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Bad fallout after gay marriage fall

Rep. Greg Harris

Rep. Greg Harris

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Updated: July 11, 2013 6:18AM

The fallout was worse than the failure.

On May 31, the effort to make Illinois the 13th state to legalize same-sex marriage crashed and burned when State Rep. Greg Harris announced he would not call the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act for a vote. Harris, the bill’s chief sponsor and an openly gay legislator, said a vote would have surely failed and subjected colleagues to unwelcome political heat in the run-up to the fall session.

Since then, the gay, lesbian bisexual and transgender community’s dirty laundry has been exposed. Blistering commentary erupted on social media. The legislative debacle devolved into a knock-down, drag-out (no double pun intended) food fight. It has exposed the deep divides, conflicting agendas and feuds that have long dominated LGBT politics.

Just after the bill stalled, longtime gay-rights activist Rick Garcia issued an over-the-top statement that seemed to target Fred Eychaner, the wealthy North Side businessman and mega donor to gay causes. “This is what happens when you allow a multibillionaire and national organizations that have no clue about Illinois politics and how Springfield works call the shots. Sometimes we get exactly what we deserve,” blasted Garcia, director of the Equal Marriage Illinois Project for The Civil Rights Agenda.

On June 1, Windy City Times Publisher Tracy Baim responded with “The Marriage Fiasco,” a brilliant editorial that unleashed a furious response. While her analysis was complex and nuanced, she fingered Harris, arguing that he should have called for the vote.

Calling for Harris to “apologize and step aside,” she wrote: “His arrogance and close-to-the-vest approach on an issue that impacts hundreds of thousands of people in this state is unconscionable — and unparalleled in our community’s history.”

Supporters of Harris and Eychaner responded that both have contributed mightily to the cause of human rights in Illinois. Others blamed the bill’s failure on jealousy and competing interests among the LGBT advocacy groups. Some pointed to the fierce lobbying from the Roman Catholic Church, prominent African-American ministers and other voices of the cloth.

My take: The all-powerful Oz of Springfield makes it all happen at the statehouse. For some “mysterious” reason, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan could not deliver on this one.

Now, it’s time to take a chill pill and end the blame game. Late last week, Baim and Harris issued a joint unity statement. “We urge the community to understand that disagreement is part of our work, but we can all still be civil and achieve success,” they wrote.

“We must unite fiercely as a community,” they continued, “and focus our efforts on carrying the beacon of hope and equality for all families, and against those who wish to defeat the full promise of America for all her peoples.”

In other words, the LGBT community struggles with sexism, racism, classism, bigotry and demagoguery — just like the rest of us. But divisiveness is destructive. In Illinois, the fight to secure full human rights for LGBT people has been under way for more than a generation. The fall legislative session is just around the corner. Let’s move forward, not back.

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