In a move to crank up pressure on Illinois lawmakers ahead of their final week in session this year, marriage equality advocates delivered a petition with over 4,000 signatures Tuesday to the bill’s chief sponsor in the state House.
Advocates are pressing Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) to call the bill up for a final vote next week during the remainder of the annual “veto” session, Nov. 5-7. Lukewarm support from moderate Democrats and lawmakers fearing difficult primary election challenges next spring has stalled the bill since May.
“People are very fervent about this issue and they want Illinois to take its rightful place as state that values families,” Harris told BuzzFeed after receiving the petition. “I hope that my colleagues are paying attention, and I urge my colleagues to be ready to come back to Springfield next week ready to be on the right side of history.”
Harris promised a final vote on bill would come in November, and LGBT rights advocates are pressing him to keep his word.
“The purpose is to show Rep. Harris that he has tremendous support in the community to call this bill,” said John Kohlhepp, campaign manager of the Illinois Unites for Marriage coalition. “He can take this petition to [House] leadership and show them how much support there is in the community and to do it now.”
Illinois Unites volunteers visited churches, synagogues and even gay bars in Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood to collect the signatures — all signed by hand — in just two days this past weekend.
“Politicians are out right now trying to get the same kind of signatures to be placed on the ballot, including every single member of the House who is seeking retention,” Kohlhepp told BuzzFeed. “Most of those members are having trouble finding 500 signatures to be on the ballot.”
Prospective candidates must file nomination petitions to get on the ballot between Nov. 25 and Dec. 2.
“The juxtaposition of support for marriage equality in Illinois and the support for any one politician is clear — people want marriage equality,” Kohlhepp said.
Harris has long declined to discuss scheduling for the bill and where the vote count stands, but advocates suggest that a vote on the bill could come any day of session next week. Sources in Illinois Unites told BuzzFeed that if the bill comes up for vote, it won’t be until the very last day so anti-LGBT opponents will have less time to organize challengers to members supporting marriage equality before the petition deadline.
Lawmakers returned to the State Capitol for the first week of the special session Oct. 22-23, but adjourned without casting votes on the measure. On Saturday, a small group of LGBT rights activists led by the Gay Liberation Network picketed outside of Harris’ district office, attacking him for failing to call the bill so far this year.
Looking ahead to next week, Harris said he feels good, but urged supporters to call and email their legislators again.
“The people of Illinois have really stepped up over the course of the summer,” he said. “It’s not just people in one district, but across the state. It’s just the right thing and Illinois needs to get this done.”
The petition will also be useful when Harris speaks to other legislators when the session begins next week because, “it shows [Harris’] colleagues that this is a moment for them to make history,” Kohlhepp said.
Harris agrees the petition only adds to the momentum. “It is already in my car and ready to go to Springfield.”
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