Kadner: A great couple forbidden to marry by ban on same-sex marriages
By Phil Kadner email@example.com December 28, 2012 4:47PM
Andrea Denney (far left) and her partner Beth Reich (far right) are pictured with their children Peyton, 10, (top), Bennett, 8, (middle) and Emerson, 4, (center) at their residence Friday, Dec. 28, 2012, in Flossmoor. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 31, 2013 6:40AM
She is the vice president of operations for a marketing research firm, has a home in Flossmoor, shovels the snow off her sidewalk, coached Little League baseball and teaches Sunday school.
But after 25 years in a loving relationship, Andrea Denney would like to get married and Illinois won’t let her.
Denney and her life partner, Beth Reich, a south suburban school principal, are hoping the people of this state, through their legislators, will change that this week.
About two years ago, Denney and Reich went to a judge’s chambers and were united in a civil ceremony
“It was a really strange thing because we had been together for 23 years, had adopted three children, had two dogs, and now we were finally able to make it official,” Denney said, because Illinois had passed a law making civil unions between gay and lesbian couples legal in 2010.
But Denney and Reich realized that wasn’t enough — for them or for society.
“Marriage is important because it’s the language we use as a culture,” Denney explained. “It’s how we relate to people as a family unit.
“My daughter has a friend whose mother told me recently that we had changed the way she viewed people. She said that her daughter asked her about us and the mother explained that Beth and I are really good friends who live together.
“Well, that’s not what we are. We’re a family. During our civil ceremony, my oldest daughter asked if this meant we were married now like all the other parents of her friends. We had to explain that, no, this is different.”
Marriage has a legal definition in this country along with its cultural implications.
A marriage in one state is recognized by every other state in this country. Civil unions are not.
According to the ACLU, a couple in a civil union may not have the protections or responsibilities federal law provides to married couples.
These include Social Security survivors’ and spousal benefits, federal veterans’ spousal benefits, federal employment benefits, exemption from income tax on a partner’s health benefits and the federal exemption from inheritance tax.
State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the chief sponsor of a bill called the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, said there have even been cases where a parent was not allowed into an intensive care unit of a hospital where a sick child was being treated.
“There would have been no question if the parents had been married,” Harris said. “But hospital officials were reluctant to let a parent in a civil union see their child.”
Many people object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds, claiming the Bible prohibits such unions.
Denney is a religious person.
She is attending the Chicago Theological Seminary, is a student pastor at Friendship Presbyterian Church in Chicago, and the family attends services at Flossmoor Community Church.
“I’ve studied all seven Bible verses people cite when it comes to their opposition of same-sex marriage, and I don’t believe there’s anything we’re doing that is willfully disobeying something in the Bible,” Denney said.
“This is a genuine, authentic, loving relationship, and I don‘t believe there’s anything in the Bible that prohibits that.
“I believe in a God who is universal and understanding and loving, and that’s what I believe my religion is about.”
Denney quickly explains that if Illinois does pass a law legalizing same-sex marriage, it would not require any religion to marry gay or lesbian couples.
“The Catholic Church would not be required to marry people nor would the Presbyterian or any church. It would just give religious entities that do want to perform such marriages the freedom to do so,” she said.
“ ‘Freedom’ is the key word,” Reich said. “It’s the freedom of it. We’re not allowed to get married right now. We have to sit at a different table than everyone else.”
They have three adopted children, who have the same biological mother. Oldest daughter Peyton is 10, son Bennett is 8 and Emerson is 4.
On the day I visited their home, with a Christmas tree in the corner of the family room and three stockings hung with care over a fireplace, Peyton and Emerson were getting over the flu.
“We’re just a typical family,” Denney said. “In fact, I don’t believe you change peoples’ minds about subjects like this by shouting at them at protest rallies or marching in the streets in bizarre clothes.
“I believe you change minds every day by interacting with people, letting them see who you are, as a person and a family.”
But Denney does visit high schools to talk to students about her family and how they live.
“I do that because I want my children to grow up in a society that is different than the one I grew up in,” Denney said. “I feel an obligation to make things better for them. And I believe times have changed and things will continue to get better.”
There are some Southland lawmakers who may not be comfortable voting for a law that gives same sex couples the right to marry.
I would urge them to think hard about their position and contemplate that history shows that discrimination, intolerance, fear and ignorance are rarely paths to spiritual fulfillment.
Denney and Reich are not just good people but extraordinary individuals.
“This is something we’ve talked about for years,” Reich said about their marriage. “We’ve talked about that special day when we can be married and have that right of passage, so to speak. We’re just not allowed to have it.”
Denney recalls a wedding invitation they received from straight friends asking everyone to join them on the joyous occasion of their union in marriage.
“That’s all we want,” she said. “We’ve been together longer than any of our friends have been. Now we just want to seal the deal.”
Harris expects his bill to come up for a vote this week and believes it has a good chance of passing.
It should. Simply because it is the right thing to do.