Ill. House Sponsor Won’t Call Gay Marriage Vote
Despite urging from President Barack Obama in his home state and fierce on-the-ground campaigning, a legislative measure that would have made Illinois the 13th state to allow same-sex couples to marry didn’t rally enough support from lawmakers in the House.
The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Greg Harris, gave an emotional testimony before lawmakers, explaining that he simply didn’t have the 60 votes the measure needed to pass and wouldn’t be calling it for a vote. For weeks, he’d been furiously lobbying his colleagues, including members of the House Black Caucus.
"Several of my colleagues have indicated they would not be willing to cast a vote on this legislation today ... and I’ve never been sadder to accept such request," he said. "They asked me for time to go back to their districts and reach out to their minds and hearts."
Legislators applauded him after the speech.
Obama’s home state was lining up to become the 13th to approve same-sex marriage after months of arduous and sometimes elusive lobbying efforts by gay-rights advocates and opponents. The state’s Senate approved the measure on Valentine’s Day, and Gov. Pat Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, had pledged to sign it into law.
Supporters of the legislation had called it a matter of civil rights.
When the year began, proponents were pushing to make Illinois the first state in the Midwest to etch gay marriage into law, just two years after approving civil unions.
Harris was coy during the past three months about how close he was to the 60 votes needed to pass the measure and send it to Quinn for final approval. Shortly after the Senate’s approval, powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan said the measure was short by about a dozen votes. But Harris later corrected that he needed less than a dozen.
Supporters filled the House gallery Friday in hopes the measure would be called. A supporter of the measure Thursday hung a rainbow flag, a symbol of the gay-rights movement, in the House chamber, but guards quickly removed it.
Obama exhorted legislators to approve the measure at a fundraising event Wednesday.
"Here in Illinois, we’ve got a vote on same-sex marriage that’s going to be coming up in the state Legislature," Obama told the attendees. "And I just want to say for the record it’s something that I deeply support."
Even as polls have shown that support for gay marriage has surged, the measure was fought hard in Illinois.
Opponents of the legislation - which included some of the most powerful religious leaders in the state - have said the bill would force religious organizations to allow same-sex marriage ceremonies in their fellowship halls, parish centers and sanctuaries. The bill, however, states that churches are immune from being sued should they refuse to provide their religious facilities to celebrate a same-sex wedding. Yet, businesses, health care and educational facilities, and social service agencies are not exempt.
Polls show support for gay marriage has surged since 1996, when Gallup found that 27 percent of Americans backed it. Now Gallup finds that 53 percent support giving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. President Obama said last year he supports same-sex marriage, and in November voters in four states either approved or voted down bans on gay marriage.
The measure cleared the Senate on Valentine’s Day with the support of 33 Democrats and a single Republican. Since then three other states have adopted gay marriage - Minnesota, Delaware and Rhode Island.
It also followed an intense campaign with support from Hollywood stars to Chicago’s business elite. Backers had expressed confidence that the bill would be approved by the House in mid-March. But it took the supporters more than 10 weeks to secure enough yes votes to win the House’s approval.
The issue caused internal conflict among Republicans as the party works to balance its efforts to appeal more to younger voters, minorities and women with the more socially conservative positions of some members.
After Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady announced his support for gay marriage, some conservative members of his party vowed to oust him from his post, and conservative independent groups pledged to spend thousands of dollars against any Republican lawmakers who voted in favor of the legislation.
Illinois approved civil unions in 2011.