In response to Mayor Richard Daley's statement in support of same-sex marriages, advocates from Undergraduate Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union at the University of Chicago (ACLUofC) began circulating a petition last week asking the City of Chicago to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
The University petition will be added to a citywide collection of signatures being sent to County Clerk David Orr, the official who must make the decision regarding whether Chicago will follow the example of cities like San Francisco and Bernalillo that allow same-sex marriages.
"All of us who have signed below want you to know that, as community members and as advocates of equality, we encourage you to take action against discriminatory marriage laws," the petition reads.
The University community, which last fall was recognized for its social activism, has embraced the petition enthusiastically, according to organizers.
Second-year in the College Emily Alpert, an advocate for the ACLUof C, said there were 680 signatures as of noon yesterday, with another two hours of tabling left. This response has been enormously successful by the group's standardsa similar petition against the Patriot Act took several weeks to gather only 200 signatures.
Alpert attributed the strong turnout to the University's large populations of liberals and libertarians, two groups that generally support same-sex marriage.
Signs of protest against the petition have been limited to sideways glances and scowls, according to organizers, who hadn't heard of any formal demonstrations or counter-petitions.
For an issue that has thrown the nation into a tumult in recent months, reactions from student leaders on the subject appear to be noticeably dispassionate. Instead of aggressively attacking opposing religious and political groups, most organizations have chosen to encourage a healthy, bipartisan dialogue through balanced and non-confrontational events.
Although President Bush and certain members of the Republican Party have publicly disapproved of same-sex marriage, College Republicans here held a forum two weeks ago inviting two speakersone in support of and one opposed to same-sex marriageto share their views.
"We are always trying to broaden our horizons and show people here we are not cruel conservatives," said second-year in the College Grace Lin, president of the College Republicans. "We all want the best for the nation, it's just different how we go about it."
Queers and Associates (Q & A), an undergraduate student organization that deals with gay and lesbian concerns, has not taken any public stand on the issue of same-sex marriage. This is partly the result of internal disagreement over how the topic should be approached, according to officials within the organization. Some members have used the group's listhost to distribute information, but to date no events or rallies have been planned.
"There are some people who believe that that this is not the most important issue that people should be worried about," said third-year in the College Jose Portuondo, coordinator of religious affairs for Q & A. "[They say] hate crime legislation and discrimination is where we should be putting our resources."
Portuondo, a practicing Jew who was raised in a Catholic school, said he did not perceive any particular friction between the gay and religious community at the moment. He added that many religious conservatives might not be comfortable speaking out against same-sex marriage in a liberal environment like the University.
The debate began in Chicago several weeks ago in response to the events in Massachusetts and California. Daley announced in a speech that he would have "no problem" with the issuing of same-sex marriage licenses in Cook Country, USA Today reported on February 19. Daley also said that allowing gay and lesbians to marry would not undermine the institution of marriage, a popular argument from conservatives who oppose homosexual unions.
Orr has acknowledged he is personally in favor of issuing the licenses, but said he wants to gauge public opinion and scrutinize existing laws to avoid a seemingly reactionary decision. Because Orr's decision is related closely to public sentiment, Alpert said the ACLUofC's petition carries added significance.
"Change will come from inside society," Alpert said. "Once people see stable relationships in their community between people of the same sex, they will realize that their communities are not falling apart and will become more accepting of the situation."
Cook County began issuing certificates of domestic partnership last fall. Similar in some respects to the concept of civil unions, these documents are less controversial to the political right because they do not confer any legal rights.
Since Vermont began issuing civil unions in 2000, several states have attempted to reach a compromise that reserves the terms and rights of marriage for heterosexual couples while granting same-sex couples some concessions. Thirty-eight states have laws barring the recognition of gay marriage altogether.
Neither Chicago nor Illinois has any law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. This could avoid the potentially dangerous legal pitfalls experienced by proponents of same-sex marriage in other states.