There is a way that groups of people are pushed to the margins, and kept there for sometimes decades or centuries. In the past, groups including left-handed people, women, and religious minorities were harassed and or separated from general society. While, for the most part, there is no stigma in being left-handed, legislation has been necessary to protect the rights in the latter two groups. Although women and religious minorities can, as groups, list examples of living without parity in this culture, there is the validation brought through legal steps that acts as a psychological entitlement to parity. However, as we slowly make our way to deciding who gets rights in this country and who does not, two more marginalized groups come to mind. These are members of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community, and immigrants. Here in Illinois we have passed some landmark legislation that serves to promote rights to some members of both of these groups. Celebrating this only seems to diminish the truth of how far we have to go before fully recognizing the importance of human rights in establishing and maintaining a civil society.
Same-sex couples can now obtain "civil unions" recognized only within Illinois. Still, those couples that take these vows are eligible for some of the benefits that married couples enjoy, such as the right to pension benefits, medical visitation and decision making, and adoption and parental rights. Same-sex civil unions are not recognized federally, which seems to contradict the Full Faith and Credit Clause within the U.S. Constitution which mandates that all states within the United States have to respect the "public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state." Still, short of federally-recognized marriage, same-sex couples exult in the progress that validates their right to establish families that have a modicum of legal recognition and the protections that come with that.
For immigrants, Illinois has passed a state-wide "DREAM Act" that allows for undocumented students to save money for college in state-sponsored plans. This act also allows those immigrants brought here as children to, under certain circumstances, have access to a privately-endowed scholarship fund that will allow them contribute to institutions of higher educational and to society in a constructive fashion. It is important to note, however, that the Illinois DREAM Act does not provide any path to citizenship. This would have to be done on a federal level. And given that there is not equal access to wealth, opportunity, or even basic survival in many parts of the world, countries such as the United States would be served well by creating sensible and fair trade and immigration policy. Anything of this nature has yet to come to fruition.
Clearly we live in societies that are more global, mobile, and multi-faceted than in past generations. The piece-meal niggling over granting simple human rights results in a phenomenal waste of time, money, economic opportunity, and societal standing. A couple such as Claudia, from Palatine, and Maria, from Brazil should be able to stay together in this country, and raise their children as an intact family without the fear of Maria being deported. What does it mean for our society to reject the very things we need the most : tolerance, unity, love, collaboration, and global understanding.
Now that same-sex civil unions are legal (and in some states, same-sex marriage), the legal protections for undocumented spouses or civil union partners are called into question. This Tuesday, September 27th, two United States Congressmen, Representatives Luis Gutierrez and Mike Quigley, will appear together at the Adler School of Professional Psychology, at an event hosted by the LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Coalition of Chicago. In the event moderated by Mona Noriega, Commissioner of the Department on Human Relations, these Congressmen will attempt to elevate the discussion regarding the thousands of people in Illinois affected daily by the human rights limitations experienced separately and together by both of these marginalized groups. In solidarity with the daily work of the Coalition, Gutierrez and Quigley will attempt to bring a voice of support and reason to resolve the legal limbo experienced by all of the thousands in Illinois living with the double jeopardy of being gay, and being an immigrant, or loving one.
While many reading this may not belong to either of these marginalized groups, the push toward social and legal equality for all people is one thing we should advocate in an effort to show the love of our city, our state, and our country. Countries that place civil liberties first are healthier places to live, grow, raise families, and collaborate to the betterment of all. In a time when politics have become polarized, and issues have been made into cartoons, we owe it to ourselves to recognize that a freer society with greater human protections for all protects us too.