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Senate committee passes marriage equality amendment
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times
2013-01-03

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The fate of a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois has been called into question after a roller-coaster day that ended in the bill's passage out of committee.

[UPDATE: Most recent coverage at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Illinois-marriage-bill-stalled-pushed-to-next-general-assembly/41040.html .]

It is headed for a full vote before the Senate.

HB4963 would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois, per an amendment that Democrats tacked onto the unrelated bill in an attempt to hasten a vote on the measure.

A full vote is anticipated during a special session to be called Tuesday. Friday's Senate session has been cancelled.

Supporters had aimed for a Thursday vote, but a series of setbacks prevented a vote.

Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda, confirmed that Senate Democrats have stated that the vote will not come to pass before the week's end.

Repeated foibles have raised serious questions about whether the vote can pass by Jan. 9, when new lawmakers are sworn in.

LGBT leaders and sponsors of the bill expressed optimism at the end of a long day, after the Senate Executive Committee voted 8-5 in favor of the bill.

Senate Democrats had hoped for a vote on Thursday, but they failed to secure the votes to waive a 24-hour rule on the posting of the original marriage bill. Democrats then tacked marriage equality onto a bill that deals with car rentals in an attempt to push it through faster.

A Senate vote was initially stalled because two supportive senators—Republican Suzi Schmidt of Lake Villa and Democrat James Clayborne of Belleville—have been called away from Springfield on family emergencies, leaving sponsors scrambling to secure needed votes. (Schmidt's mother died and there was a medical emergency in Clayborne's family.)

Also missing was Evanston Democrat Jeffrey Shoenberg, who is reportedly on vacation for the remainder of his term.

On Thursday afternoon, testimony was heard in the executive committee both for and against the amendment.

The committee heard from Theresa Volpe and Mercedes Santos, a plaintiff couple in lawsuits that seek to overturn the state's ban on same-sex marriage. Also testifying was PFLAG mom Bonnie Garneau, among others.

Catholic Bishop Thomas Paprocki headed a group of three that testified against the bill.

Among its sticking points according to opponents was a lack of exemptions for religious institutions. Sen. Dale Righter (R) argued that the bill did not properly exempt churches.

Sen. Heather Steans, sponsor of the bill, countered that bill was written in accordance with the state's Human Rights Act.

A key vote in the Senate is likely to come from Republican Christine Radogno, who expressed mixed feelings on the bill before voting against it. She has been supportive on some LGBT issues over the years, and leaders are urging her constituents to contact her.

Many had hoped for a bipartisan push on the bill, but in committee, the lines were drawn by party lines, with Democrats backing the bill and Republicans voting against it.

"It doesn't mean that the whole marriage equality bill in the lame duck session dies," said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois.

However, a big push remains for supportive senators.

The Senate will have to be called back for a special session on Jan. 8 if they are take up marriage equality before Jan. 9. That would mean that the House will be voting on marriage before the Senate takes it up.

The House is scheduled to convene Jan. 6-7. It remains uncertain if the House will be voting on the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act or another bill that now contains an amendment legalizing same-sex marriage. Some have speculated that the Senate will be voting on the amended bill, while the House will be voted in on original "Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness" Act.

A vote on two different bills could could circumvent a day needed for the bill to cross from one chamber to the next. The two bills could later be reconciled.

The repeated delays have dampened enthusiasm in Springfield, with questions being raised about whether or not the bill will come to a vote this session at all. The House is seen as a greater hurdle than the Senate, and repeated hiccups in the Senate have raised concerns about support for the measure.

Still, the bill's passage out of committee provided a source of optimism at the end of the day.

LGBT families who trekked to Springfield cheered the bill's passage out of committee, hugging and crying.

Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a House sponsor for the bill, said regardless of the bill's fate over the next week, the bottom line remains the same for marriage equality in Illinois.

"It's still when, not if," she said.

This is a breaking story. Check back regularly for updates.


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