01/05/2012 03:50 pm ET Updated Mar 06, 2012

The Right Thing to Do

If any of us needed a reminder that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in our state are still not fully equal citizens -- that bigotry and discrimination and hate still face so many of our friends and neighbors -- we got a rude awakening in December. The Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, suggested that the LGBT movement could "morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan," comments he has stood by in the weeks since.

We have made progress in Illinois. This is a state I love, and one where I'm running for State Representative. After decades of hard work, Illinois finally passed civil unions last year, and took a step in the right direction.

But civil unions are not marriage. And my support for full marriage equality distinguishes me from my opponent in the race in the 39th District here in Logan Square, Belmont-Cragin and Portage Park. Toni Berrios, the Democratic incumbent whom I am challenging in the primary, wavers when it comes to supporting equality for the thousands of LGBT people living in our district.

Reasonable people can disagree about many issues and policies, but equality and essential civil rights of a people is not one.

The United States has fought too long and too hard to become one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, to maintain laws that separate us, legislate our most private and intimate activities, and create legal categories that are used to undermine the dignity of our fellow citizens.

Right now, civil unions and marriage create the same legal rights for couples across Illinois. But supporting civil unions over marriage is very dangerous. First, it creates a hierarchy of relationships in our legal system. By denying same-sex couples access to the valued and historically significant term marriage, we keep them out of one of the most sacred traditions of our country. We communicate the idea that same-sex couples just aren't good enough to be allowed into the marriage party. Second, and most important, by creating two legal categories we give future law makers the chance to take rights away from one group while keeping rights intact for the other. This risk is why "separate but equal" was eliminated in America, why the civil rights movement struggled so hard to break down legal walls between citizens decades ago, and why we value the enshrined equality in our Constitution so much.

This is why I support full marriage rights for every citizen in Illinois. I could tell you it's because my older brother is gay and I see his incredible courage every day as he speaks out for equal treatment in all parts of his life. I could tell you it's because I have high-level LGBT staff members, or because Dan Cohen -- one of the leaders in the marriage equality fight in Massachusetts -- is a key advisor and friend. But these facts about my life and work don't explain my support for equality in Illinois. I support gay marriage because it's the right thing to do. Period.