Gov. Quinn clarifies stance, backs marriage equality

Gov. Quinn, April 21, 2009. Photo: Roy Focker 12.

For the first time in his political career, Gov. Pat Quinn publicly endorsed marriage equality for LGBT couples, following an outpouring of support from dozens of elected officials after President Barack Obama’s declaration of support for such unions earlier this week.

“The governor believes in equal rights for all people,” Quinn’s press secretary Brooke Anderson said. “Gov. Quinn joins with President Obama in supporting marriage equality and looks forward to working on this issue in the future with the General Assembly.”

Gov. Quinn signed a bill legalizing civil unions in January 2011, but since he took the state’s highest office in 2009, his stance on full equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples had been unclear.

In February, a group of openly gay state representatives and other lawmakers introduced the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois, but just a week later, Quinn said he needed to study the issues surrounding the matter before making a decision.

Late last month, the bill died after the sponsors determined there wasn’t enough support in the legislature.

“We believe in civil rights, and we believe in civil unions,” Quinn said after signing the civil unions law last June. “We believe in liberty and justice for all.”

Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the chief sponsor of the marriage equality bill, said the evolution on equal marriage rights for all is moving in the right direction, but issues like pension, health care, public safety and education should delay a vote on the subject.

“Public opinion is on our side, as is the position of our highest elected officials, but we have a few other things on our plate right now,” Harris said.

The lawmaker mentioned Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote to characterize the political environment on the issue.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” he said.

Harris said he hopes to see that reflect in Illinois as well, as “people from all 102 counties in the state show their support for marriage equality by contacting their legislators in Springfield.”

Since June 2011, more than 3,700 couples in almost every county in Illinois have registered under the civil unions law, according to the governor’s office.

“It took a lot of teamwork and partnership with the General Assembly to win passage of this landmark law,” Quinn’s press secretary Anderson said. “Marriage equality will need it as well.”