SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — More than 2,000 people rallied outside the Illinois Capitol for marriage equality, but the House likely won’t vote on a marriage bill until next month — if at all this year.
About 2,300 people attended the March on Springfield, local authorities said.
“Now that the Supreme Court has ruled, I say to members of the Illinois House of Representatives, you have an awesome and historic decision,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told supporters. “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.”
Durbin was joined by several other leading elected officials including Gov. Pat Quinn, Lieutenant Gov. Sheila Simon, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, in calling upon the state’s House of Representatives to finally take a vote on the measure this week, the first part of the legislature’s annual “veto session.”
Senate Bill 10, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, has been stalled in the House since May.
Marriage equality activists are hoping the House will vote on the bill during the special session, which is split into two weeks — Oct. 22-23 and Nov. 5-7. But while supporters marched outside, House leadership canceled session scheduled for Thursday, leaving less time in an already crowded legislative session for the bill to come up, advocates said.
Fast approaching petition deadlines to run in the 2014 primary elections and major fiscal issues the state faces, like pension reform, are keeping some lawmakers from committing to a ‘yes’ vote for the bill, which needs at least 60 votes to pass if it is amended to take effect next summer.
“The holdup solely revolves around peoples’ personal interests in being reelected as opposed to representing the families — all the families — of the state of Illinois,” Rep. Sam Yingling (D-Round Lake Beach), a cosponsor of the bill, told BuzzFeed.
“There are legitimately scheduling issues at this time, but there is also a contingent of members who again are wanting to put reelection bids ahead of what needs to be done for the people,” Yingling said. “My personal belief is that the votes are there and that they will be there when [the bill] hits the board.”
Only the chief sponsor of the bill, Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), can call it for vote; however, House leadership — specifically, Speaker Michael Madigan, who controls the Democratic majority in the chamber — is said to have significant influence if and when bills are considered. In the final hours of the spring session last May, Harris tearfully told a packed House gallery that his colleagues need to take the summer before casting a vote on marriage equality, but would do so in November. The Illinois Senate already passed the measure on Valentine’s Day.
Standing before thousands at the rally, Harris said all eyes are on Illinois, when at the same time, activists and community members pressing for the bill are looking to him to make a move.
According to the results of a new poll released Monday by Equality Illinois, approval for marriage equality among Illinois voters has increased in recent months. A majority of voters, or up to 54%, support marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples — with significant majorities among women, African-Americans and even Catholics (61%). Only 39% of voters surveyed oppose marriage equality.
Marriage equality opponents, led by the Illinois Family Institute, will stage a similar demonstration outside the Capitol on Wednesday.
Harris told crowds gathered in the rain, “It’s time. We need to get this done. We need to extend the protections and responsibilities of marriage to all citizens.”
But Harris won’t reveal how many votes he has secured or when he intends to bring the bill to floor. At a press conference before the rally, Harris joked with reporters about how he never talks about scheduling or roll count vote tallies. At one point during Harris’s remarks, several chanted “Call the bill! Call the bill!”
However, Harris and the bill’s cosponsors are in conversation about bringing the bill up for vote soon, according to Yingling. Another member, Rep. Deborah Conroy (D-Villa Park) signed on to the bill as a cosponsor, making 22 in total.
“I have had conversations with Rep. Harris along with some of the other cosponsors of the bill and there is — and we are seeing — movement to call the bill,” Yingling told BuzzFeed. “I’m not going to speculate about when.”
If the bill comes up for vote during the “veto session,” it won’t be until the very last day, Nov. 7, so that marriage equality opponents will have less time to organize challengers to members who vote in favor of the bill, according to several sources, including advocates in the Illinois Unites for Marriage coalition and cosponsors in the House.
Gov. Pat Quinn, a strong supporter of the marriage bill, took a pen out of his pocket and said he is ready to sign the bill into law should it land on his desk, when speaking under the Capitol rotunda.
“The time for marriage equality in Illinois has come,” Quinn said.
Quinn, in addition to several other proponent elected officials and activists, also addressed the crowds. The general message: Get the job done — now.
The rally ended with remarks by religious leaders from throughout the state and appeals from same-sex couples and their families, saying, “We can’t wait.” Jim Darby, a navy veteran, and Patrick Bova, a retired teacher, urged the House to approve marriage equality so that they can be buried in the same military cemetery, a right they are not afforded in their civil union — the highest legal recognition for their relationship in Illinois.
After the rally, those who had braved the rain took to the streets in front of the capitol and marched around the block. It was the biggest LGBT rights march ever staged in Springfield, according to activists, including Rick Garcia, who has advocated for equality in the state for decades. Garcia is the policy director and head of the Equal Marriage Illinois Project at The Civil Rights Agenda.
“We have had no leadership on this issue in the state of Illinois,” Garcia told BuzzFeed in regards to the bill’s slow progress. “It has been a cash cow for national organizations who have swooped in like vultures. We have a sponsor who is completely beholden to the Speaker.”
But Garcia also directed criticism at himself.
“No organizations, including my own, have shown the leadership to get this bill passed. I take much of the blame for this holdup because I have passed dozens of pieces of legislation in the state of Illinois. I know how to get it done. Who is showing leadership on this?”