Progress is always met with increased resistance from forces committed to fighting change. That reality has been on display across the United States in the past few years as forces aligned against advances for women and LGBT people have invoked claims of “religious liberty” to defend their opposition to particular developments. The ACLU of Illinois, while committed to defending religious liberty, is fighting these false claims, which mask the real goal of using religion as a justification to discriminate.
This disingenuous campaign was seen most clearly this year when a Kentucky County Clerk refused to authorize gay and lesbian couples for marriage licenses even after the Supreme Court of the United States recognized that governmental bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional.
The ACLU of Illinois scored a huge victory in this area in September, when our clients, Todd and Mark Wathen, won a landmark ruling from the Illinois Human Rights Commission. Back in 2011, just after civil unions were approved in Illinois, Todd and Mark were looking for a location near their home in Mattoon to host their civil union ceremony – what they considered to be their wedding. They reached out to Timbercreek Bed and Breakfast in Paxton, Illinois, only to be rebuffed with biblical quotes and a rejection of their love. We are proud to have won this victory for the Wathens.
We also see religious discrimination in health care. Under the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act, doctors, nurses and health care providers not only are able to deny basic care to patients – based on the providers’ religious beliefs – but also deny basic information that would assist the patients to make the best health care decision for themselves and their families.
This year, the ACLU led an effort to amend the Health Care Right of Conscience Act in Illinois. We were so proud to stand with Mindy Swank when she told Illinois legislators about her harrowing experience, where health care providers left her bleeding and risking infection rather than terminate a pregnancy that was not going to term. And we are proud to stand with Angela Valavanis, who left her doctor of many years after being refused a tubal ligation and other forms of birth control – all because her doctor had sold her practice to a Catholic health care provider.
The bill that we drafted, House Bill 1564, cleared the Illinois Senate on a bipartisan vote and remains poised for passage in the Illinois House. But this is just the beginning. We will need to ensure that we are alert for other examples where individuals and institutions attempt to use religion to discriminate.