The Illinois legislature will soon act onpendingHouse bill 2234, the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, which would legally recognize civil unions in our state. The proposed legislation provides that “persons entering into a civil union” will have “the same obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits” as married persons. Civil unions would be available to adults “of either the same or opposite sex.” Traditional “marriage,” however, would remain available only to persons of the opposite sex.
Such legislation is currently supported by the vast majority of the American people. Recent polls show that Americans favor the legal recognition of civil unions by an extraordinary margin of 60% to 34. There has been a transformation in our thinking on this issue over the past half-century. What would once have been regarded as nothing short of weird, now seems perfectly sensible. This is the American story. It is, in part, what makes us great. Over time, we have gradually recognized the common humanity of blacks, women, Asians, Jews, Catholics, and gays, all of whom have been the victims of cruel discrimination. The legal recognition of civil unions represents an important step forward in the continuing moral progress of the United States. It is, of course, a compromise, but it is a reasonable compromise at this time in our history. That is why it is supported by the vast majority of the American people.
The most vocal opponents of this bill argue that their religious freedom would be impaired by the recognition of civil unions. It is important to consider this concern carefully and respectfully, for it is no doubt heartfelt and sincere. So, the question is: How does the legal recognition of civil unions threaten the religious liberty of those who oppose the legislation?