SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Marriage-equality supporters reacted with anger and bitterness late Friday after the Illinois House of Representatives failed to vote on The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, the bill that would grant same-sex couples in Illinois the freedom to marry.
Despite the bill’s easy 34-21 passage in the state Senate on Valentine’s Day, despite the urging of Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and President Barack Obama and other top political leaders, despite thousands of hours of volunteer efforts to secure a vote, the measure was ignored on Friday on the last day of the current session. The House will not reconvene until Oct. 16.
Openly gay state Rep. Greg Harris, the chief sponsor of the legislation, emotionally told the House that he was withdrawing the bill. Angry shouts of protest erupted in the chamber gallery, and the Speaker Mike Madigan threatened to throw everybody out of the gallery if order was not restored.
Rep. Deb Mell stood and told the House that she and her partner, Christin Bank, had to fly to Iowa to get married. She explained that her legal marriage is only recognized in Illinois as a civil union. Mell shared her own story, expressed her disappointment, and urged lawmakers to return to this issue in the fall.
Lambda Legal, which sued for marriage equality a year ago, said that their case would now move forward now that House members have neglected their duty to vote on the issue.
"This is a stunning failure in the Illinois House. This is too important to families across Illinois, and Lambda Legal's lawsuit, Darby v. Orr which was filed a year ago yesterday will move forward,” said Jim Bennett, director of the Midwest Regional Office of Lambda Legal.
“The day is coming when Illinois will have the freedom to marry. Lambda Legal has been working in the Midwest for the respect of our relationships for 20 years and we won't stop until same-sex couples in Illinois are treated with dignity and respect,” he said.
"We'd like to thank Sen. Steans for passing this bill in the Senate. We thank Rep. Harris, Rep. Cassidy and Rep. Mell, who have worked so hard to see this through. However, it's unacceptable that our community did not at least get the vote Rep. Harris promised on the House floor. We have a right to know where our elected officials stand on the fundamental right to marry the person you love. We will continue to work with them to push toward passing this critical law as soon as possible," Bennett said.
Brian Brown, head of the rabidly anti-gay group the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), crowed to supporters in an email that was titled: “MAJOR VICTORY IN ILLINOIS!”
"This effort to redefine marriage in Illinois was one of the most fiercely contested legislative battles in the country this year. This is a great victory for our allies and supporters, as well as Illinois families who have worked tirelessly with us to preserve marriage in Illinois," Brown wrote in the email.
"So much for the inevitability of gay marriage," he wrote. "With a coalition that included strong support from the African American community as well as so many others throughout the state, we did what nobody in the intelligentsia thought was possible. This is a huge victory at a pivotal time, and totally undercuts the lie that somehow same-sex marriage is inevitable."
NOM spent well over $125,000 on grassroots activities to defeat the bill, but praised others in the coalition for securing the victory, according to the email.
"Our thanks go out to champions such as the African American Clergy Coalition; Rev. James Meeks and Bishop Lance Davis; the Illinois Conference of Catholic Bishops and their director Bob Gilligan; the Illinois Family Institute and their director David Smith; the Illinois Family PAC and their director, Paul Caprio; and the Coalition of African American Pastors and their chairman, Rev. Bill Owens. Everyone pitched in everything they had to stop this ill-conceived legislation. We at NOM are honored to have been part of the coalition effort."
According to the email, “NOM also announced that it would form a state PAC to support Democrats and Republicans who supported marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and would oppose legislators, especially Republicans, who abandoned the true definition of marriage.”
"We intend to continue to work with our coalition allies including Pastor Meeks, Bishop Davis and the other amazing leaders in the African American community who boldly stood for the truth about marriage," Brown said. "And those Republicans who betrayed principle will soon learn that their political careers are headed for the same dustbin that met former GOP Chair Pat Brady when he betrayed the cause of marriage."
The fight will continue
NOM’s gloating may be short-lived. Marriage-equality supporters vowed to continue the effort in Illinois, which would have been the 13th state to legalize same-gender marriage. Not only that, but the U.S. Supreme Court could decide by the end of June to return California, the nation’s most populous state, to the ranks of marriage equality. The high court could also uphold the lower court ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, expressed disappointment in the lack of a vote by the Illinois House.
“The House of Representatives has neglected the rights of its constituents by failing to vote on marriage equality legislation. For months, LGBT couples and their children have had their lives put on hold throughout an exhaustive political process that ultimately came up short,” he said.
“Today’s inaction is a prime example of why the U.S. Supreme Court must rule in favor of full marriage equality nationwide to ensure the security and welfare of these and countless other American families aren’t left to chance in future political battles,” Griffin said.
“We’re grateful to the bill’s sponsors, state Rep. Greg Harris and state Sen. Heather Steans, for their leadership in getting us this far, and will continue to work with them and all of our allies in Illinois to ultimately achieve full marriage equality,” he said.
“We have come so far over the last few months and this tremendous progress is thanks in part to the tremendous leadership of businessman and philanthropist Fred Eychaner, to whom our community is very grateful,” Griffin said.
Marc Solomon, Freedom to Marry's national campaign director, called the lack of a vote “a disgrace.”
"After an overwhelming victory in the Senate, [the] failure by the Illinois House is a disgrace, especially for the thousands of committed same-sex couples who want and deserve to make the ultimate vow before their friends and family and spend the rest of their lives with the person they love, protected and supported by their marriage,” he said.
“Freedom to Marry is proud to be an active partner in Illinois Unites for Marriage, and is grateful for the groups that led the effort on the ground -- the ACLU, Equality Illinois, and Lambda Legal. We also deeply appreciate the leadership of lead bill sponsors in the House and Senate, Rep. Greg Harris and Sen. Heather Steans,” Solomon said.
“Make no mistake, we will fight and make our case until all Illinois families have the freedom to marry the person they love
and until the legislative vote reflects the solid majority of Illinoisans and Americans who stand for treating their neighbors the way they want to be treated," he said.
Tonight, the Gay Liberation Network will lead a group protest, starting at 8 pm local time at the corner of Halsted and Roscoe streets in Chicago’s Boys Town.
"House Speaker Mike Madigan, the de facto leader of the Illinois
Democratic Party, is responsible for this abject betrayal," said Andy Thayer, long-time equal marriage rights activist and co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network.
"Anyone who knows anything about Illinois politics knows that Speaker Mike Madigan owns the House - if he had insisted on a positive vote from his caucus, it would have passed,” Thayer said.
"Speaker Madigan has repeatedly shoveled millions of tax dollars to his wealthy cronies, leaving the state's finances in a total mess, but when it comes to passing civil rights legislation, he refused to spend any political capital."
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at [email protected], @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.