The Illinois Fallout: Looking Ahead After Marriage Equality Did Not Come Up For A Vote

Illinois Rep. Greg Harris (D) announcing the demise of the marriage equality bill.

Friday evening was incredibly disappointing for the LGBT advocates who had been anticipating a vote on marriage equality in the Illinois House for months. At the core of the chamber’s failure to call a vote seemed to be miscommunications between the bill’s sponsor Rep. Greg Harris (D), Democratic leadership, and advocates for the bill. Windy City Times publisher Tracy Baim was unequivocal in her critique of the process:

Harris should step down now as chief sponsor of this legislation. He has proven he is tone deaf to the wishes of both the grassroots and leadership of this community. They almost all called for a vote “no matter what.” Instead, Harris chose to give cover to his political colleagues, rather than follow through on his own on-the-record promise to call for a vote by May 31.

Why did a vote matter now? Because for months, no hard count has been possible on who really was for or against this bill. This limbo caused confusion and depleted valuable resources lobbying dozens more representatives than necessary.

Harris said he has promises from certain reps they will vote for the bill this fall, but we have seen how political promises pan out.

Indeed, a week before the end of the session, Harris promised not only a vote, but a successful one.

It seems the chances for the bill are not yet entirely dead. Friday night, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D) — upon whom Baim also cast blame because he “did not flex his [political] muscles” — extended the marriage bill’s deadline for approval until August 31. This means that if Gov. Pat Quinn (D) calls a special session this summer, he could include the marriage equality bill, which he supports. It’s unclear if this will happen or what the bill’s chances would be under such circumstances.

The National Organization for Marriage, reeling from losses in Delaware, Rhode Island, and Minnesota, was quick to gloat about the bill’s demise. Despite not playing a very large role in the state, Brian Brown boasted, “We are gratified that our collective hard work has paid off in this stunning victory.” The Illinois Family Institute, whose hateful rhetoric has dominated the fight, expressed joy over the government’s “retention of sexual complementarity in the legal definition of marriage.” Both groups referenced the African-American community, continuing attempts to “drive a wedge” between LGBT groups and people of color. Despite suggestions to the contrary, both opposition and support for the bill came from diverse groups, so such generalizations are not applicable.

Marriage equality’s failure in Illinois could perhaps offer some timely implications as the Supreme Court weighs its decisions regarding the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, expected later this month. Marriage equality opponents, led by House Republicans, argued to the Court that the gay community does not deserve protection as a group under the Constitution because they are too politically powerful. As Laurel Ramseyer points out at Pam’s House Blend, the defeat in Illinois serves as a prime example debunking that argument. Indeed, even an openly gay elected official with three openly gay colleagues could not rally the simple majority necessary to call for a vote ensuring that all families be equally protected under the law. The momentum of the past several years should not be construed as victory having already been accomplished, nor should a righteous sense of inevitability be confused with assured success at every step along the way. Hopefully the Supreme Court acknowledges that increasing public support and the need for constitutional protection are not mutually exclusive.


The bill’s sponsors have apologized for Friday’s failed vote.

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