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Cherkasov on marriage bill: we are closing in on 60 votes
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times
2013-03-21

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African-American LGBTs lobbied Reps. Mary Flowers (center left) and Ken Dunkin (center right). Photo courtesy Ben Montgomery


Organizers pushing Illinois' equal marriage bill are inching towards a vote on the measure, they say, but action on the bill in not anticipated until early April.

Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, told Windy City Times, "We are closing in on 60 votes."

Support in the House for the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act has been the source of much speculation and debate in recent weeks, after predictions for when the bill might be called were repeatedly pushed back.

The bill will not face a House vote until after lawmakers return from spring break on April 8, Cherkasov said.

House Speaker Mike Madigan made headlines in mid-March when he told reporters that the bill was 12 votes shy of the 60 it needs to pass.

Some scoffed at that number, as earlier reports from LGBT activists in Springfield suggested that the bill had stronger support.

Cherkasov declined to offer a vote count, stating only, "I feel like we're very close," and adding that every day that reps. are in session a vote is possible.

Rick Garcia, policy director for The Civil Rights Agenda, said that different groups, activists and sponsors had varying vote counts.

Garcia estimated that the bill has a vote count "in the upper 50s."

"Now, we have our 'yes's" our "no's" and a large number of undecided's," Garcia said. "I'm still confident that we can get it done this session…We're still moving forward."

Estimated timelines for the bill have been repeatedly pushed back this month, as sponsors, lobbyists and LGBT field organizers target undecided lawmakers.

Cherkasov said that Illinois Unites for Marriage, the coalition of organizations pushing the bill, has been phone banking and collecting post cards to reps., among other things.

The coalition has more than a dozen field organizers working solely on getting the bill passed.

Garcia said that in addition to phone banking, The Civil Rights Agenda has been pushing influential people to call undecided lawmakers.

LGBT groups remained on the ground in Springfield through March 21, where they facilitated visits from LGBT families and allies to state reps.

Among those visiting was a large group of Black LGBT leaders and community members, who met with Black Caucus members and urged them to vote in favor of marriage equality.

Michael O'Connor, who served as legislative staffer for former Rep. Constance Howard, and Ben Montgomery, retired staffer for Congressman Danny Davis organized the trip, which included members of Affinity Community Services, Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus, Youth Pride Services and the Chicago Urban League.

Chicago Urban League also sent a letter to Black Caucus members urging them to vote for equal marriage.

O'Connor noted the importance of showing Black Caucus members that Black LGBTs back marriage equality.

"The responses from a number of legislators was this is a white issue," O'Connor said.

He called on young Black LGBT leaders push back against that narrative.

"They need to challenge the bias, the discrimination that exists, coming from the Black Church," he said.

Rev. Dr. L. Bernard Jakes of West Point Missionary Baptist Church also threw his weight behind the bill, urging people of faith who support the bill to make their voices heard.

"The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act extends the freedom to marry to same-sex couples and strengthens religious freedom — there's no doubt about it," Jakes wrote.

LGBT leaders said that they would continue to build support for the bill during the two-week break in session.


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