Illinois House clears marriage bill: No. 15

The Illinois House of Representatives passed a marriage equality bill Tuesday afternoon, by a vote of 61 to 54, 2 present, following a prolonged debate that centered frequently on religion and race.

The state senate, which passed the bill in February, voted within the hour to concur in the House version. Democratic Governor Pat Quinn has promised to sign it though a date has not yet been announced.

Passage of the Illinois bill will make Illinois the 15th state to implement marriage equality –the sixth to do so this year, the ninth to do so in the past 12 months.

The marriage equality bill passed the state senate in February and came close to a vote in the house in May. But Rep. Greg Harris of Chicago, the openly gay sponsor of the legislation indicated in May that he did not have the votes needed to pass but had commitments from potential supporters to consider voting for the measure if given more time. Harris agreed to wait until the legislature’s special “veto session” in November to bring the bill to the floor.

But pushing back the vote on Harris’ original bill, which would have gone into effect immediately after the governor’s signature, would require 71 votes in November, a goal supporters indicated they did not think they could reach. So Harris submitted an amendment to his bill to have enactment begin next June –thus reducing the winning margin back to 60 votes, a simple majority. Rep. Thomas Morrison, a Republican, requested roll call on the amendment, and the amendment passed 59 to 52, with 1 present.

Morrison of Palatine, Illinois, also led off the opposition, urging a no vote as a way to “preserve the current social order.” He referred to male-female marriage as “natural marriage” and “real marriage.”

“A no vote today does not mean that you are a bigot,” said Morrison. He quoted President Obama’s comments in support of having fathers be more involved in parenting. He did not mention that President Obama supports the Illinois marriage equality bill.

In urging support for his bill, Harris noted that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in June that the federal government must recognize marriages licensed by states which issue them to same-sex couples.

“What same-sex couples want for their families is what you want for your families,” said Harris.

Rep. Ed Sullivan, a Republican from Mundelein who said his mother-in-law and an uncle were gay, said it was a difficult vote but he would support the bill because “I must be inclusive of all faiths, not just my own.”

But many Republicans said the bill would jeopardize their free exercise of religion.

Rep. David Reis, a Republican from Olney, said he was concerned that the bill does not protect the religious beliefs of individuals, such as judges, who may be called on to officiate for same-sex weddings when clergy refuse.

Opponent Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Republican from Wheaton, quoted lesbian Equal Employment Opportunity Commission member Chai Feldblum as saying marriage equality means conservative people of faith would lose their religious rights.

(Feldblum said the statement is false and that it has been incorrectly attributed to her.)

“This bill is the worst in the U.S. for protecting religious liberty,” said Ives.

Rep. Dwight Kay, a Republican from Edwardsville, said the nation was built on the scriptures “and then the constitution.”

But many Democratic supporters argued back.

Rep. Jack Franks, a Democrat from Woodstock, quoted the Bible. Deuteronomy 16:20, he noted, says “Justice, justice, shalt thou pursue.”

Rep. Christian Mitchell, a Democrat from Chicago, also quoted from the Bible, adding, “We are not a theocracy.”

Rep. Michael Zalewski, a Democrat from Riverside, said there is nothing in the bill to prevent people from exercising their religious beliefs.

Majority Leader Barbara Currie of Chicago recalled the story of the Lovings of Virginia who had to travel from Virginia to D.C. in order to marry in the 1960s. She urged a yes vote on the marriage equality bill.

Rep. Kenneth Dunkin, an African American Democrat from Chicago, said “not long ago,” blacks in this country were barred from many things by law.

“In 2013,” said Dunkin, “we’re having a similar conversation.”

But later, another African American member, Rep. Mary Flowers, a Democrat from Chicago, expressed hostility for those who had “injected race” into the discussion. She said she saw no comparison between the color of one’s skin and what some people do in their bedrooms. She called the bill a “joke,” and said it was up to the federal government, not Illinois, to provide the benefits same-sex couples sought.

Rep. Emanuel Welch, another African American Democrat from Westchester, stood up after Flowers and invoked the memory of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., to urge support for the bill.

Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, a Democrat from Aurora who described herself as a strong Catholic, noted that her own marriage certificate was printed on paper paid for by taxpayers, “and yet not all taxpayers are able to obtain these documents.” She also noted that while her marriage certificate indicated it was solemnized in a “religious ceremony,” a friend’s certificate indicated her ceremony was solemnized by a county clerk.

Rep. David Harris, a Republican from Mount Prospect, quoted from Fiddler on the Roof, to urge a no vote because marriage is one “tradition” on which he could not budge.

In one of the most emotional moments of the debate, Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, a Democrat from Chicago, read a touching letter a 10-year-old girl gave to her while lobbying for the marriage equality bill. The letter described how the girl had felt alone and mistreated in foster care homes until a gay male couple took her in. Now, the girl expressed eloquently, she felt safe and secure and happy as a family with her two dads. At the bottom of the letter, the girl asked Rep. Feigenholtz to check off yes or no to the question of whether Feigenholtz would let her two dads to marry.

Feigenholtz, choking back emotion, said she would be voting yes.

Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a lesbian Democrat from Chicago, described concerns about the protections she needs with her partner in emergencies.

Rep. Lou Lang, the deputy majority leader, lauded Harris for his perseverance and defended Harris for not calling the bill for a vote in May.

In closing arguments at about 5 p.m. EDT, Rep. Harris displayed a flag sent to him from a soldier in Afghanistan who asked the House to give him the freedom to marry the person he loves.


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