Illinois, Rhode Island Poised to Become the Next States with Marriage Equality

by Kate Childs Graham  |  January 06, 2013

Illinois, Rhode Island Poised to Become the Next States with Marriage Equality Kate Ekman (center) rallies with fellow AFSCME members at the State Capitol in Madison, Wis.

On the heel of victories in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington, LGBT activists are continuing the fight for marriage equality. This week, in Illinois and Rhode Island, where same-sex couples can have civil unions but not  full marriage equality.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) AFSCME members in each state are cautiously optimistic that their states will become the next in a growing guild that has adopted marriage equality.

Kate Ekman is an office administrator at Northeastern Illinois University and a member of Local 1989 (Illinois Council 31). When she took the job and found out that she could join the union, she “jumped at the chance.” Since then, she has become active in her local, recently joining the executive board. Ekman is also a member of the LGBT community.

Ekman helped her local negotiate contract language that is more inclusive of LGBT people.  For her, the link between contracts and marriage equality is simple.

“If we have marriage equality, at least at the state level, we will provide a lot more of the equality that some of our contracts provide,” Ekman says. “It will institutionalize and equalize all of those benefits.”

Legislators across the aisle are supportive of the marriage equality law.

Ekman called her state legislators yesterday to urge them to support marriage equality. “But I also told them not to pass anything that would put our pensions at risk.”

In Rhode Island, AFSCME Retiree Jim Gillis, who is gay, is similarly hopeful that 2013 will be the year for marriage equality in his state. 

“Marriage is a right everyone should enjoy,” Gillis says. “Everyone works with gay and lesbian people, whether they know it or not. Everyone has gay and lesbian relatives, whether they know it or not. Everyone has gay and lesbian neighbors, whether they know it or not. By supporting marriage equality, you are supporting people just like yourself. “

Retirees face particular challenges where marriage equality doesn’t exist. They lack equal access to pension plan benefits – like survivor options – and other critical safety net programs that so many retirees rely on.

If achieved, winning marriage equality at the state level is only half of the battle. Repealing the Defense of Marriage Act is the only way that Gillis, Ekman and all LGBT workers and retirees will have equal marriage rights under the law.

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