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Advocates: votes are there for marriage bill
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times
2013-05-22

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With the end of the Illinois' spring legislation session just days away, LGBT leaders say that equal marriage legislation has the support needed to pass by month's end.

Sponsors have until May 31 to pass the "Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act," which would allow all couples, regardless of their gender, to marry. Failing that deadline, the bill's passage would be delayed for months.

LGBT groups pushing for the bill say they are ready to see it come up for a vote.

"I have absolutely no doubt we're going to be done with this by May 31," said Jim Bennett, Midwest regional director for Lambda Legal. "I believe that this bill is going to pass."

Bennett declined to give a specific vote count, but said that he expected the bill could be called and passed any day.

Rick Garcia, policy advisor for The Civil Rights Agenda, said he thinks the bill has the 60 votes needed for passage in the House.

"I believe we're there," said Garcia. "The cake is baked. We're waiting for the icing."

The bill passed the Senate on Valentine's Day. House sponsors have since struggled to pull together enough votes to pass it in the House.

Illinois Unites for Marriage, a coalition of groups working for the bill, has scheduled a community meeting to update supporters on the bill's progress and share plans surrounding the vote Wednesday evening.

The bill has the backing of major political players in Illinois, including Gov. Pat Quinn, who told Windy City Times that he has met personally with more than a dozen representatives in an attempt to get the bill passed. Quinn has said he will sign the measure into law.

Chief Sponsor Greg Harris has vowed not to call for a vote until the votes are there to pass it.

Steve Brown, a spokesperson for Speaker Mike Madigan, confirmed that Madigan has also met with wavering lawmakers in recent days in an effort to secure the final votes.

"There were conversations with people last week, hoping to persuade some people," Brown said.

But when the vote comes is in the sponsors' hands, Brown said.

"That would all be up to Greg Harris," he said. Brown said he could not give a specific vote count.

Harris could not be reached to comment before press time.

If the bill does not pass by month's end, sponsors will need to wait until at least until fall to push the legislation. That option, however, is not seen favorably. Representatives hold office for just two years, and campaigns are expected to heat up as the year goes on, making controversial legislation like equal marriage harder to pass with time.

Complicating that option, Garcia pointed out, will be anti-gay efforts to stop the bill. Delays in its passage will give anti-gay organizations and churches time to mobilize opposition. Illinois Family Institute, a staunchly anti-gay group, has already held several rallies throughout the Chicago area against the bill.

Groups both for and against the bill faced off in the city's Little Village neighborhood May 18, in what was expected to be the last demonstration before the end of the state's legislative session.

Approximately 90 demonstrators turned out to oppose the "Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act," which would legalize same-sex marriage. That group had come at the urging of anti-gay organization the Illinois Family Institute, which has organized rallies every Saturday for the last month.

The rallies have targeted wavering lawmakers, and pro-LGBT groups have organized to counter each of them. The Little Village protest was intended to target 21st Dist. Democrat Silvana Tabares, a journalist-turned lawmaker who took office this year.

Just 22 pro-LGBT protesters turned out for the late morning demonstration. That group marched from Tabares' district office to Shedd Park, where they confronted the anti-gay rally.

Police kept the two groups on opposite sides of the street. LGBT protesters shouted at anti-gay demonstrators, who largely did not respond.

The conflicting rallies caught the attention of many area residents in the otherwise quiet residential neighborhood.

Abdul Aziz-Hassan, a resident of Little Village for seven years, walked up the block with his wife and child to oppose the anti-gay rally.

"I'm just offended by these people's presence in my neighborhood," Hassan said. "There are other issues on the forefront here."

Over the sound patriotic music playing from IFI speakers, Hassan said he wants to see his neighbors working against gun violence in the neighborhood, not opposing LGBT rights.

"I'm not going to support hate in any form," he said. But he added that he felt many of the anti-gay protesters were not from his neighborhood.

Anti-gay protesters sang, chanted and listened to speeches, while pro-gay demonstrators shouted opposition. Anti-gays chanted, "One woman, one man." Pro-gays responded, "One tax payer, one tax payer."

The pro-LGBT counter protest was organized by Gay Liberation Network, The Association of Latino Men for Action, La Voz de los de Abajo and The Civil Rights Agenda, according to the event's Facebook page.

The Illinois Unites for Marriage community meeting will be held Wednesday, May 22 at 5:30 p.m. at the Urban League, first floor conference room, 4510 S. Michigan Ave. That meeting will be cancelled if a vote is expected that day. See windycitytimes.com for up-to-the-minute information.


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