Marriage forces get ready for Illinois House vote

Wed. May 1, 2013 6:16 AM by Matt Simonette

Gov. Quinn: 'We're within striking distance'

Springfield, IL - Legislators have returned to Springfield this week, and numerous activists are asking whether this could be the week that the House will vote to make Illinois the 10th state permitting same-sex marriage. (Editor's note: On Thursday, May 2, Rhode Island became the 10th state to approve same-sex marriage.)

The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act passed the House Executive Committee in a narrow 6-5 vote Feb. 26, and the full state Senate Feb. 14. Should the legislation pass the House, the bill's passage is all but guaranteed. Gov. Pat Quinn has long assured marriage equality advocates that he will sign the legislation, and today told Windy City Times that he thought the vote was close.

"We've been talking to house members of both parties, really dozens of them," Quinn said. "I'm really optimistic we're within striking distance. Hopefully between now and the 31st of May, Greg Harris, our sponsor, will find a moment to call the bill for a roll call."

Several other lawmakers have picked up the baton as well, among them House Speaker Michael Madigan, who suddenly announced back in March that the bill was 12 votes shy of passing, had publically expressed his desire to see the bill pass. His daughter, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan—whose office last year intervened on behalf of 25 couples who sued the Cook County Clerk's office for the right to marry—penned an April 24 Chicago Tribune editorial in support as well. She wrote, "Legal arguments aside, this issue at its heart is about one of the most fundamental decisions we can make — with whom to share our lives. In every community in Illinois, same-sex couples have chosen to join together and, in many instances, to raise families of their own. ... They deserve the same rights and responsibilities that civil marriage offers straight couples."

Some support has started to stream in from across the aisle, as some GOP politicians started to speak out on behalf of gay marriage. Sen. Mark Kirk on April 2 said he supported the legislation, owing to a change of perspective brought on by his near-death experience. "Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage," said Kirk in a statement. "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."

Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady Saturday contended with two unsuccessful attempts to oust him as party chairman, led by anti-gay state Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove), over his support for same-sex marriage.

"I think there are people in the party who don't necessarily agree with me, but the point is ... .we're a party that welcomes all ideas," Brady told the Chicago Sun-Times April 13. A number of GOP officials, including former Republican Govs. Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar, Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka and House Republican Leader Tom Cross, voiced support for Brady.

Many activists and politicians contend that a large number of GOP House members support the legislation in private but are to afraid to vote yes for fear of a backlash from constituents. Activists have thus continued efforts to lobby and educate them, along with reluctant Democrats. Organizations such as Equality Illinois, Lambda Legal and The Civil Rights Agenda have repeatedly called upon residents to contact their legislators to both urge them to vote yes and share connections with gay and lesbian family and friends.

"Every day until this passes, people need to be in touch with their representatives—let them know that the people of Illinois want this brought to a vote," said Bernard Cherkasov of Equality Illinois in March.

But marriage equality advocates aren't the only ones calling Illinoisans to action. The conservative website Illinois Review reported April 30 that constituents of State Reps. Bob Rita (D-Blue Island), Elgie Sims (D-Chicago) and Art Turner (D-Chicago) are receiving robo-calls urging them to ask their legislators to vote no on the legislation. The Calls feature former State Sen. James Meeks and are funded by the National Organization for Marriage. They reportedly stem from a coalition between some African American ministers, Hispanic ministers and the Chicago Archdiocese, according to Illinois Review.

African American legislators are expected to cast the deciding votes, hence the heavy lobbying from Meeks. A number of supportive African American clergy, however, have leant their support. On April 5, a coalition of about a dozen pastors spoke in the Loop in favor of the legislation.

Support for marriage equality in Illinois continues to grow; a recent Crain's/Ipsos poll shows Illinoisans supporting marriage equality, with 50 percent in favor and only 29 percent opposed. Of the 50 percent in support, 37 percent "strongly" support the freedom to marry, according to the poll.

Should the vote not occur this week, the bill's sponsors will be under pressure to get one to take place before May 31, when the House adjourns. In that case, a vote is not likely until the fall session.

Follow on Twitter (@GoPride) for continuing updates.

Illinois Gov. Quinn pushes strong for marriage equality bill