At statehouse rally, marriage equality advocates declare ‘Today is our day’

SPRINGFIELD — Hundreds of LGBT rights proponents swarmed the State Capitol Friday to rally in support of legislation that would bring full marriage equality to Illinois gay and lesbian couples — but the clock is ticking before lawmakers adjourn for summer.

“Today is our day,” said Jim Bennett, chair of the Illinois Unites for Marriage coalition. “There is no more time. It has to happen today. The House is going to vote and we are going to move Illinois forward to become the 13th state to legalize same-sex marriage.”

“Today we are here and we are queer and we are staying and getting married because that is our right and it has always been our right,” Bennett said to applause.

But even as marriage equality supporters filed into the House gallery, the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), has not confirmed he will call the legislation up for vote — its final hurdle before it can be signed into law by an eager Gov. Pat Quinn.

At the rally, advocacy leaders, LGBT rights activists and other sponsoring lawmakers were confident the measure will come up for consideration and receive the 60 ‘yes’ vote required for it to prevail.

Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago), Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) and Rep. Sam Yingling (D-Round Lake Beach), stopped to address the crowds for a few moments before returning to the chamber.

“Thank you all so much for coming,” said Williams. “We are going to get this done today thanks to you.”

Yingling and Cassidy, too, assured the people marriage equality will be won.

Gay and lesbian families also made their final appeals to the lawmakers. Jim Darby and Patrick Bova will celebrate their 50th anniversary this summer and hope to finally marry 50 years after the night they first met.

“I hope that Patrick will finally be able to make an honest man out of me,” Darby said. “I’m 81 years-old. I can’t wait many more years.”

Several in the crowd held signs with messages favoring the bill such as “People of faith for marriage equality” and “Stand on the right side of history.” At one point, the people stood and joined to sing “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful” as others arrived.

However, despite confidence the community will see victory, longtime LGBT rights activist Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network, urged the crowd to hold House Speaker Michael Madigan accountable should the bill fail. Thayer said, Madigan oversees a Democratic majority, is responsible for delaying the bill this long.

“The impediment now is Mike Madigan,” he said. “What he says goes. The problem is Mike Madigan’s House. If we do not win, tomorrow we ail put it right at the doorstep of Mike Madigan. We are not asking for [marriage equality], we are demanding it.”

Thayer were escorted from the House chamber on Thursday after he unfurled a rainbow flag from the balcony in the House gallery.

Near the end of the rally, Lynne Bowman of the Human Rights Campaign, asked those assembled to text friends or loved ones to urge them to call Madigan’s Chicago district office to demand action on the bill. Madigan’s Springfield office phones have been ringing off the hook and his voicemail inbox has been filled with messages, Bowman said.

Supporters who could could not find seats in the gallery were told to listen from the cafeteria at the neighboring Stratton Building, where audio will be supplied.

However, those supporters and others hoping for marriage equality could be in for a long wait. House lawmakers have a number of other pressing items on the agenda before they leave.