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Last chance for Illinois marriage bill?

Greg Harris, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay state Rep. Greg Harris drafted the same-sex marriage bill — now in jeopardy — in the House. (Photo by Leah Jones via Wikimedia)

After a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples failed to come up for debate in the Illinois Legislature on Thursday, advocates are pinning their hopes on Friday, the final day of the legislative session.

“A vote has been promised, and now it is time to deliver on that promise,” said Jim Bennett, chair of the Illinois Unites for Marriage coalition, at a Thursday afternoon news conference, according to LGBT web publication, Chicago Phoenix. “We need marriage equality and we need it now.”

Illinois has been expected to join another 12 states and the District of Columbia in passing a same-sex marriage bill this year. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has signaled his eagerness to sign the bill into law, as well. However, the bill is now in jeopardy if the legislative session comes to a close without a vote.

In light of the urgency, three groups pushing for marriage equality in the state have called on supporters to push lawmakers on Friday, and plan a rally in the state capital of Springfield in order to press for a vote.

“We need you to join us for an urgent rally at the State House in Springfield tomorrow at 11:00 a.m.,” read a Thursday release from Lambda Legal, ACLU of Illinois and Equality Illinois. “Together, we’ll show the Speaker — and all our representatives — that we want a vote taken on the marriage equality bill before the House adjourns at the end of the day tomorrow.”

The three groups are calling on advocates to gather at the appointed time in the state capitol rotunda, and are offering free shuttles from Chicago to the state capitol for those who are unable to get themselves there, according to the release, as published by Windy City Times.

“Everything comes down to what happens before the end of the day tomorrow,” the release continues. “If a vote isn’t scheduled, we don’t win, and thousands of loving couples will continue being denied the protection and security they need and deserve.”

Last week, President Obama threw his support behind the bill in his home state, which supporters believed would help bolster support in the legislature.

John Becker, managing editor at the LGBT blog Bilerico Project, told Chicago Phoenix he called house speaker Michael Madigan’s office and received verbal confirmation of a Friday vote from a staffer.

“I decided to try to call Madigan’s office and I spoke to a male representative,” said Becker, who is also an LGBT rights activist and writer. “He said the vote will definitely happen [on Friday].”


Ill. House adjourns session without marriage vote

Illinois State Capitol, Springfield, gay news, Washington Blade

Illinois State Capitol (Photo by Meagan Davis via wikimedia commons)

Despite nationwide momentum, encouraging polls and support from high places, the Illinois House of Representatives adjourned its legislative session Friday night without voting on a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

An emotional Rep. Greg Harris — the bill’s sponsor — rose to announce the bill wouldn’t receive a vote in this session as he pledged to come back with the votes to win in the fall.

Harris told his colleagues the he was unable to forge the 60 vote majority needed to pass the bill, so he and House Speaker Michael Madigan chose not to call a vote — a decision some advocates are criticizing.

“I’ve never been sadder,” Harris said as he addressed the body.

Illinois LGBT organization The Civil Rights Agenda was highly critical in a statement sent out moments after the session ended.

“This is what happens when you allow a multi-billionaire and national organizations that have no clue about Illinois politics and how Springfield works call the shots. Sometimes we get exactly what we deserve,” said Rick Garica, Policy Director and Director of the Equal Marriage Illinois Project for The Civil Rights Agenda. “High priced media consultants and high priced lobbyists don’t get it done. What gets the job done is real people standing up and speaking out and that was horribly absent from this process. Today is a new day. Rich guys are no longer going to drive this – we are. And we will have marriage equality in Illinois.”

“From the beginning, we have been upset about the lack of diversity and inclusion in this process,” said Anthony Martinez, Executive Director of The Civil Rights Agenda. “Unfortunately the Sponsor didn’t include people of color in the sponsorship of the bill and the rich white guys from the north side of Chicago thought they could get it done with their checkbook. That was the downfall of this bill. We will continue to push and get this done.”

HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement “neglected the rights of its constituents by failing to vote on marriage equality legislation the Illinois” and called on the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a nationwide ruling in favor of marriage equality.

“For months, LGBT couples and their children have had their lives put on hold throughout an exhaustive political process that ultimately came up short,” Griffin said. “Today’s inaction is a prime example of why the U.S. Supreme Court must rule in favor of full marriage equality nationwide to ensure the security and welfare of these and countless other American families aren’t left to chance in future political battles.”

Freedom to Marry’s national campaign director, Marc Solomon said in a statement soon after the vote the result was a “disgrace.”

“After an overwhelming victory in the Senate, today’s failure by the Illinois House is a disgrace, especially for the thousands of committed same-sex couples who want and deserve to make the ultimate vow before their friends and family and spend the rest of their lives with the person they love, protected and supported by their marriage.”

The organization Lambda Legal already has a lawsuit pending in state court, Darby v. Orr, which aims to institute same-sex marriage. In a statement, Jim Bennett, Director of Lambda’s Midwest Regional Office, said that lawsuit would continue.

“This is a stunning failure in the Illinois House,” Bennett said. “This is too important to families across Illinois, and Lambda Legal’s lawsuit, Darby v. Orr which was filed a year ago yesterday will move forward. The day is coming when Illinois will have the freedom to marry.”


Illinois marriage bill author defends non-vote

Greg Harris, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay state Rep. Greg Harris drafted the same-sex marriage bill. (Photo by Leah Jones via Wikimedia)

LGBT rights advocates expressed anger on Friday after the Illinois House adjourned its legislative session without voting on a same-sex marriage bill.

Some of the criticism fell on gay Rep. Greg Harris, the author of the bill, for failing to bring it to a vote. The Illinois House speaker, Michael Madigan, has extended a deadline for the bill, which will allow it to come to a vote in a November veto session.

In a conversation with the Washington Blade on Monday, Harris said that a last-minute media blitz by marriage equality opponents had rankled some of the bill’s likely supporters. Harris said the decision to table the bill would lead to a better result in the long term, as colleagues could avoid having to go on the record before they were prepared to.

“I think that at the very end they realized that back in their home districts for some folks that there were horrendous distortions of the truth,” Harris told the Blade. “They wanted to be sure that their constituents understand that — one — this bill treats all people equally and — two — that we also respect the rights and freedoms of religions.”

Though following the vote, some same-sex marriage advocates criticized the bill’s author for not getting his colleagues on record, Harris said he believes the bill will have a better chance of passing before the end of the year if he’s able to give his colleagues more time to lay the groundwork in their districts.

“I think it is very clear that at the end when some of my colleagues came to me and said should the bill be called that day, they would not be able to vote for it, until they had time to get back to their districts and undo some of the misconceptions and misinformation out there and truly explain what the bill meant,” Harris said. “If a bunch of people had voted no, then it becomes incredibly difficult then to change those votes to yes should it come back later.”

But some longtime Illinois activists remain angry over the decision to table the measure, and claim the process was bungled due to secrecy and a myriad of political miscalculations.

“I am extremely angry at him,” said longtime Illinois gay activist Rick Garcia, senior policy adviser at Illinois advocacy group The Civil Rights Agenda. “I think it’s justified anger. But there are few with [Rep. Harris’] history of advocating for the gay community, and people with HIV, and his successes are innumerable.”

Garcia, who called Friday’s aborted vote “a disaster,” mixed praise with scorn when discussing Harris’ handling of the bill with the Blade on Monday.

“But I don’t want to point fingers or cast blame, because I’m just as much to blame,” Garcia said.

“I’m really angry and pissed off,” Garcia told the Blade. “I’m very angry at myself for allowing this fiasco to happen. I’ve passed all sorts of gay rights legislation in Illinois, and for months and months and months have been urging a true coalition approach — there was none — I have been urging we do something as simple as a roll call, and the sponsor would not share his roll call with any of us. Without a roll call we might as well just have blinders on, because we don’t know where we’re going or who to talk to or what to do. I also urged that we have a campaign manager for this, and then a guy who was Mr. Madigan’s staffer was the one that was hired. Shaw Decremer.”

Garcia told the Blade that he’s working with other Illinois LGBT community leaders to assemble a new coalition to work toward passage in the veto session, and is actively seeking leaders of a multitude of community organizations and people of color, “not just straight white boys.”

“They can hire as many straight professional lobbyists as they desire but they’re not going to drive the bus anymore,” he said. “Our community is, our supporters are, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Rep. Harris disputes the idea that community leaders were kept in the dark regarding the legislative process.

“I think there are layers and layers of involvement,” Harris said. “Each one is important and each one overlaps and interacts. There’s the public relations messaging. There’s the organizing of business leadership, there’s organizing of leadership in the Latino community, the African-American community, there’s on-the-ground, in-district organizing, there’s organizing of PFLAG families. There are many, many layers of organizing and I think people did wonderful, wonderful jobs.”

“Look at how fast we’ve moved on this issue,” Harris continued. “We didn’t get the result we wanted when we wanted, but we’re perfectly positioned to win.”

Harris said that opponents of same-sex marriage attempted to scuttle the legislation by turning historically marginalized communities against one another, and did so by using “robocalls” to pressure lawmakers and mobilizing religious leaders to lobby against the bill in a public, and — as Harris sees it — deceptive way.

“We’ve seen in state after state the same tactics from some of our opponents that have been used to try to drive a wedge between communities, and that is just not what this bill does,” Harris said. “If you read the press releases from some of the different religious groups that are affiliated with our opposition, they are crowing and taking credit,” he says.

Harris says that groups like the Urban League and the NAACP, as well as prominent African-American supporters of the bill worked very hard to try to combat what Harris called the “misinformation” that opponents of the bill were pushing in districts where support was tenuous, but that not enough work had been done to promote the religious liberties espoused in the bill, and that he believes his colleagues need more time to secure their positions with their constituents back home, or risk being threatened in the primaries.

Harris sounded resolute when asked about not backing down and calling a vote on the marriage bill in the November veto session.

“[My colleagues] made a commitment that when we come back they will be willing to call a vote, so I’m going to take them at their word.”

Harris did not comment on whether speaker Madigan had been as supportive and enthusiastic about this legislation as he had been during the successful 2010 push for civil unions, saying the speaker had publicly stated his support for the marriage bill.

Harris praised the members of the African-American legislative caucus and the Republican caucus — namely GOP co-sponsors Ron Sandak and Ed Sullivan — who backed the bill despite strong pressure from opponents. However, Harris said that an impending battle over the minority leader position in the House forced some GOP lawmakers to hold back from supporting the bill at this time, saying they could not vote in favor of the bill because of “intra-party politics.”

The longtime lawmaker — who authored the state’s comprehensive non-discrimination bill, and the state’s successful civil unions bill — confirmed that the leader of the African-American caucus, Rep. Ken Duncan — also a sponsor of the bill — had encouraged him to call the vote “earlier in the session.” However, Harris said the caucuses themselves took no position on the bill, so pressure to not call the bill to a vote did not come from the  Black Caucus or the Republican caucus, but rather from individual lawmakers who Harris said expressed nervousness about coming primaries, and other issues specific to their home districts.

Harris encouraged same-sex marriage supporters not to get bogged down in looking for someone to blame, but to keep the pressure on lawmakers in anticipation of another chance at a vote in this fall’s session.

“We need to also remember our history and focus on the fact that our opponents will do whatever they need to stop full equality from coming, but the direction of this country is clear, and equality and fairness will win out,” Harris said.

“Also remember other history in the state of Illinois — back in 1975, the very first time that the Human Rights Act was put into place that protected people who are LGBT from being fired or denied housing or public accommodation because of their sexual orientation. And that took 30 years to pass, and there were ups and downs during that process. When I first introduced the marriage bill in 2007, I’m not sure that anyone thought that we would be as a nation in the position we are today where there’s been so much progress on this issue. But we have to remember that there is still hard work, that our opposition is fierce, that they have a strategy. We have to be sure that we are uniters and not dividers of communities, and we have to stand up for equality — not just for ourselves — but for all other people who suffer at the hands of repression.”



Ill. legislators reintroduce same-sex marriage bills

Greg Harris, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Illinois state Rep. Greg Harris. (Photo by Leah Jones via Wikimedia)

Illinois lawmakers on Wednesday reintroduced bills that would legalize marriage for same-sex couples in the state.

State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and gay state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) introduced the measures in their respective chambers on the first day of the 2013 legislative session.

“It is significant that Rep. Greg Harris and Sen. Heather Steans plan to use the first day of the new General Assembly to reintroduce the bills recognizing the right to marry for all Illinois couples,” Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov said before the legislators formally introduced the same-sex marriage bills. “We expect the House and Senate to promptly pass the measure and remove the current barrier to the equal availability of civil marriage.”

The Illinois Senate Executive Committee on Jan. 3 voted 8-5 to advance a same-sex marriage measure, but lawmakers did not take up the proposal before their legislative session ended on Tuesday. President Obama, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Illinois republican Party Chair Pat Brady are among those who have urged legislators to back the measure.

Illinois is among the handful of states that include Delaware and Rhode Island in which lawmakers are expected to consider same-sex marriage bills this year.

Nine states and D.C. currently allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot.


BREAKING: Illinois Senate approves same-sex marriage bill

Greg Harris, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Illinois state Rep. Greg Harris. (Photo by Leah Jones via Wikimedia)

The Illinois Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to marry in the state.

The 34-21 vote came after more than an hour of debate.

“This is about equal protection under the law,” state Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights) said.

“The sky is not falling,” state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) added.

State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Pontiac) is the only Republican who voted for the bill. State Sens. Gary Forby (D-Benton,) William Haine (D-Alton) and John Sullivan (D-Rushville) opposed the measure, while four other Democrats either voted present or abstained.

Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) predicted the measure would force teachers to include same-sex marriage in their curricula. He also said it would adversely affect bed and breakfasts, florists and other wedding-related businesses.

“People will be discriminated against,” McCarter said as supporters who gathered inside the chamber laughed. “Promises from the proponents that this bill will not discriminate; that’s not true.”

Gay state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago,) who co-sponsored the measure with state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago,) applauded the vote.

“The momentum is building,” he said. “More and more House members are telling me they want to be on the right side of history and that they intend to support the bill.”

President Obama, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Illinois Republican Party Chair Pat Brady are among those who had urged legislators to back the measure.

“While this historic day is only half the battle, the Senate today put Illinois on the road to recognizing that, as President Obama said in his inaugural address, ‘the love we commit to one another must be equal,’” Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov said.

Same-sex marriage advocates from across the country also celebrated the bill’s passage.

“We thank the Illinois Senate for passing this historic bill, making this a sweet Valentine’s Day for loving same-sex couples across the state,” Jim Bennett of Lambda Legal said. “The momentum for marriage continues on this day American holiday honoring love and commitment, and we now urge the House of Representatives to join the right side of history and grant same-sex couples the dignity and respect of marriage.”

“We celebrate this wonderful gift of love on Valentine’s Day as the bill moves for consideration in the state House,” Maureen McCarty, online content and marketing manager for the Human Rights Campaign, wrote on the organization’s website.

The vote took place less than a month after the Rhode Island House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in the Ocean State. Delaware and New Jersey lawmakers are expected to consider the issue in the coming weeks and months.

Illinois is among the handful of states that currently allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. Maryland is among the nine states and D.C. that permit gays and lesbians to marry.

“I commend the Illinois Senate for passing the marriage equality bill today,” Gov. Pat Quinn tweeted shortly after the vote. “Full equality for all people is right for Illinois.”

The Illinois House of Representatives is expected to consider the bill in the coming weeks.

“The vote today for marriage was even stronger than the vote in fact for civil unions,” Cherkasov told the Washington Blade. “We came out from that with a really strong momentum.”


Illinois gay marriage bill advances

Illinois State Capitol, Springfield, gay news, Washington Blade

Illinois State Capitol (Photo by Meagan Davis via wikimedia commons)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.—The Illinois House Executive Committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in the state.

The 6-5 vote came less than two weeks after the state Senate approved the measure.

“The momentum we are seeing on this legislation is truly inspiring,” said gay state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago,) who sponsored the bill in the House. “Illinois is very close to treating all of its families equally under the law. I look forward to bringing this to a full vote in the House.”

Nine states and D.C. currently allow gays and lesbians to legally marry. Lawmakers in Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware and Minnesota are expected to debate the issue in the coming days and weeks.

Gov. Pat Quinn has repeatedly said he would sign the same-sex marriage bill if it were to reach his desk.