Cross-posted from The Chicago Tribune Voice of the People, May 15, 2013
One hardly knows where to begin with a columnist like Dennis Byrne ("Traditional values under legal attack," Commentary, May 7). Byrne singles out three pieces of legislation supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and declares that we wish to "dismantle the traditional family."
Byrne laments the reduction of "traditional" values; problem is that his "traditional" values are not those of most Americans.
He supports discrimination, ignorance and exclusion.
We support fairness, knowledge and inclusion.
I'm comfortable with the side that the ACLU is on.
Byrne's first target is legislation in Springfield that removes an antiquated requirement under Illinois law that forces medical authorities to inform school principals of the names of students with HIV.
This process invades the privacy of and stigmatizes students — leaving them open to discrimination — when the principals (as the law allows) share the information as they see fit.
No other state still requires this disclosure, a relic of a bygone age in which we did not understand HIV and AIDS.
Byrne them turns his eye to a House bill that modernizes sexual health education for public school students in grades six through 12 in Illinois.
For Byrne (and others), the bill is troubling because it provides age-appropriate information about sexual health to students, in curricula that are evidence-based.
Countless studies have demonstrated that "abstinence-only-until-marriage" curricula, endorsed by Byrne, are ineffective and do not serve young people well when they make decisions throughout their lives.
Byrne apparently would prefer our students be ignorant about their sexual health rather than learn information that is accurate and age-appropriate.
Finally, Byrne critiques a measure to update and modernize the parenting laws in Illinois. He suggests that legislators should ignore the changes in family formation, and that they should fail to ensure that each child's bonded relationship with his or her parents is protected, whether the child's parents have married, entered into a civil union or otherwise established a formal legal relationship that extends to their children.
(For the record, there are parts of the rewrite of the parenting bill that the ACLU still opposes, but we understand and support the need to update these laws.)
Byrne's column reflects a dangerous trend in the media today.
The word "traditional" tends to be assigned in discussion of values only to a narrow set of beliefs, held by a smaller group of individuals, whose protection has a negative impact on a wide range of people.
Happily, most Illinois voters and most Illinois legislators recognize Byrne's arguments for what they are: relics of a bygone era that do not reflect the way we live today as a society.
While it is vexing that this minority view is given such prominence, it is comforting to know that it is a minority view.
— Colleen K. Connell, executive director, ACLU of Illinois, Chicago