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Gay marriage bill passes state House, Senate — heads to Quinn’s desk

Updated: December 7, 2013 6:25AM



SPRINGFIELD — Gays and lesbians wanting the right to marry in Illinois won big Tuesday.

Finally.

Defying Bible-quoting critics, the Illinois House narrowly approved legislation to make Illinois the 15th state to allow gay and lesbian couples to wed.

The measure passed 61 to 54, with two voting present. The Senate then wasted no time in backing the amended bill 32 to 21, clearing the way for the expected approval by Gov. Pat Quinn, who was on the House floor for Tuesday’s vote.

“This is huge,” President Barack Obama tweeted. “The Illinois House just passed marriage equality.”

When the historic House roll call was finalized, cheers from the crowded House galleries erupted, and its main sponsor, state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, was swarmed by fellow House members who supported his cause.

“This bill will give them a better future,” Harris said in a steady voice, referring to same-sex couples across the state. “It’ll help families to show their love and commitment to each other and give all families a chance to live as fully equal citizens in the greatest country on the face of the earth.”

House Speaker Michael J. Madigan was one of the final speakers in the debate, giving the bill his blessing, pledging to vote yes and quoting Pope Francis.

“My thoughts regarding this legislation were formulated before the quote I’m going to offer to all of us,” Madigan told colleagues, as the packed House chamber fell silent. “And the quote that I offer is a quote from Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic church, who is quoted as saying, ‘If someone is gay, and he searches for the Lord, and he has good will, who am I to judge?’

“Pope Francis has spoken, and he has articulated the basis of my thinking on this issue,” said Madigan, who later acknowledged having personally lobbied between five and 10 House Democrats to support Harris’ bill.

But on Tuesday evening, the head of the Archdiocese of Chicago was anything but conciliatory toward the pivotal votes at the Statehouse earlier in the day.

“It’s no enormous surprise. There was a lot of effort placed into passage of this legislation. I think it’s bad legislation, but we’ve lived with bad laws before. It’ll make some people happy … but it will also, I think, change the nature of our society over a period of time,” Cardinal Francis George told the Chicago Sun-Times before speaking at Holy Name Cathedral.

The cardinal also rejected the possibility of gay or lesbian married couples, who are Catholic, from eventually being allowed to take communion in Chicago-area parishes.

“If someone is living in a lifestyle that is publicly against the Gospel as interpreted in the church, whether heterosexual or they’re gay, no, they don’t take communion,” he said. “But that’s the discipline of the sacrament that applies to everybody, not just to gays.”

Sounding a far more upbeat tone about passage of the bill, Quinn released a statement hailing Harris, Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and others “who have worked day and night to get this bill to my desk.”

“Today the Illinois House put our state on the right side of history,” Quinn said. “Illinois is a place that embraces all people, and today we are an example for the nation.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel tweeted his reaction: “With one vote, countless couples will be acknowledged for what they are under the law — families just like everyone else. Great day!”

But Bishop Larry D. Trotter, who helped lead opposition to the bill, applauded legislators “who stood up for God.”

“Regardless of the passage of SB10, we will always believe that marriage is between one man and one woman,” Trotter said. “Yet we will still love the members of the LGBT community. We pray God’s grace, mercy and blessings over the state of Illinois and the United States of America.”

Because Harris changed the bill’s effective date on Tuesday to June 1, the measure needed only 60 votes — instead of 71 — to pass the House.

Harris also amended his legislation to give greater safeguards to fraternal religious organizations so they don’t have to sanction same-sex marriages. That was recognized as a nod to Catholic lawmakers concerned that groups such as the Knights of Columbus would be compelled to open their facilities to same-sex wedding receptions.

Harris’ opposition consisted of a socially conservative brew of Roman Catholics, white evangelicals and black ministers, who all argued that giving gays and lesbians the same right to wed as heterosexuals defies the Bible’s definition of marriage, threatens children with pro-gay and potentially explicit instruction in classrooms and big-foots the ideologies and rights of their churches.

Rep. Tom Morrison, R-Palatine, who voted against the bill, went so far as to express worry that opening the door to same-sex marriage would lead to demands for similar recognition from those seeking to marry more than one person.

“If opposite-sex unions are discriminatory, then a limit to two people is as well,” he said. “And those who support polyamory or polygamy are taking note.”

State Rep. David Reis, R-Willow Hill, another Republican “no” vote, said he considers Harris a friend but objected to having the lifestyle of the Chicago lawmaker, who is openly gay, imposed upon him and his constituents in southern Illinois.

“What he does and other people do is [their] business,” Reis said. “But don’t make us, don’t make people who feel this is wrong, don’t make our students say it’s OK.”

State Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, who also voted against the bill, said the Bible defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, and no government has the authority to undo that.

“Even if the legal definition of the word ‘marriage’ was changed to include homosexual couples, those couples will not ever be truly married in God’s eyes,” she said.

On Tuesday’s roll call, only three out of 47 House Republicans — Rep. Ed Sullivan, R-Mundelein, Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, and Rep. Tom Cross, R-Oswego, the former House minority leader and a current candidate for state treasurer — sided with Harris.

During an impassioned floor speech, Sullivan referred to his young son and daughter and said he does not accept the state treating their grandmother, his mother-in-law who is a lesbian, as a second-class citizen.

“You see, I believe voting for marriage equality is the right thing to do. If I vote against this bill, a bill I believe in and a bill I believe is the right thing to do, how do I face my children? How do I tell them there is something wrong with their grandma?” Sullivan asked. “I can’t. I won’t.”

Others shared similar sentiments involving friends or family members, who are gay or lesbian.

State Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, a co-sponsor of Harris’ bill, spoke about a close friend, former reporter Terry Mutchler, and the committed but secret relationship she had with the late state Sen. Penny Severns, D-Decatur, in the 1990s. Severns died in early 1998 after a lengthy battle with cancer that forced her to drop her bid that year for secretary of state.

“Though I never met Penny, Terry told me they considered themselves married. They had a relationship. They shared a home. They were with each other through good times and bad. They were committed to each other as if they were married, but not within the laws of society. In fact, Penny’s [Senate] death resolution didn’t even mention her loving partner, Terry. Can you imagine that? How heartbreaking,” Williams said.

“Terry just wanted what so many people want — to express their love through marriage,” Williams said.

And within the 20-member House Legislative Black Caucus, an all-Democratic bloc targeted both by black ministers and same-sex marriage supporters, 14 members backed Harris, four voted no, and two didn’t take any position by casting “present” votes: indicted state Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, and Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan.

“I’m simply of the feeling . . . that separate but equal in Illinois and in this land is un-American,” said Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, who was on the fence until Monday and was among the 14 caucus “yes” votes Tuesday.

Overall, 11 out of 71 House Democrats voted against the legislation. They represented a cross-section of black and Downstate members, as well as a pair who are expected to be targeted by Republicans next year.

Now the 15th state allowing same-sex marriage, Illinois follows New Jersey, California, Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island, which this summer and fall gave gays and lesbians the legal right to marry.

For Harris, the push for same-sex marriage started in February 2007, when he filed his first piece of legislation legalizing nuptials for gay and lesbian couples. His legislation never gained real traction until this year, two years after he led the push for Illinois to recognize civil unions.

He faced a bitter backlash from within segments of Chicago’s gay and lesbian community last spring, when he had raised hopes of seeking a vote in the House after enlisting public support from political luminaries such as Obama, former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Emanuel and the governor.

But even with that backing and Illinois’ status as the bluest of blue states, Harris opted in May not to call the bill because he had not yet built a 60-vote majority.

The stalemate’s grip loosened when the U.S. Supreme Court in June issued a pair of rulings that held married, same-sex couples could claim federal benefits and that failed to uphold a ban on same-sex marriages in California.

And despite harsh rhetoric on the issue from Cardinal George and other Catholic leaders, their positions against the bill were severely undercut by several statements from newly installed Pope Francis that were widely interpreted — as Madigan himself did Tuesday — as more welcoming to gay and lesbian couples.

After the day’s quickly evolving developments, Harris credited Madigan for helping get his legislation passed and savored in a win that took years to achieve.

“This is the direction the country is going,” Harris said.

“I think we have a wonderful day for the state of Illinois here. It should be a proud moment for everyone in our state, but it should be especially a very happy moment for the thousands of lesbian and gay families across our state who know they’re on a very short path toward achieving equality and all the protections our law allows,” Harris said.

Contributing: Francine Knowles

Email: dmckinney@suntimes.com

Twitter: @davemckinney123



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