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Springfield momentum building for gay marriage, advocates say

Updated: April 28, 2013 7:03AM



As the nation’s high court seemed to sidestep the decision on gay marriage on Tuesday, hinting it may be an issue better left to the states, advocates of gay marriage in Illinois say it’s imperative that the state act quickly.

The Illinois state senate advanced a same-sex marriage proposal symbolically on Valentine’s Day. The matter is left up to the House, which didn’t call the matter for a vote before adjourning for a spring break.

While Illinois Speaker Michael Madigan said the legislation is 12 votes shy, quiet momentum continues to build among Illinois lawmakers – including Republicans – who believe now is the time to embrace the issue.

“The margin is smaller than what the Speaker had stated,” said one state legislative source who asked not to be named.

Several sources said a small group of Illinois Republicans are considering voting in favor of the bill, which would almost certainly give it the 60 votes needed to advance. “There’s some indication that there’s more than one Republican supporting this bill,” said one of the sources.

While the Illinois Legislature is on a two-week break, the issue re-emerged this week as the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments over whether voters in California were entitled to enact Proposition 8, which nullified a state Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriage.

Even as they took up the issue, justices seemed to immediately question whether it was the right thing to do, suggesting it may be too soon to step in with a legal answer and better left to percolate in society. Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned whether it was better left for states to decide.

“If the issue is letting the states experiment and letting the society have more time to figure out its direction, why is taking a case now the answer?” Sotomayor asked.

During the 80-minute argument, there was no majority apparent for any particular outcome and many doubts expressed about the arguments advanced by lawyers for the opponents of gay marriage in California, by the supporters and by the Obama administration, which is in favor of same-sex marriage rights.

In Illinois, the issue has quickly gained strength this legislative session. Republicans increasingly have realized that public opinion is siding with same sex marriage. State Sen. Jim Oberweis’ effort to oust the Republican party chair Pat Brady backfired when high-ranking Republicans came to his defense.

That includes U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill) who supported keeping Brady in place.

On Tuesday, Brady stood by his position to support passage of the bill.

“Whether you agree or disagree with particular Republican beliefs … we have to be gracious in a diversity of opinions,” Brady said. “I think that’s the way we can get more people to support our candidates.”

Bernard Cherkasov, the CEO of Equality Illinois, said his group continues to hear of growing support within the GOP.

“We’re hearing from more and more legislators. That includes Republicans and Democrats,” Cherkasov said. “I think this is going to translate into strong Republican support when it goes to the House vote.”

Same-sex marriage advocates say that if the Supreme Court strikes down a portion of the federal marriage law and Illinois hasn’t legalized same-sex marriage, then same-sex couples here would not be entitled to many benefits and more than 1,000 laws.

“They were also making clear that there was moral authority here and that legislatures were empowered … to act quickly,” said Camilla Taylor, National Marriage Project Director at Lambda Legal.

The issue remains volatile, however, with lawmakers saying quietly they’ve felt the impact of heavy lobbying from both sides – including in highly-charged emails, phone calls and letters.

“It’s important that some Republicans get behind it just for the future of the party,” said one of the sources. “It can’t be the party of exclusion, you can’t win that way.”

Earlier this month, state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the bill’s chief House sponsor, said he believed the bill had the 60 votes it needed to advance in the chamber.

“It’s going to pass because this is what the majority of people in Illinois believe is the right thing to do,” he said then.

The legislation awaiting a House vote has support from more than 300 clergy across the state in a signed open letter, according to gay-marriage coalition Illinois Unites for Marriage.

However, one of the state’s key religious figures — Cardinal Francis George – had called Madigan urging against the same-sex marriage legislation and has led a group of clergy behind his cause to limit marriage to a bond between a man and a woman. Earlier this month, the Rev. James Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church on Chicago’s South Side and a former state senator, sent an “emergency message” against same-sex marriage in a pre-recorded call that reached roughly 200,000 households in 14 legislative districts.



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