Thursday, January 3, 2013

Illinois Marriage Update: Two Steps Forward, One Step Backwards

Don’t worry, America. We’re getting there … it’s just going to take some time.
Illinois is still likely to become the tenth state in the nation to adopt equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples, but it may not happen before the new General Assembly is sworn in next week. The bill pending in the lame-duck session of the current General Assembly, known as the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, made progress today; but it was not taken to the floor of the Illinois Senate for a vote as its sponsors had hoped. NPR affiliate WBEZ reports:
A Senate committee has voted to legalize gay marriage in Illinois by a vote of 8-5. It passed after senators on the committee heard testimony from both supporters and opponents of the measure.
Despite the committee vote, the legislation is expected to have a tough road ahead.
Earlier Thursday, a spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton said the full Senate will take up the measure in “the near future.”
It also still needs to be addressed in the House of Representatives.
Sponsors want to pass the bill before Wednesday, when the new legislature is sworn in.
They have made a rapid push to make Illinois the tenth state in the country to adopt gay marriage as they look for the necessary 30 votes to approve it in the Senate.
But Rikeesha Phelon, a spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton’s office, said in an email to reporters on Thursday: “It is clear that we will need bipartisan support in order to take floor votes on gun safety and marriage equality this week. We will take some time to work on these important issues to advance them in the near future.”
The Chicago Tribune adds that the bill’s main sponsor in the Illinois Senate, Heather Stearns (D-Chicago), indicates that she has the 30 votes necessary to secure passage, but that not all the bill’s supporters showed up to work today.
Assuming Sen. Stearns is correct and there are at least 30 votes in favor of the bill in the current Illinois Senate, I hope she can successfully bring the matter to the floor before next Wednesday, when new Senators take the oath of office. It’s not clear from the reports I’ve seen whether all 30 supporters retained their seats, and media reports are agonizingly vague on this point. But you certainly get the sense that the tide has turned against anti-gay prejudice, as more and more Republicans come out in favor of marriage equality. From the ACLU of Illinois:
With support building for legislation that would give gay and lesbian couples in Illinois the freedom to marry, two prominent Republican Party leaders on Wednesday declared their support for the bill. Pat Brady, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, on Wednesday stated his “full support” of marriage equality legislation pending in Springfield. Brady is personally contacting Republican legislators to urge them to vote for the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, he said.
“More and more Americans understand that if two people want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, government should not stand in their way,” Brady said. “Giving gay and lesbian couples the freedom to get married honors the best conservative principles. It strengthens families and reinforces a key Republican value –that the law should treat all citizens equally.”
Also Wednesday, a key national Republican leader, former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman, joined Brady in urging the Illinois General Assembly to pass the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.
“Republicans should support the freedom to marry in Illinois, consistent with our core conservative belief in freedom and liberty for all,” Mehlman said. “Allowing civil marriage for same-sex couples will cultivate community stability, encourage fidelity and commitment, and foster strong family values.”
For what it’s worth, I like the way Mr. Brady and Mr. Mehlman put it: That marriage equality is about fundamental civil rights and about fostering stability and protecting families.
That’s absolutely right. Same-sex marriages serve exactly the same purpose as heterosexual marriages – for the two individuals involved, for their children, and for society as a whole. And if prominent Republicans at the state and national level understand that, it’s only a matter of time before marriage equality passes here, and, eventually, throughout the country.
Forward, people. That’s where Illinois is going.

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