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Emanuel tries to pressure state House to pass gay marriage bill

Updated: April 6, 2013 6:17AM

Four months after ranking gay marriage as his No. 3 legislative priority in Springfield, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday turned up the heat on state lawmakers in an effort to put the bill over the top in the Illinois House.

In an email to the vast network of supporters he created during the mayoral campaign, Emanuel created a vehicle for gay marriage proponents to pressure their state representatives with the click of a mouse.

“The clock is ticking. The House is poised to vote…in the coming days. And I know from talking with several of my friends in Springfield that some members of the House still haven’t decided which way they’ll vote,” Emanuel wrote in a personalized email to supporters Monday.

“If we’re going to pass this bill, it’s crucial that members of the House hear from marriage supporters every single day until the freedom to marry becomes law in Illinois.”

Gay marriage proponents were urged to “click here to send a message to your Representative now.” The mayor’s email includes a separate link for those who want to “urge the House to pass [Senate Bill] 10 and extend marriage to all Illinois families.”

The bill was approved by the Illinois Senate by a 34-21 roll call on Valentine’s Day. On that day, House sponsors predicted they would have the 60 votes needed for passage, but offered no timeline for the roll call, a sign that the head count was close.

Without pinpointing the source, Emanuel’s email claims that the “latest polls” show Illinois voters “support this legislation by a 21-point margin.” The lopsided support in Illinois mirrors a national sea change on the subject just two years after the Illinois General Assembly authorized civil unions, the mayor’s email claims.

“It’s time for the laws of our state to reflect the values of our people. It’s time for Illinois to take the lead,” the mayor wrote.

“Real change happens when citizens stand strong, tell their stories and urge their lawmakers to do what’s right. ... What happens in the next week is up to you. Let’s do what it takes to bring home a victory for the thousands of Illinois families who are counting on us right now.”

State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), chief sponsor of the gay marriage bill in the House, was thrilled about the mayor’s email, even though he insists that he didn’t ask Emanuel to write it.

“The mayor has a tremendous amount of weight. He has been elected by the people of Chicago and speaks with the voice of our millions of residents,” Harris said.

“It is very important — especially for members from the city — to know that the mayor and the people of Chicago believe this is the right and fair thing to do. We need everyone in this state who supports equal treatment under the law to talk to their legislators and tell their personal stories.”

Harris refused to pinpoint the current headcount in the House, nor would he reveal when the roll call would take place.

He would only say that, “When I call this for a vote, it will pass” and that he won’t call the bill until he is certain it has the 60 votes required for passage.

After the November election, Emanuel ranked legalizing gay marriage as his No. 3 legislative priority in Springfield­ — behind pension reform and a Chicago casino — and said he planned to get “very involved” in passing a gay marriage bill.

“I will continue to advocate that we also pass marriage equality and end the discrimination on the books,” the mayor said on that day.

“Although the state of Illinois now has civil unions, the time for marriage equality is now. The time is right, and the time is here. ... While Illinois led the way nationwide with civil unions, it is time now that we take the next step, which I said when we had a ceremony in Millennium Park. This is the first step toward marriage equality, and I hope that we will take that step and I will lead an effort.”

State Rep. Deb Mell (D-Chicago) could not be reached for comment Monday, but said then she was not at all surprised that gay marriage ranked third on the mayor’s legislative wish list.

“It is that important. There’s thousands of people in Illinois who are not being treated equally. When we correct that, it benefits everybody,” Mell said.

“I’m thrilled. He’s the mayor of the city I represent. To have his support is huge — as it was with [former] Mayor Daley.”

At the time, Harris pointed to gay marriage approval in four states on Nov. 6 — Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington—as evidence of the “sea change in public opinion” about the controversial issue.

As for the mayor’s No. 3 ranking, Harris said, “Ever since the U.S. Conference of Mayors, when he organized mayors of other cities to be in full support, Mayor Emanuel has been a strong supporter. He believes it’s the right thing to do and he’s willing to put his clout behind it. Representatives from Chicago are very mindful of what his opinion is. He brings a lot of authority to the table. It will be a big help.”

As a candidate for mayor, Emanuel showcased his broad support in the gay community and promised to return the favor by pressuring the General Assembly to approve gay marriage and extend pension benefits to domestic partners.

On the first day that civil unions were allowed in Illinois, Emanuel helped celebrate the occasion at a ceremony at Millennium Park, then returned to his office to preside over the marriage of his top aide, David Spielfogel, and Spielfogel’s partner.

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