Illinois marriage equality bill short votes in House; date for vote unclear

Photo: IEA NEA

Photo: IEA NEA

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois marriage equality advocates could face an even rougher road to legalizing same-sex marriage this Spring.

House Speaker Michael Madigan said Wednesday a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state is “12 votes short of passage” in his chamber, a Madigan spokesperson confirmed with the Chicago Phoenix

Madigan’s estimate, the result of information he gathered from advocates pushing for the bill and not his own count, suggests there are 48  “yes” votes —  far from the 60 votes required before the bill could be signed into law. But that number may not include Republicans who have pledged their support for the bill, according to Madigan spokesman Steve Brown.

The Speaker, who oversees a supermajority of 71 Democrats in the House, is involved in the effort to pass the bill along with several proponent lawmakers and organizations.

“It’s a hard issue to monitor — social issues — people are getting pulled in a lot of different directions here,” Brown said. “The only way to know for sure is to have a vote.”

And while Republican support for same-sex marriage has been tepid throughout the process to pass it so far — just one GOP Senator voted “yes” for the bill last month and there was no GOP support in the House committee vote — House Republicans could bring about a handful of favorable votes to the bill, or into the lower-50s.

Madigan’s statement comes amid a narrative framed by a coalition of LGBT rights groups, Illinois Unites for Marriage, that Senate Bill 10, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, could come up for vote in the House “any day now.” But the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), has repeatedly said he will not call the bill up for vote until he has secured enough support to pass it.

Harris could not be reached for comment in time for this story, but LGBT rights advocates on the ground in Springfield cautiously weighed in on the vote count and refused to speculate further.

“Even though the counts are determined by the leadership around the bill, I feel really confident because the majority of Illinoisans support the bill,” said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of statewide LGBT rights group Equality Illinois, and added the bill — when it comes up for vote — will likely pass with bipartisan support.

Cherkasov, too, said he is unsure if Madigan’s count includes Republican lawmakers.

“I don’t know if [the bill] is 12 votes shy without Republicans, or even one vote shy with Republicans,” Cherkasov said. “If the Speaker thinks the bill is 12 votes short, that’s probably more accurate than most speculation out there.”

Rick Garcia, a longtime LGBT rights activist and the director of the Equal Marriage Illinois Project at The Civil Rights Agenda, said it is “dangerous” to talk about vote counts and set dates for legislation such as the marriage equality bill.

“I don’t talk about the vote count,” he said. “And myself and we at TCRA have never said the bill will come up for vote today, or it will come up for vote tomorrow. But will it happen? Yes. It’s gonna happen.

“But if anyone says the vote is going to happen on a certain day, they are fools and liars,” Garcia said. “The bottom line is we’re working on it, we’re meeting with everyone we can and we’re putting it together.”

And despite speculation about vote counts and dates, Garcia said everyone working on behalf of the bill is sure of at least one thing: There are many lawmakers on the fence and marriage equality proponents need to continue to pressure them for “yes” votes.

“We are in striking distance,” he said.

Brown, too, said it is unwise to speculate when a vote will occur, explaining that lawmakers who may have pledged support for the bill could suddenly leave Springfield ahead of a vote like during the early January lame duck session push to pass the marriage bill, when at least three supporting Senators were absent — derailing the effort.

Garcia said every piece of major LGBT rights legislation faced similar uncertainty and recalled a similar situation in the days before the Illinois civil unions bill was passed.

“People said ‘Oh, it’s not going be called today’ and then two hours later, it was called,” he said.

Meanwhile, Harris issued a letter to supporters of the marriage equality coalition Wednesday afternoon, urging them to amp up pressure on their representatives due to intense opposition coming from anti-gay organizations such as the Illinois Family Institute and the National Organization for Marriage.

“We’ve come this far because your stories and your activism have made it clear that SB10 is much more than just a piece of legislation. It’s about guaranteeing that every family in our state is afforded the dignity and protections we all deserve,” Harris wrote in the letter. “Even if you think your Representative is supportive — and even if they’ve already committed to voting ‘yes’ — the stakes are too high to make any assumptions. We can’t let up until this bill is on its way to Governor Quinn’s desk, ready to be signed into law.”

The chamber’s consideration of the legislation is the final hurdle before it can be signed into law, having already passed through the State Senate and a House committee in the last two months. Gov. Pat Quinn said he will promptly sign the bill into law when it arrives at his desk, which would make Illinois the 10th state to legalize the recognition of gay and lesbian nuptials.

Nine other states have legalized same-sex marriage — Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Connecticut, Vermont, Washington, New Hampshire, New York and Massachusetts.