Reality of gay marriage in the race for Illinois governor

Wed. January 27, 2010 12:00 AM by Amy Wooten

dan hynes, at eqil gala, supports marriage equality

photo credit // jay shaff

Dan Hynes supports full marriage equality, but activists don't believe it's in the cards

Chicago, IL - While LGBT activists are pleased that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Hynes supports full marriage equality, those working hard in Springfield to get same-sex couples equal rights don't believe passage of a gay marriage bill in Illinois is in the cards—at least not within the next year.

Current Gov. Pat Quinn (D), who supports civil unions, is getting a run for his money from opponent Hynes, who supports full marriage equality. However, those working on the issues say they are still a few votes short of passing civil unions legislation and dozens of votes short of getting gay marriage.

According to Equality Illinois political director Rick Garcia, Illinois is very close to having the votes needed to pass civil unions legislation introduced by openly gay Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago). In fact, Garcia is certain the bill could have passed last session.

"We thought that we had the votes last year and we got caught up in this little thing called impeaching the governor," Garcia said.

Harris is confident that he can still get the 60 votes needed to pass the bill in the House.

"Every year, every month that goes by, we definitely get closer," Harris said.

Despite this confidence, given the political landscape, there are no guarantees. According to both Garcia and Harris, the bill will not be called for a vote unless leadership signs off on it, and House leaders are currently concerned about the upcoming primary election, the November general election and the current economy.

"We have moderate Republicans who do not want to vote on a civil union bill before a primary and Democrats who don't want to vote on it before the general election in November," Garcia said. "Things happen that hold things up. You have to have a steady course and play the hand you were dealt."

In the U.S., no legislator has been voted out of office for supporting civil unions. But until Democratic leadership knows which candidates may be vulnerable following the results of the Feb. 2 primary, they are afraid of taking any chances.

"This year we have the economy and the election coming up, and people care about their votes," Harris said. "A lot of people are undecided now and are looking at their elections in November. And there are a lot of other hard votes coming up that need to be put first. It just becomes one more part of a larger consideration."

Quinn remains solid in his support of civil unions legislation. Meanwhile, Hynes supports full marriage equality over anything else. Many LGBT activists are pleased that Hynes has been a vocal supporter, but those working in Springfield don't think obtaining gay marriage is possible yet.

Harris called Hynes' position "striking," and applauded other political candidates for also showing strong support this season. However, he thinks gay marriage advocates might have a long wait.

"I think it's a process we all have to keep working on," Harris said, adding that one just needs to look at setbacks in Maine and other states. "For a lot of people, including Illinois legislators, they are still struggling between the rights marriage provides and this idea of the sanctity of marriage."

Hynes said that if elected, he would never second guess what LGBT activists and legislators think is the best approach. However, he said he will continue to vocalize that for him, marriage equality is the ultimate goal. "For me, I just want to be candid on the issues I care about," Hynes said.

He is unsure that a marriage equality bill can be passed within the year, but doesn't want to give up.

"I think it will be a tough battle, but it will be worth fighting," Hynes said.

Garcia estimates that the House has, even on the very best day, only 12 "yes" votes for a gay marriage bill. They would need at least 60.

"Some people have been excited about Dan's (Hynes') position because it's a position we want to hear and people have been disappointed in Quinn because it's a position we don't want to hear," Garcia said. "It may not be what we want to hear, but it's the truth, and Quinn believes we can pass civil unions this session."

According to Quinn's communications director Elizabeth Austin, the governor supports civil unions only because he believes it can pass. While Quinn has said that he believes it is possible to pass civil unions legislation within a year, he doesn't think it is likely that same-sex marriage legislation can pass anytime soon.

"At this point, I think that Gov. Quinn is pursuing the most pragmatic option to ensure that committed relationships receive legal equal rights," Austin said. "It (civil unions) seems today to be politically more probable. But we're very clear that marriage equality is an important goal for many people."

Hynes, however, believes that it is important for supporters to fight for full equality, regardless of how long it will take. "The reason I support full marriage equality and I am ready to fight for it is we shouldn't base fundamental human rights on what's possible, but what's right," Hynes added.

Although Garcia hopes for a civil unions vote in the spring, he said there is still a lot of hard work to do getting those few extra legislators on board. After all, Harris said he will not ask for a vote until he's sure he has the necessary votes. The strategy to get that handful of remaining votes will not change from prior years. Civil unions supporters want constituents to keep contacting their legislators, particularly if they live in or have family from suburban or rural Illinois.

"I understand people in our community are frustrated," Garcia said. "But we are not going to do what New York did. The only thing I can say is to trust us."