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Rep. Harris to stay on as sponsor of gay marriage bill

Updated: June 7, 2013 1:49PM

After suffering high-drama disappointment over the gay marriage bill at the state Capitol last week, State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) said he’s ready to get back to work.

“We go back into all the legislative districts in Illinois, we continue to work with our friends, with faith leaders and we continue to do the hard work on the ground,” Harris told the Chicago Sun-Times in an interview this week. ”I’ve taken the issue this far. We’ve passed the civil union law. I’ve been asked by many of my colleagues to stay on. If you look at my Facebook page, people seem to think it’s a good path to go. I will work tirelessly with my colleagues from all caucuses to get this done.”

“I’m unhappy we did not get it done last Friday. I also look at our history and know sometimes you have to take the long view and make decisions to make sure you will be successful,” Harris said.

Harris said he spent virtually all of his time in the last session working the bill to legalize gay marriage. He said he was battling “powerful forces” who had persuaded members in his caucus as well as in the Republican caucus, and he knew he didn’t have the votes by the last day of session. He was taking people’s temperature on the issue not just weekly, daily or hourly but “sometimes every 15 minutes checking,” he said.

“If a bill like this … doesn’t immediately go to 60, it can easily go back to 40. I said this all along, when I put it up on the board, it’s going to be 60,” Harris said. “This is not something you take a roll call in March or April, you are taking the temperature of folks on the floor, in the evening, sometimes every hour.”

But some gay rights activists had some harsh words for Harris when he opted not to call the bill for a vote last week — that included from Rick Garcia, who suggested there should be a new bill sponsor and accused Harris of being beholden to the powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

When asked about that criticism, Harris said he said he received an outpouring of support from those who want him to continue leading on the issue.

“There are lot who are saying you made the right decision,” he said.

Harris gave an emotional speech on the House floor, last week, pausing to fight back emotion, to say he didn’t think the votes were there and strategically, thought the issue was better served by waiting to call it when the votes were there. The chamber’s gallery was teeming with gay and lesbian couples who were crestfallen when the issue was never called for a vote.

On the other side of the issue, religious leaders had been lobbying against the measure, including Cardinal Francis George as well as the Rev. James Meeks, influential in the black community where the pro-gay marriage side was finding difficulty gaining traction.

“I think in our caucus there were a number of districts where a lot of misinformation was spread about what the bill does and does not do,” Harris said. “We very clearly crafted it to respect all faiths and traditions. You saw ministers and clergy on both sides of the issue. We were very careful to not use the law to advantage one particular church or the other. In the eyes of the law, we have to treat all families equally.”

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