SPRINGFIELD – An effort to prohibit most adoptions by gay couples in Illinois was voted down in a state Senate committee today.
By Melissa Leu
SPRINGFIELD — Known as a longtime supporter of gay rights, state Sen. David Koehler, D-Pekin, surprised many gay activists this year when he proposed a measure that would effectively ban gay adoptions.
Koehler, whose daughter is lesbian, told lawmakers at a Senate committee Wednesday that he sponsored the plan to uphold a promise he made to certain legislators who asked for exemptions to the recently passed Civil Unions Act for faith-based agencies.
Koehler was the chief Senate sponsor of the Civil Unions Act, which Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law in January. The act affords same-sex couples the same legal rights as spouses.
"I want to be true to that commitment, because I gave my word that I would come back and try to clarify this — perhaps maybe not that smartest political decision ever made, but one I feel honor bound to bring back," said Koehler, who mentioned his daughter disagreed with his reasoning.
A Senate committee pulled the brakes Wednesday on Koehler's amendment to the act, which would have allowed faith-based child welfare agencies to block gay couples from adopting or fostering children. The vote was 7-6.
Disappointed with the committee's decision, Sen. William Haine, D-Alton, considered the plan a "reasonable" application of the law.
"It doesn't refer to anyone's sexual preference at all. It's a bill that's designed to respect the rights, which are guaranteed by the First Amendment … and the custom and tradition of the United States, to respect profoundly held, long-standing religious beliefs," Haine said.
Faith-based agencies account for about 3,000 of the 16,000 children in the foster care system, said Bob Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois.
The Catholic Conference of Illinois is the political policy voice of the Catholic Church in Illinois, according to its website.
If passed, the plan would have allowed religious organizations to refer gay couples to other child services organizations, including the state's Department of Children and Family Services.
"I don't think we can continue providing foster care and adoption services to the most poor and vulnerable of the state of Illinois, if this legislation does not advance," Gilligan said. "We're just asking the state of Illinois to have the ability to refer."
Mary Dixon, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the measure "state-sanctioned discrimination." She said the plan would inadvertently prevent children from living with gay relatives.