Illinois Senate to vote on marriage equality bill on Valentine’s Day: Senate president

Photo: ILGA.GOV

Photo: ILGA.GOV

Gay and lesbian couples throughout the state may have more than each other to celebrate this Valentine’s Day.

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, told the Chicago Sun-Times he plans for the Senate to vote on — and pass — a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state on Feb. 14.

“I’d like to pass it out of committee next week and pass it on Valentine’s Day,” Cullerton told the paper during a Thursday meeting with its Editorial Board.

Local advocates working to pass the bill, including a coalition of LGBT rights groups, have recently pointed to the start of the chamber’s new legislative session Feb. 5 for movement on Senate Bill 10, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. Cullerton and other advocates expect the bill to quickly pass through committee and then again on the full Senate floor, where it needs at least 30 votes.

The bill’s chief sponsors in the Senate and House, Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), respectively, reintroduced the legislation shortly after the swearing in of the 98th General Assembly Jan. 8 and anticipate fast progress.

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

Rick Garcia, who’s advocated for LGBT rights for decades and leads The Civil Rights Agenda’s Equal Marriage Illinois Project, said he is feeling confident about the impending vote.

“I think the Senate president and the Senate sponsor are very confident,” Garcia said. “I’ve known [Cullerton] for a 100 years and he has passed more legislation that has been signed into law than — I think — any other legislator in Springfield. He knows his business and knows how to get the job done.”

If the bill is passed through the Senate and then in the House, where it needs at least 60 votes, Illinois would become the tenth state to recognize gay and lesbian marriages.

Both legislative chambers are controlled by super-majorities of Democrats — 40 in the Senate and 71 in the House — and Governor Pat Quinn said he will immediately sign the bill into law.

Same-sex marriage advocates saw a significant victory earlier this month during the lame duck session of the previous General Assembly, when a Senate Executive Committee approved a law that would legalize gay marriage bill in an 8-5 vote. However, the lame duck push stalled when the clock ran out.

In addition, conservative religious leaders and their lawyers took umbrage with language in the previous version of the bill that defines exceptions for religious institutions that choose not to offer their facilities for same-sex marriage ceremonies and expressed their concerns in their testimony before the lame duck committee.

Steans said she would work with religious leaders and Republican lawmakers to amend the language of the bill so as not to cause concern over religious liberties.

“I’m happy to sit down with them to try to work on it,” Steans told the Chicago Phoenix at the time. “We’re certainly not trying to make it so that a tax exemption for the church is opening them up [to legal danger].”

While Steans amends the language of the bill to calm religious leaders, Garcia said that he continues to see increases in Republican support.

“I met with Republican members this week and one of them in leadership said to me, ‘It’s not a matter of if, it’s just a matter of when,’” Garcia said. “That’s been our line for the last couple of years! I’m feeling very, very good about this.”

Even so, Garcia said there is still a chance that support could fall through at the last minute.

“I’ve doing this for a long time and just when you think you have it, there may be something that stops it,” he said and urged the community to continue pressuring legislators for their support.

“If people think it’s going to be done by hotshot lobbyists, they are wrong. It gets done because they pick up the phone, they open up their laptop, they call, write, text their legislators. That’s how it gets done,” he said.

As for a Valentine’s Day vote, Garcia loves it.

“I could not even think of a better day to do it,” he said. “Sometimes the planets align.”