Marriage equality bill awaits Illinois legislators after they return from break

Mon. April 8, 2013 8:08 AM by News Staff

Second GOP state lawmaker backs same-sex marriage bill

Chicago, IL - Illinois lawmakers head back to Springfield on Monday where a marriage equality bill awaits a vote in the full House. The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, which, if passed, would make Illinois the 10th state to allow same-sex marriage, had gained momentum heading into the two-week break.

"Even while lawmakers were on recess, support for the marriage bill has been growing and momentum building," Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov told "Every day we are hearing from more and more lawmakers wishing to do what is moral and what is right and what is wanted by a clear majority of Illinoisans - pass the marriage bill."

The bill passed the House Executive Committee in a narrow 6-5 vote Feb. 26, and the full state Senate Feb. 14. A full House vote is the final hurdle before the measure reaches Gov. Pat Quinn.

State legislators return to work on Monday with increased national pressure to pass the bill after U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) came out in support of marriage equality last week.

"When I climbed the Capitol steps in January, I promised myself that I would return to the Senate with an open mind and greater respect for others," Kirk wrote in a statement. "Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage. Our time on this Earth is limited, I know that better than most. Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back— government has no place in the middle."

On Sunday, state Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr. (R-Mundelein) announced his support of the bill. Sullivan told the Chicago Tribune that his decision represented a personal and family evolution on the issue.

"The first reaction from people might be, 'Well he might be voting for that just because of his mother-in-law,'" he said. "The reality is, because my mother-in-law is gay, I have more of an understanding and familiarity with same-sex couples."

Sullivan becomes the second House Republican to support the legislation after state Rep. Ron Sandack (R-Downer's Grove) announced his support.

"Rep Sullivan's support for marriage honors the founding Republican principles of individual freedoms and the government not limiting private lives," said Cherkasov. "I know that his constituents and fair minded Illinoisans everywhere are very proud of him."

Illinois GOP chairman Pat Brady staved off an attempt to oust him from office last month after he voiced support for the legislation. Kirk and several moderate Republicans came to Brady's defense and warned that the objectors risked alienating more moderate conservatives.

Sixty votes are needed for passage. Even with a Democratic majority in the House, it's generally a more conservative body than the Senate; supporters have had to carefully weigh when to call the vote as numbers have fluctuated throughout March. Before the break supporters of the measure said they were within a dozen votes needed to pass it.

"There is tremendous momentum leading up to this vote. I think we're very close," Sullivan told the Tribune. "There's many of my colleagues that have talked about this, that have said it's the right thing to do."

State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the bill's sponsor, had long refused to publicly announce when it might take place. He told the Chicago Sun-Times March 4, "When I call this for a vote, it will pass."

A number of prominent Illinoisans have weighed in with support, among them Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who sent a message to supporters March 4 reminding them that "the clock was ticking" and that they should contact their legislators, as well as retired Chicago Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks and former Chicago Bears defensive end Richard Dent, who were among athletes signing a letter in support of the bill.

On Friday, Julian Bond, chairman emeritus of the NAACP national board of directors, sent a letter urging Illinois lawmakers to grant equal rights to "my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters."

"I believe that marriage strengthens families and communities. I believe that marriage provides the protection and security that every loving couples needs and deserves," wrote Bond. "I believe that marriage is a universal right, guaranteed equal protection under the law."

Fifty-eight percent of Americans think gay marriage should be legal, according to a recent poll by Washington Post-ABC News, and 36 percent remain opposed. The numbers are nearly the mirror opposite from opinion polls taken a decade ago—in 2003, 37 percent of Americans supported gay marriage, and 55 percent opposed it. According to a Crain's/Ipsos poll released last month, 50 percent of Illinoisans support gay marriage and 20 percent are opposed.

Cherkasov said that once lawmakers return for session, a vote could come up at any time.