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Deflated crowd protests marriage shortfall
Video feature below
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times

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Gathered in the rain at Roscoe and Halsted in Boystown, a somber crowd of approximately 100 people turned out to protest the state's failure to pass equal marriage June 1.

Emotions were raw just a day after the Illinois House adjourned without taking a deciding vote on the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, a bill that would have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The lack of vote May 31 stunned LGBT Illinoisans, after the bill's chief sponsor Rep. Greg Harris stated that it would "absolutely" be called and that it would pass. When it became clear Friday night that the bill lacked the 60 votes it needed to pass, activists and onlookers urged Harris to call for a vote and put his colleagues on-record. But Harris, the openly gay sponsor credited with passing civil unions, did not call for a vote, and spring session ended. The next opportunity to pass the bill would be November, although an extension granted on the bill could leave an opportunity for action this summer.

In more than a dozen speeches Saturday night, activists who fought for months to pass the bill, blamed Democratic politicians for the loss.

"We were working under circumstances where there was a lack of communication from the House," said Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda, who described himself as "incredibly pissed."

Taking much of the heat were House Speaker Michael Madigan and Harris.

"The truth is there is no one to blame except for the person who didn't call a vote," said Lambda Legal's Jim Bennett, chair of the Illinois Unites for Marriage Coalition, of Harris.

Bennett said that accusations that lack of support in the House Black Caucus doomed the bill were unfair.

He further commented on a Windy City Times editorial by Publisher Tracy Baim, which called on Harris to step down as the bill's sponsor and not run for re-election if the bill fails in the November's veto session.

"It's a conversation we should all have," said Bennett, who called the lack of a vote a "profound betrayal." But Bennett said that calls for resignation might be premature, noting Harris's history within the community.

Bennett's comments came alongside a media release from Equality Illinois the same night, stating that the call for Harris to resign was wrong. [The editorial does not call for Harris to resign.] The release condemned his decision not to vote on the bill.

"But Representative Harris has been our stalwart leader in the General Assembly, masterfully leading the way for civil unions, funding for AIDS/HIV services, and other important initiatives impacting seniors, women and children," Equality Illinois said in the statement. "Probably no one in that body ached more than he did in announcing his decision."

Equality Illinois leaders did not attend Saturday night's rally.

Several speakers urged action from grassroots community members, noting that LGBTs had placed undue trust in leadership on the bill.

But despite outrage from many speakers, a solemn and disappointed mood marked the rainy evening protest. LGBT couples stood arm-in-arm together, some of them crying. Others quietly held up homemade signs.

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