Some critics of Illinois' gay marriage bill are concerned that the religious freedom of Christian photographers, bakers, florists and other wedding industry professionals is not protected under the act.
The state House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 10, titled the "Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act," on Tuesday. It now awaits the signature of Democratic Governor Pat Quinn, who has confirmed that he will sign it into law.
The bill states that religious denominations and clergy will not be forced to solemnize same-sex marriages if doing so would violate their religious beliefs. Religious organizations will also not be forced to rent out their houses of worship for gay weddings or gay wedding receptions.
But the legislation does not address a number of other religious freedom concerns. Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, wrote in an article for the Illinois Family Institute that the bill does not address the issue of employment practices, for example. If a church employee were to marry a same-sex partner, he says, the bill does not protect the church from having to pay for the spouse's benefits.
"Individuals and independent business owners whose religious beliefs do not condone same-sex marriage are also left in the dust," wrote Gilligan. "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," he added. "Is this fairness or tolerance?"
SB10 also doesn't address the issue of faith-based colleges and hospitals that rent venues to the public.
Loyola University Chicago, for example, owns two popular wedding venues: Madonna Della Strada Chapel and Cuneo Mansion and Gardens, the Chicago Tribune reports.
The chapel is a place of worship, so the Catholic university would not be required to host same-sex weddings there, but Loyola currently allows weddings recognized by the State of Illinois to take place in the mansion. When asked if that policy will remain once the same-sex marriage law takes effect, a university spokesperson told the Tribune that Loyola is "evaluating" the situation.
The bill emphasizes that it neither reduces nor increases the impact of the Illinois Human Rights Act – which protects individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation – or the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The RFRA protects for religious exemptions for certain rules.
Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based legal organization that supports the cause of religious liberty, said in a statement earlier this week that the legislature's decision to pass the bill is "regrettable," though he was glad to hear that House members insisted that the guarantees in the RFRA continue to be upheld.
"The free speech and free exercise clauses of our First Amendment remain at the core of our constitutional order, and no law nor any public official may lawfully coerce anyone to deny or disavow his or her religious beliefs, or refrain from professing those beliefs in the public square, or to go against those beliefs in practice," said Brejcha in part. "This is still a free country, and Thomas More Society stands ready to do its utmost to keep it free."