With just days left before the Illinois
General Assembly ends its regular session, activists are scrambling
to get a gay marriage bill to the finish line.
Supporters have racked up an impressive
number of high-profile victories in recent months, including adding
three states to the marriage equality column through the ballot box
in November – Washington, Maine and Maryland – and an equal
number through legislative votes held this month, the latest state
being Minnesota. Wedding bells will also soon ring for gay couples
in Rhode Island and Delaware.
(Another victory came earlier this year
in Colorado, where lawmakers approved a civil unions law, possibly
the best outcome for marriage equality supporters until a
constitutional amendment is repealed.)
With Democrats in control of both
chambers of the General Assembly and Democratic Governor Pat Quinn in
support, the move from civil unions to full marriage wasn't expected
to come down to the wire in Illinois. After all, Rep. Greg Harris,
the sponsor of the civil unions bill in the House, committed his
support for a marriage bill even before the civil unions law took
effect in 2011.
“I think we'll let this bill go into
effect, and [couples will] get their licenses, people will see that
plagues of frogs will not come down and the world will not end,”
Harris told the Daily Herald. “In time, when it's the right
time, I'll put in a marriage equality bill.”
The marriage bill already has had one
false start. Last year during a brief lame-duck session the bill was
added to the agenda in the Senate but never came up for a vote. Its
champion in the chamber, Democratic Senator Heather Steans, said that
time was the main factor behind the decision to postpone a vote.
Six weeks later, on Valentine's Day,
the Senate approved the measure. A House panel agreed a month later,
leaving only one hurdle for the marriage bill to clear.
As Minnesota appeared poised to become
the 12th state to legalize marriage for gay couples, Quinn
called on lawmakers to act.
“It's time to vote,” Quinn said
earlier this month. “Illinois passing marriage equality into law,
I think, sends a great signal to the people of our state and the
people of America. So it's important to Illinois [that] the House of
Representatives get going.”
Pressure also came from a Sun-Times
“Somewhere in the Illinois House, we
believe, there are at least five members who have yet to say it out
loud but know in their gut that gay people have the right to get
married … Who will step up to be on the right side of history?”
Democrats have nearly a dozen votes to
spare in the House, and two Republicans have pledged their support.
Opposition to the measure has come from
the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which most recently
spent $75,000 on a robocall campaign featuring the voice of James
Meeks, senior pastor of Chicago's Salem Baptist Church, a former
state senator and a prominent African-America conservative voice in
“In my view same-sex marriage should
not be the law of the state of Illinois,” Meeks says in the calls.