No vote on Illinois marriage equality; bill held for next General Assembly

cloudy-springfield-statehouseSPRINGFIELD — A coalition of lawmakers, activists and organizations backing a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois announced Thursday that despite intense efforts to pass the legislation in the lame duck session of the current General Assembly, a full vote on the bill may not happen.

There simply is not enough time or votes to approve the bill, said Rep. Greg Harris, its chief sponsor in the House.

“This is a question of time and math,” Harris told Chicago Phoenix. “The Senate was missing three ‘yes’ votes because of family emergencies. We didn’t want to put the legislation on the board next week without all of our ‘yes’ votes.”

The development comes just hours after the Senate Executive Committee of the Illinois General Assembly approved the measure, which seemingly placed it in line for a full Senate vote on Tuesday.

Harris called the committee approval a “big victory” that shows the amount of support throughout the state behind gay and lesbian marriages.

Earlier this week, Harris and Sen. Heather Steans, the bill’s chief sponsor in the Senate, had hoped the bill would be approved in committee Wednesday night and get a full vote Thursday, but the absent senators dealt a serious blow to the timeline that ultimately shrouded proponents’ efforts in uncertainty.

“Today, a few key senators could not be here for family reasons. What’s important when we reconvene is that we work to protect and strengthen all Illinois families, and that’s what this legislation does,” said Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) in a statement.

Two senators, Suzi Schmidt (R-Lake Villa) and James Clayborne (D-Belleville), have been called away from Springfield due to family emergencies, according to sources on the ground at the statehouse. Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston), another potential “yes” vote is on vacation and will not return for the session.

Harris admits that the likelihood of the bill passing through both the Senate and the House on Tuesday — the final day of the lame duck session — is very slim. Instead, he plans to introduce the bill again shortly after the new class of lawmakers are sworn in Jan. 9.

“The wind is at our backs,” Harris said. “This will move very quickly.”

The next General Assembly will bring a supermajority of Democrats in both the House and the Senate, as well as a fourth openly gay legislator, Sam Yingling, a Democrat from Grayslake.

As for a timeline for a new bill, Harris believes the bill will see swift movement and may come to pass well before the next lame duck session in early 2014.

“I think this is well down to pass, so I’m not worried about that,” he said. “It will move way before that.”

Cullerton said he’s confident they could advance the bill “in the coming weeks.”

Activists on the ground in Springfield this week are resolute on getting it done.

“Although we are disheartened by the lack of votes, there is always hope for movement,” said Anthony Martinez, executive director at The Civil Rights Agenda. “As I said before, legislation always meets bumps on the road; these things can turn on a dime.”

“We will continue to push to push and ensure that marriage equality happens in Illinois as soon as possible.”

But Rick Garcia, the Equal Marriage Project director at TCRA, who has been working on LGBT rights in the state for the last 20 years, was less than pleased by the coalition’s decision to give up on the lame duck session.

“This is outrageous. We still have a week,” Garcia said. “They are throwing in the towel. My experience has been, don’t throw in the towel until the game is over. And by not throwing in the towel, we have won major successes in the sate of Illinois.”

Garcia plans to continue pushing for the bill.

“I came to Springfield in 1991 to work on the gay rights bill — and we fought tooth and nail until the last minute. We never threw in the towel.”