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All eyes on Harris as veto session approaches
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times
2013-10-16

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It's a familiar line from LGBT groups these days.

"Our sense is that we're feeling very optimistic headed into veto session," said Ed Yohnka, director of communications for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

But how close, neither sponsors nor LGBT leaders will say.

"There isn't a lot of new information just yet," said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, adding that he does not have a firm roll call. "Springfield sometimes works in mysterious ways."

Sponsors have just two windows of time to pass equal marriage legislation through the house if they want to make good on a promise to call the bill during veto session. They can call for a vote during the week of Oct. 22. November 5-7 will provide the other opportunity.

Rep. Greg Harris, chief sponsor of the bill, predicted a vote during veto session, after spring session ended without a vote May 31. Harris told a packed gallery in the state capitol that night that his colleagues were unready to vote for the bill and but said they would do in the fall. The Illinois senate passed the measure in February.

But despite those vows, reports suggest that sponsors are still scrambling to put together the 60 votes they need.

"We're in the upper 50s, let's put it that way," said Rick Garcia, policy advisor for The Civil Rights Agenda.

Those reports come just a week before veto session starts Oct. 22.

Sponsors can also push the measure in early November. Failing that, they will have to move the bill in January, when regular session resumes.

But LGBT leaders say they are anxious to see a vote in veto session.

"I don't see a reason why we should wait any longer," said Cherkasov.

"I believe we're going to get this done in veto session," said Richard Carlbom, director of state campaigns for national LGBT organization Freedom to Marry.

Carlbom and others in the Illinois Unites for Marriage coalition boast that due to a large field campaign, lawmakers have heard from thousands of constituents who support equal marriage.

Organizers hope that outpouring from voters will push wavering lawmakers into the yes column. But whether that work will result in a vote this fall remains to be seen.

John Kohlhepp, Illinois Unites Campaign Manager, previously told Windy City Times that organizers had considered waiting to call for a vote until January.

Harris has been reserved in his predictions—declining repeatedly to give a head count or timeline for the bill.

"I take my temperature on this issue constantly, every hour," Harris told Windy City Times. "But I feel very good about where we're at."

Rep. Christian Mitchell, another sponsor of the bill, had a similar outlook.

"I think support and momentum is building," said Mitchell.

But where that leaves a vote remains to be seen. Organizers won't release a vote count or target list. A timeline, they say, depends on Harris.

"Illinois Unites for Marriage has an aversion to telling our community and especially our media what's going on," noted Garcia.

While LGBT groups have expressed optimism in recent weeks, that enthusiasm has been met with some skepticism by community members. Forecasts for a win in the spring proved premature, and LGBT groups have been working to rebuild momentum and trust within the community ever since.

Asked about his plans in the event the bill falls short this fall, Harris stated simply that he is planning on thousands attending the March on Springfield Oct. 22, the first day of veto session.

The march, scheduled to kick off at noon outside the capitol building, has been organized by an independent group of activists, Windy City Times Publisher Tracy Baim among them.

That group is anticipating 4,000-5,000 attendees said Kevin Boyer, a longtime LGBT activist and spokesperson for the march. Boyer said his group wants to put the heat on lawmakers to call for the vote the community was promised.

"The purpose of the March on Springfield is to create pressure on the House of Representatives to vote for marriage equality," said Boyer. "This is not the time to stay home. This is the time to take a day off and go to Springfield."

Boyer encouraged attendees to bring food and homemade signs. Attendees can travel by one of several buses being organized by local groups or by Amtrak. Earlier reports suggested that Amtrak would not be running on the day of the march. But, Boyer said, Amtrak has confirmed that service will be available to transport demonstrators.

A counter march against the bill has been organized for the following day.

More on Illinois Unites for Marriage is available at Illinoisunites.org .

Details on the march can be found at marchonspringfield.org .

Photos captions

Greg Harris speaks to media after the Illinois House adjourned May 31, 2013, without voting on equal marriage. Photo by Tim Carroll

State Rep. Ken Dunkin hosted a benefit for his re-election campaign Oct. 10. He is the chief co-sponsor of the marriage equality bill. He's pictured here with fellow reps at the event, from left: Dunkin, Christian Mitchell (South Side), Greg Harris (North Side, chief sponsor) and Derrick Smith (West Side). Photo by Tracy Baim


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