Same-sex marriage in Illinois may get stuck on political calendar
by dave mckinney Springfield Bureau Chief October 11, 2013 8:52PM
Rep. Greg Harris
Updated: November 14, 2013 6:35AM
SPRINGFIELD — The battle to legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois will reignite soon in the Illinois House, but neither side of the issue is predicting the votes yet exist to pass it despite forward movement on a national level.
Both sides of the hot-button issue plan to send bus loads of followers to Springfield on successive days when the General Assembly’s six-day fall session opens Oct. 22. But for now, the push to make Illinois the 14th state to permit same-sex marriage may have the political calendar as its largest obstacle.
State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the measure’s chief House sponsor, said he has gained support since May, when he lacked the necessary 60 House votes to pass it and opted against seeking a roll call. But Harris wouldn’t divulge his current headcount or say when he will press for a vote.
“I’ve really not talked about schedules or roll calls in the past, but I think it needs to get done soon,” Harris said.
To enhance the bill’s chances this fall, Harris said “an option” involves changing the legislation’s effective date to next June 1 instead of it taking effect 30 days after Gov. Pat Quinn signs it, ensuring that only 60 House votes would be needed this fall for passage instead of 71. The Senate would have to pass it again under such a scenario.
Another option for Harris is to make no changes and wait for a vote until after Jan. 1, when the state Constitution and House rules require the lower 60-vote majority to pass a bill. If the votes exist then, it would go directly to Quinn, who has said he’d sign it.
Longtime gay-rights activist Rick Garcia, policy director of The Civil Rights Agenda, agreed that there has been forward movement since May but said the 60-vote benchmark remains elusive.
“We’re not losing any from May, and we may have picked up a couple more. But we’re still a handful away from having the 60 we need,” Garcia said.
After the issue stalled in the House, same-sex marriage advocates were buoyed by U.S. Supreme Court rulings in June that struck down a 1996 law blocking federal recognition of same-sex marriages and another decision that permitted gays and lesbians to marry in California. Also, in August and September, Pope Francis made statements that gay-rights advocates interpreted as a softening of the Roman Catholic church’s hard-line opposition to homosexuality.
Despite that political cover, Garcia said perhaps the main impediment facing Illinois is the political calendar. Lawmakers seeking re-election must submit their nominating petitions Dec. 2, more than three weeks after the scheduled Nov. 7 conclusion of the fall session. That leaves time for potential candidates opposed to same-sex marriage to gather enough signatures to mount primary challenges against House members who vote for Harris’ legislation.
“That’s what the holdup is,” Garcia said.
Same-sex marriage critic Bob Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, said opponents still appear to outnumber supporters of the legislation because of its potential impact on religious liberties and that, indeed, possible primary challenges await any “yes” votes in the House.
Gilligan acknowledged the U.S. Supreme Court decisions and the pope’s statements are now “in the mix,” but local sentiment trumps those headlines. “Legislators have to respond to their constituents in their districts, and in many legislative districts, it’s an issue that’s close.”