Kadner: Meeks explains calls on same-sex marriage
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org April 30, 2013 8:18PM
The Rev. James Meeks | File photo
Updated: June 2, 2013 6:24AM
The Rev. James Meeks called my house to say “same-sex marriage should not be the law of the state of Illinois.”
Actually, it was a robocall paid for by the African-American Clergy Coalition, with Meeks acting as the spokesman.
The robocalls are targeting state House districts in the Southland, including those of state Reps. Robert Rita (D-Blue Island) and Will Davis (D-Hazel Crest).
The tape-recorded message was rather tame, merely urging people to contact their lawmakers to tell them how they feel about the measure.
I talked with Meeks by phone later Tuesday, and he stressed that he didn’t encourage people to oppose or support the bill during his message.
“I didn’t tell them to say they should vote ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ merely to make their views known,” Meeks said.
I got to know Meeks when he was a state senator and came to respect him. He’s the leader of Salem Baptist Church in Chicago, one of the largest congregations in the state, and also a leader in Operation PUSH.
For years, he led a movement in Springfield to increase public school funding, although his church runs a private school.
“I voted against the bill allowing civil unions for same-sex couples in the General Assembly when I was there because I knew they would eventually come back asking for same-sex marriage,” Meeks said. “At the time, they said they wouldn’t come back. They said that civil unions would grant them their rights.
“But now they’re back, as I knew they would be, asking for same-sex marriage, and I oppose it because marriage is a religious institution. Once they have a law allowing same-sex marriage, they will come after churches and ministers demanding they perform same-sex marriages.
“The Constitution allows for a separation of church and state, but they will come after (churches’) tax-exempt status and file lawsuits claiming (ministers) have violated their civil rights if we refuse to marry same-sex couples.”
I have voiced my views on same-sex marriage in a previous column. I support the concept.
But I also respect the views of those who fear that religious freedoms may be trampled on the path to same-sex marriage.
Rector Richard Tolliver, the minister of St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church in Chicago, is one of several black ministers on the South Side who disagree with Meeks on the issue.
“People who believe that the concept of marriage is written in stone do not know the history of marriage,” Tolliver said. “Throughout much of history, marriage was polygamous, not between one man and one woman. That has been changed by law.
“Historically, women were considered property, and they did not marry out of love but because they were told who to marry. All of that has changed.
“Some people opposed to homosexual marriage cite the Bible, but Jesus says nothing about it. Paul does say that slaves should be obedient to their masters. Would any African-American minister defend that today?
“Our conception of what the Bible teaches us changes over time, and people interpret it based on their own views and experiences and that’s the way it has always been.”
As for the proposed state law interfering with freedom of religion, Tolliver said, “I read the bill, and there is nothing in it that would do that.”
State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the chief House sponsor of the same-sex marriage bill, said it acknowledges the constitutional safeguards protecting freedom to worship.
“The U.S. Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state, and that is sacred to all of us,” Harris said. “This bill would not violate that.
“In fact, we include specific safeguards that preclude lawsuits against any religious institution or minister who refuses to perform same-sex marriages and language that prevents them from being held liable should they refuse to host a reception in a church facility to celebrate a same-sex marriage.
“It actually angers me that people would think we would trample on one constitutional right, religious freedom, while we’re trying to protect another constitutional right, equal protection under the law. They’re both sacred,” Harris said.
State Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) voted for the same-sex marriage law in the Senate and passionately spokie about a history lesson from her family.
Her husband is the product of a biracial marriage (his father was black, his mother white), Hutchinson noted on the Senate floor. Under the laws of 40 states in 1960, Hutchinson said, interracial marriage was illegal.
“From the vantage point of 2013, we look back on that as unacceptable,” she said.
As for Meeks’ contention that civil unions afford couples the same rights as marriage, that’s not true.
When traveling outside Illinois, couples in a civil union have found their family status and rights as parents questioned in critical situations.
The share of an employee’s benefits (family health insurance, for example) that is paid by an employer is not taxable for a married couple. Civil union partners have to pay taxes on those benefits.
There are 1,138 benefits, protections and obligations that federal law prohibits civil union couples from receiving (including Social Security survivor benefits, family leave and veterans’ benefits), according to groups advocating for same-sex marriage.
“I’m simply telling people to make their voices heard in Springfield on a very important piece of legislation,” Meeks said. “It’s up to them if they want to tell their representatives to vote ‘yes’ or no.’
“I believe there should be a referendum on an issue as serious as this one. Let the people decide, not the General Assembly.”
I doubt Meeks would like to see state referendums on civil rights for minorities.
I’m not even sure the Bill or Rights would be approved by voters in every state.