Marriage Equality in Illinois: Hurry Up and Wait

In light of the passing of marriage equality laws in 12 states plus the District of Columbia, a microscope seems to be on Illinois to see if legislators and Governor Quinn will support their fellow Illinoisan, President Obama.  On May 29th, Obama raised the issue at a fundraising dinner in Chicago when he said of the pending marriage equality bill in the Illinois State House, “I just want to say for the record it’s something that I deeply respect.”

Obama reiterated his support in his speech last Thursday during an annual Gay Pride reception held at the White House, saying that it was time for marriage equality.  “(I)t’s clear we’re reaching a turning point. We’ve become not just more accepting; we’ve become more loving, as a country, and as a people.”

“I’ll continue to support marriage equality and states’ attempts to legalize it, including in my home state of Illinois. We’re not giving up on that,” he later added.

Many Illinois lawmakers remain undecided and certainly feel the pressure but refuse to make their intentions known.  Marriage equality supporters appear to have good cause for worry.

In the waning moments of the legislative session, Representative Greg Harris announced that the sixty votes needed to pass the bill simply weren’t there and that his colleagues needed more time to vote.  Harris is the sponsor of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.  Later, in an interview with Center Square Journal, the northside Chicagoan said, “at the eleventh hour, some members who had said they were inclined to vote yes became very nervous.” He added, “back in their district forces who oppose equality had been…saying the bill was going to attack religious freedom and take the rights away from churches – those kinds of things are not true.”

Pastors Larry Trotter and former State Senator Rev. James Meeks, from the African-American Clergy Association said that it was a victory…that the bill was not called for a vote for “the God-fearing Black Caucus members”.  Harris indicated that forces that “try to drive a wedge between the gay community and other progressives” cannot be allowed to succeed, citing the Black and Latino communities.

As it currently stands, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, having passed in the Illinois Senate in February, has been extended to August 31, with possible further extension into the veto seesion in late October and early November.  The good news for supporters is that Governor Quinn has agreed to sign the bill.

Quinn’s call for a special session next week limits the legislature to acting only on the state’s pension issues.