When asked by a same-sex couple to help them in a dispute with their landlord, Bernard Cherasov, who was a lawyer at the time, said it pained him to tell them there were no laws protecting them and he could not help.
Seven years later, Cherasov, chief executive officer of Equality Illinois, an advocacy and promotion group for LGBT people and their rights, spoke about why he joined the battle for civil unions and the confusion many in the state feel about the newly initiated law. A bill legalizing civil unions in Illinois was approved Nov. 30, 2010, signed by Gov. Pat Quinn on Jan. 31, 2011, and went into effect June 1, 2011.
Cherasov was one of three speakers Tuesday who addressed the filled Lesar Law Building Auditorium for the SIU Women’s Law Forum event, Civil Unions: What You Get and What You Don’t.
Kateah McMasters, a third-year law student from Monticello and vice president of the Women’s Law Forum at SIU, said the mission of the night was to inform the law students of the issues surrounding civil unions and to help them understand some of the deeper issues regarding subjects such as gay marriage and the rights it would entail.
The presenters gave the students advice for their future careers in law and brought first-hand experience on the subject of civil unions to the students, something that McMasters said isn’t necessarily received in the classroom.
The students were provided packets of information on civil unions, including the impact they have had on Illinois as well as issues related to other states.
The Women’s Law Forum is a Registered Student Organization dedicated to educating itself and others regarding the legal and social status of people, as well as advocate reforms for the promotion of equality under the law, according to the RSO’s website.
Ray Prather, the final speaker of the evening, said civil unions only offer a fraction of the rights “handed out” with a marriage license.
“Most of these rights can never be reached with a private contract,” he said.
Prather said the Defense of Marriage Act, which states marriage is strictly between a man and woman, is what started the Civil Union Act, and although the Obama administration no longer defends DOMA, it still enforces it. Prather said this is why he and other activists are still fighting for equal rights.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, a former law professor at SIUC and advocate of civil unions, also spoke at the forum.
“It’s a new law, and it feels great to be helping lead the way,” she said.