Illinois lawmakers skip same-sex marriage vote

May 31, 2013

After months of public campaigns on both sides of the issue, the sponsor of a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Illinois didn't call the measure for a vote before lawmakers adjourned from the Spring session.

“Several of my colleagues have indicated they would not be willing to cast a vote on this bill today,” said a teary State Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, on the House floor at the end of the night Friday. Some in the gallery could be heard screaming “cowards.” Harris has been pushing for same-sex marriage for years.

“I’ve never been sadder to accept such a request, but I have to keep my eye, as we all must, on the ultimate prize,” Harris continued.

He went on to say that those on the fence wanted to talk to residents in their districts over the summer, and they would support the legislation when lawmakers returned in November.

“They wanted to hide behind a process that allows them now to go for six months without us knowing who it is,” said Jim Bennett, with Lambda Legal. “But we had every right to know which representatives stood with us, and which ones did not.”

Bennett said he’s pinning his hopes on the legal system, not the legislative, to allow same-sex marriage in Illinois. A lawsuit is currently pending.

The decision to not vote on the bill follows months of high profile lobbying from both opponents and proponents of the issue after the state Senate approved same-sex marriage in February. Proponents recruited public relation agencies, high profile politicians like former President Bill Clinton and even retired Chicago Bears players to lobby state representatives to vote in favor of same-sex marriage.

Meantime, opponents held rallies outside suburban lawmakers’ offices who were undecided on the issue. Some religious leaders used robocalls to encourage residents to ask their local state representative to vote “no” on the measure. A lot of those lobbying efforts occurred in suburban and largely African-American parts of Chicago.

In 2011, Illinois approved a bill allowing same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. Shortly after the state legislature approved that bill, the lobbying efforts for marriage began.

The state legislature’s vote comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule this year on two court cases related to same-sex marriage. One challenges a ballot initiative in California that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. The other court case is attempting to strike down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denies same-sex married couples benefits granted to married heterosexuals.

Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.