Harris: votes ‘aren’t there’ for marriage equality in Illinois

Civil unions will remain the law of the land in Illinois – at least for the remainder of this legislative session.

State Rep. Greg Harris (D–Chicago) said he would not call his same-sex marriage bill to a vote during the Spring legislative session in the General Assembly. He said the votes “aren’t there” and he doesn’t see an advantage of having legislators on the record as a “no” when they could later become a “yes” vote.

“They call it a struggle for equality for a reason,” Harris said. “I look at the roll call for the civil union bill and the people that voted at that time. Nearly a quarter of the people in the senate and a third of house are gone. We have a whole new group of legislators that have to be educated to get back to that original level of support.”

As the bill’s sponsor and chair of the House Human Services committee, Harris decides when and if the bill will be presented to the full house.

“It will be up to me,” Harris said. “I will do it when I think the time is strategically right.”

That time has not come, Harris said, and he will introduce a same-sex marriage bill in the next legislative session unless an unforeseen “opportunity presented itself,” allowing him to move forward with this year’s iteration.

To bring the level of support back up to what it was when the time civil unions bill was passed, Harris said the newer legislators need to hear from constituents who support same-sex marriage.

“The community needs to build support among my colleagues,” Harris said. “They need to hear from folks in their district. From LGBT couples who live there, from families who live there. This was huge for the civil union vote, with parents and grandparents going in too. This is not a lesbian and gay issue. It’s an equality issue for all of our families.”

In addition to the number of new representatives and senators, voting districts in Illinois and across the country were redrawn with 2010 Census data. Harris said because so many are in new districts, supporters need to contact their legislators again and again.

“People need to remain ever vigilant and keep fighting because our opponents sure will,” Harris said. “Those in favor will write a letter or make a phone call. They’re not quite as fervent. We’ve got to remember that for the right wing evangelicals, this is a make or break issue for them. They believe that this is their mission, to defeat it. We have to be just as strong as a community to fight for it.”

House bill 5170, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, would have promised the same rights, protections and responsibilities of marriage to couples regardless of sex. It also would have created a way for couples to transition from a civil union to a marriage. Because no action has been taken on the bill, it has been referred back to the House Rules Committee.

Six states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage. Maryland and Washington state approved same-sex marriage through the legislative process in 2012 but both face voter-driven initiatives that may delay implementation or overturn the states’ respective legislatures.

Minnesota and North Carolina residents will vote in November on constitutional amendments that would enshrine same-sex marriage bans in the two states’ constitutions.