SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Opponents of Illinois marriage equality legislation filled the State Capitol Wednesday to pledge continued opposition to the bill and to celebrate its slow progress in the state’s House of Representatives.
“If we don’t stand for something, then we will fall for anything,” said Bishop Larry Trotter of Sweet Holy Spirit Church in Chicago. “It has become clear that what could happen at this place is definitely against the word of God, the will of God.”
Several religious leaders, Christian activists, state lawmakers and others rallied the crowd and encouraged voters to visit their respective lawmakers to urge a ‘no’ vote on Senate Bill 10, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, if and when it comes up for consideration before the Illinois House. The bill has been stalled in the chamber since May, but proponents are hoping for a final vote early next month during the last week of the annual “veto session” Nov. 5–7.
Full legal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples is not inevitable, many speakers said, such as David Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute which organized the demonstration.
“Hopefully, we will continue to be able to keep this from passage,” Smith told BuzzFeed. “I don’t think [House members] have an appetite for it. Most lawmakers do not want to vote for this. Whether they are leaning yes, or leaning no, most do not want to even vote on this.”
Opponents of marriage equality like Smith and religious leaders throughout the state are capitalizing on the fast-approaching deadlines to file for candidacy in the state’s primary elections next spring. Some House lawmakers are concerned a ‘yes’ vote for marriage equality this fall will lead to primary challengers backed by religious institutions and conservative organizations.
Smith said that while his organization cannot financially back candidates he knows of many who plan to do so.
“We are a 501(c)3, so we don’t get involved in the politics, we’re just policy,” he said. “We are issue-oriented. But I do know lots of churches and pastors and community leaders—be they religious or not—who would.”
About 2,500 people packed the three floors under the statehouse rotunda just a day after about 3,000 marriage equality supporters staged a rally and march outside the capitol in the rain Tuesday, according to the latest estimates from local authorities. Participating organizations and churches carried hundreds to the capitol from all over the state.
Many waved signs saying “marriage is sacred” and carrying messages of opposition to what they suggest is the “redefinition of marriage.”
Peter LaBarbera, a longtime opponent of LGBT rights and founder of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality, condemned gay and lesbian relationships and warned of “pro-homosexual” changes to the institution of marriage.
“Homosexual male relationships are known for their promiscuity,” LaBarbera said. “Andrew Sullivan, a famous gay activist, said that outside sex is a reality of homosexual relationships. We will see marriage change in a pro-homosexual direction which will further undermine the nobility of marriage.”
LaBarbera and Illinois Family Institute board member Jim Finnegan, who is president of Illinois Choose Life, also warned that legal marriage equality will force the state public school system to teach children about gay relationships.
“By teaching acceptance of this dangerous, disease-filled, deviant and dead-end lifestyle as a good choice for our kids,” Finnegan said. “This is what happened in Massachusetts, what happened in California, what happened in Canada—this is exactly where they go with this. So marriage is just the start. When it is the law of the land in Illinois, then all of these other things begin.”
Additional speakers at the rally included Illinois Senators Kirk Dillard (R-Westmont) and Jim Oberweis (R-North Aurora), who boasted records of fighting against marriage equality legislation. Both voted ‘no’ when the Senate passed the bill on Valentine’s Day.
“That I’m here should not be a surprise to anybody,” Oberweis said. “I have always supported traditional marriage.”
At the end of his remarks, Oberweis promised to run against U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) if he can get enough signed petitions to enter the election. Durbin spoke strongly in support of the marriage bill at the previous day’s rally and asked undecided lawmakers, “Will you offer to everyone married in our state—regardless if straight, gay, lesbian, whatever—will you offer them the same federal benefits, or will you discriminate against some?”
After the rally, dozens visited the offices of their respective representatives and urged them to vote against the bill.
“We want to challenge our elected officials that we do not want same-sex marriage in the state of Illinois,” Trotter said. “We don’t want the moral fiber of American to go down wasted because we’ve gone against the will, plan and the word of God. And we want to send a message today that as we have come to Springfield, we want to stand for that which is right. We can no longer hide behind our differences and we can no longer go in the closet and shut the door.”
A small group of marriage equality supporters protested a prayer led by opponents prior to the rally.