US military veterans have joined the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in the state of Illinois where the governor and state senate have backed the reform but the Republican controlled House of Representatives continues to block progress.
Veterans Unite for Marriage decided to organize after the US Department of Veterans Affairs announced in September that it would begin providing equal benefits to military personnel who were legally married in their home states.
Key faces in the campaign include 80-year-old Korean War veteran Jim Darby who wants to marry his partner of 50 years Patrick Bova, decorated Iraq War veteran Travis Bickford, Vietnam War veteran Clayton Peterson and Marquell Smith – a Marine Corps Sergeant who was discharged in 2006 under the then policy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’
Darby and Bova are the lead candidates in the Darby v. Orr challenge to Illinois’ ban on same-sex marriage being mounted by Lamda Legal on behalf of them and 24 other couples.
Illinois currently allows same-sex couples to enter into civil unions but Darby says that is insufficient.
‘After over 50 years together, I have to wonder how our love and commitment to each other is still questioned,’ Darby said.
‘A civil union does not hold the same meaning as marriage, and Patrick and I know our love deserves recognition. We just want to be able to protect each other as we grow older.’
Bickford, who is heterosexual, said he began thinking about LGBT rights issues after a neighbor in his hometown of Franklin came out.
‘She came to school with a shirt on that said ‘I’m Gay’ in big letters,’ Bickford said.
‘Some close friends of hers came out around the same time. It made big waves in the community.
‘As a veteran, freedom equates to the personal pride I take in having served our nation in both domestic and abroad, at war. I thought about my neighbor from Franklin during my term, and I find it insulting that I risked my life under a pretense of equality and freedom when not all law-abiding, tax paying, good Americans share equal rights.’
Veterans Unite for Marriage have been endorsed by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn who released a statement in support of the group.
‘Our military and veterans have served around the world to help ensure the freedom of others,’ Quinn said.
‘They deserve nothing less than to be treated fairly and equally under our laws in Illinois as well. It is time for the members of the General Assembly to guarantee equal rights for all and send a marriage equality bill to my desk as soon as possible.’
50% of Illinois voters say they support same-sex marriage while less than 30% say they are opposed.
Illinois is one of a number of key battleground states where the group Freedom to Marry feels confident of making progress in in the near future.