Illinois gay marriage bill clears committee, moves to full House

Tue. February 26, 2013 10:25 PM by News Staff

state rep. greg harris (d-chicago)

photo credit // file
Chicago, IL - A bill to legalize gay marriage in Illinois cleared its first hurdle in the House late Tuesday when a House Executive Committee passed The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act by a vote of 6 to 5.

The measure, sponsored by openly-gay state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), will now move to the the full House where opposition is expected to be more formidable. But Gov. Pat Quinn has said that he would sign the bill into law, and urged its passage in his State of the State address.

"The marriage bill is moving to the ultimate House vote with the strong momentum given it by the House Executive Committee," said Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov. "Now, every voice in the state that supports giving all loving couples the freedom to marry needs to be heard loudly and clearly in the Capitol."

Harris introduced the bill and witnesses, which included Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, Senior Pastor of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ and Camilla Taylor, National Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal.

Moss told legislators that the bill "allows for justice and equality for all families, without creating a situation of separate but equal."

Ryan Cannon and Daphne Scott-Henderson of Bloomington, a plaintiff couple in Darby v. Orr, also spoke on behalf of the bill. Scott-Henderson was unable to visit her newborn child because she was not initially acknowledged as a parent by the hospital. The couple testified that they want to marry to better protect their family.

"Now the task facing the lawmakers, and specifically the House of Representatives, is to summon the conscience, the courage and the political will to do what is right and move Illinois to the growing ranks of states that have taken the stand on same-sex marriage in the interest of advancing human rights," Harris stated before the committee.

The hearing was scheduled for 3 p.m., but was delayed until late Tuesday evening after lengthy debate on concealed carry amendments in the General Assembly. The measure passed shortly before 10 p.m.

"Ex-gay" Linda Jernigan, who works with the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), argued that being gay is not a civil right.

Arguments against the bill were not enough to sway the committee.

Voting for the bill were state Reps. Daniel Burke, Robert Rita, Greg Harris (replacing Edward Acevedo), Toni Berrios, Keith Farnham and Luis Arroyo.

Voting "no" was Mike Bost (replacing Ed Sullivan, Jr.), Renée Kosel, Joe Sosnowski, Michael Tryon and Democrat Eddie Lee Jackson, Sr. from East St. Louis.

Apart from Jackson, the committee voted along party lines.

Senate Bill 10, sponsored by state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), passed out of the Senate Feb. 14. and now moves to the full House for consideration, which is the final hurdle before it reaches the Governor's desk to be signed into law.

Democrats hold a large majority in the House, but not all Democrats support marriage equality. Harris remains confident the measure will receive the necessary 60 votes when called for a floor vote. No date has been set yet.

Gay rights advocates also remain optimistic as momentum builds among Illinois residents and local business leaders.

"The momentum behind marriage equality just keeps building," stated Rick Garcia, Director of the Equal Marriage Illinois Project and Senior Policy Advisor for The Civil Rights Agenda, the largest Illinois Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) civil rights advocacy organization. "We have seen an amazing surge of support from all over Illinois. With this historic vote we are one step away from marriage equality. We are still working to get the 60 votes in the house, and we will call the bill the moment we have them."

Illinois Lt. Governor Sheila Simon said in a statement, "Today's vote puts Illinois on the verge of making history, becoming a state that treats all people and relationships equally. Now is the time for Illinois to become the 10th state in the nation to recognize and protect the rights of all loving couples and their families. I have been a longtime supporter of marriage equality and have worked closely with Sen. Steans, Rep. Harris and members of the House and Senate to send this bill to the Governor and put Illinois on the right side of history."

A poll released last week by Crain's Chicago Business showed a growing number of Illinoisans supporting marriage equality, with 50 percent in favor and only 29 percent opposed to the bill.

"The bill has the backing of more than 300 faith leaders, 50 Illinois business executives, prominent African-American and Latino community leaders, many Republican Party leaders and President Obama. But most importantly, Illinoisans by a 21-point margin want to see all loving, committed couples be able to marry," said Cherkasov.

Illinois Unites for Marriage – a coalition led by Equality Illinois, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Illinois – said it will continue its statewide campaign in support of the bill.

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Crain's: Majority of Illinoisans back gay marriage

Illinois Gov. Quinn pushes for gay marriage in State of the State