on you. I cherish the fact that the Episcopal Church trusts its members to arrive at their own conclusions about moral and political issues. I would like to say a few words, however, about how I came to my opinion, in part because I believe I owe it to you as your bishop, and in part because I believe that the Christian argument for legal marriage equality is not well understood."
A Public Policy Poll in Illinois last month determined that 47 percent of respondents in the state support same-sex marriage, with 42 percent opposed and 11 percent unsure of such unions.