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No same-sex marriage vote until November: ‘I’ve never been sadder,’ sponsor says

Updated: June 3, 2013 12:54PM

SPRINGFIELD — Gay and lesbian couples who want to legally marry in Illinois will have to wait.

It’s a delay that was met Friday with tears, anger and confusion.

His voice breaking with emotion, state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) tearfully said Friday that he would not call for a vote on his bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the closing hours of the spring legislative session.

“As chief sponsor of this legislation, decisions surrounding the legislation are mine and mine alone. Several of my colleagues have indicated they’d not be willing to cast a vote on this bill today, Harris told a crowded House chamber.

“And I’ve never been sadder to accept this request, but I have to keep my eye, as we all must, on the ultimate prize. They’ve asked for time to go back to their districts, talk to their constituents and reach out to their minds and hearts and have told me they’ll return in November with their word that they’re prepared to support this legislation.

“And I take my colleagues at their word they shall.”

His short speech was interrupted by shouts of protest from same-sex couples who came to Springfield in hopes of witnessing history.

Shame!” someone shouted.

“Justice delayed is justice denied!” yelled another.

As it became clear Harris was building up to announcing there would be no vote, the chamber filled with groans and finally chants to call the bill for a vote. Harris gave a long pause before explaining that he didn’t think he had enough support for victory.

Dozens of gay couples who had waited for two days expecting to witness history, instead solemnly filed out of the chamber, some sobbing, many hugging and wiping tears.

The children of one gay couple from River Forest were especially confused.

David and Lee Neubecker told their son and daughter it was time to leave the House chamber where they had waited all day. The children asked why. They hadn’t voted yet.

“I said it wasn’t going to be voted on,” David Neubecker said, stopping as he choked up on his words. ‘We’re just going to have to wait for the courts.’”

“The fact that we’ve been here for two days and to be turned away with no decision whatsoever is heartbreaking. It once again reminds us that we are not full citizens of this state,” said Neubecker, 44, of River Forest.

His daughter, Braiden, who is just 10, laid her head on Lee Neubecker’s shoulder.

“I feel kind of sad. I lobbied and wrote an essay just for my dads to be married but it didn’t work out. I don’t feel exactly safe without them getting married because they can split apart easier than if they were married,” said Braiden who had been to five different foster homes before her fathers brought she and her brother, Michael, 9, into their home.

The Neubeckers were just one of many gay or lesbian families that crowded into the Statehouse earlier Friday, waiting to learn whether they were part of a historic victory in helping Illinois become the 13th state to permit same-sex marriages or part of a breathtaking defeat that would amount to an embarrassment to President Barack Obama.

Gov. Pat Quinn issued a statement saying he was disappointed.

“This is not over,” he said. “The fight goes on. We will keep on fighting until marriage equality is law in Illinois.”

Harris and other supporters of same-sex marriage have had 105 days to amass the necessary 60 House votes to get the measure to Quinn’s desk since the Illinois Senate’s Valentine’s Day vote in support of the bill.

But that 60-vote threshold has been illusory despite high-profile encouragement from former President Bill Clinton and Obama, during his appearance in Chicago this week.

Stubborn resistance within the House Black Caucus, a 20-member bloc of African-American lawmakers who have faced a withering lobbying blitz against the plan from black ministers, has helped keep Harris’ legislation in check, with several House members still undecided.

Several in the caucus had urged Harris to push the issue into the fall veto session.

“The sense I have is blacks are tired of being lobbied or targeted. They’ve kind of turned back on some of the advocates and lobbyists and are asking, ‘Why don’t you get some Republicans?’” one high-level Democratic insider said Friday.

Two House Republicans have publicly endorsed the legislation, Rep. Ed Sullivan (R-Antioch) and Rep. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove). A likely third GOP supporter, Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Westchester), switched to a no as he contemplated a possible run for House Republican leader.

Quinn has spent weeks pitching rank-and-file members, and Attorney General Lisa Madigan joined the effort in making calls Thursday, when at least five black House members reported hearing from Madigan.

For the two potential 2014 gubernatorial rivals, same-sex marriage is an important issue to the Democratic base for which both would like to have ownership.

Gay rights advocates vowed to continue the fight.

“Today we are not only deeply disappointed but angry,” said Rick Garcia Policy Director from the Civil Rights Agenda. “I’m going to tell you something, beginning tomorrow, we are starting over. We may need to start over with a new sponsor, a sponsor who is not beholden to Mr. Madigan but a sponsor who will fight for the families here in Illinois.

“Look at these faces, look at these people. This is why we are here!” Garcia implored. “We’re going to fight, we’re going to come back, again and again and again until it gets done.”

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