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Gay marriage Emanuel’s No. 3 priority for Legislature

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced th$1.24 millirecovered TIF funds will be used AustPolytechnical Academy Tuesday November 13 2012.  I John

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that $1.24 million in recovered TIF funds will be used at Austin Polytechnical Academy, Tuesday, November 13, 2012. I John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 15, 2012 6:21AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel Tuesday ranked legalizing gay marriage as his No. 3 legislative priority in Springfield — behind pension reform and a Chicago casino — and said he plans to get “very involved” in passing a gay marriage bill.

Emanuel offered the surprise ranking when asked whether he intends to go around Gov. Pat Quinn — by cutting deals with Democratic legislative leaders — now that both houses have veto-proof Democratic majorities.

The mayor responded that it was time for Springfield to focus on “a number of subjects — and the governor has to be a part of that.” Then, came the ranking.

“One is retirement security and pension reform. ... Two, I was advocating ... a casino for Chicago, but one in which ... all of the resources will go into building new schools and modernizing our schools. ... Third, I will continue to advocate that we also pass marriage equality and end the discrimination on the books,” the mayor said.

“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.”

Asked how involved he was willing to get in the fight for gay marriage, Emanuel said he planned to be “very involved.” That apparently means putting his notorious powers of persuasion to work on reluctant Chicago lawmakers. “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,” he said.

“I’ve been in touch with ... State Rep. Greg Harris, State Rep. Deb Mell and leaders in both chambers — so Illinois will now take the next step in making sure that our values are reflected in our laws.”

Mell, daughter of Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), said she’s 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.”

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 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 Illinois General Assembly to approve gay marriage and extend pension benefits to domestic partners.

Nine months ago, the mayor signaled his intention to deliver on his campaign promise after Harris and Mell introduced their gay marriage bill.

Emanuel’s support was never put to the test. Gay marriage champions never pushed for a vote because they didn’t have the votes. The bill is still stuck in the House Rules Committee.

On Tuesday, Harris and Mell held open the possibility of trying again in January during a lame-duck session that will be the last for 35 lawmakers who either lost, are retiring or did not seek re-election.

“We’ll try when we have the votes. Hopefully, that will be sooner than later. But, we’re not gonna run a bill if we’re not gonna pass it,” Mell said.

Harris added, “We’re roll-calling folks to see where folks stand. If we have 60 votes in the House and 30 in the Senate and there’s time when the budgetary issues are resolved,” then they will push for a vote.

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