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UPDATE Legislature adjourns without marriage vote, video features below
Below: Video of Rep Harris and Rep Mell plus links to press conference video and photo spreads.
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times
2013-05-31

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      More Photos


Videos of Rep Harris and Rep Mell included below.

In a stunning blow to LGBT families, the Illinois House adjourned May 31 without voting on equal marriage.

The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act will not see a vote until this fall as the bill reportedly fell short of votes. The bill could still be called in the veto session later this year. [ Also see June 2 article: Deadline on marriage bill extended through summer, here: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Deadline-on-marriage-bill-extended-through-summer/43057.html .]

The lack of vote comes to a shock to many. Chief sponsor Greg Harris previously told Windy City Times that he would "absolutely" call the bill for a vote and that it would pass.

But on May 31, Harris stood up before a crowded chamber and, with a shaky voice, told colleagues that bill fell short on votes and would not be called for a vote.

"I have to keep my eye, as we all must, on the ultimate prize," he said, noting that colleagues had promised to consider the bill further and that a vote this year remained possible.

"We will be back and we will be voting on this bill during legislature, in this room," he said.

Onlookers shouted at Harris that he must call the bill. In the end, onlookers rose to applaud him.

Rep. Deb Mell also rose to spoke alongside her wife, Christin Baker. Mell detailed her marriage for colleagues from her recent fight against cancer to their TV habits.

"At the end of the day, Christin and I want what you want," said an emotional Mell.

"Today we were hoping that our state could give our union the highest recognition that our state gives people who want to spend their life together, and that is marriage," Mell said.

LGBT leaders said they were outraged over the lack of a vote, regardless of the bill's fate.

"Those representatives should be held accountable, and they will be held accountable," said Jim Bennett, chair of the Illinois Unites for Marriage coalition.

Bennett and others expressed disappointment with Harris, an openly gay rep who carried the civil-unions bill to victory.

"He promised us a vote, and he failed on that promise," said Bennett.

Bennett later told Windy City Times: "Rep. Harris did not ask the Coalition or any of its members for our input. Every one of us were in agreement that we wanted a vote on this. We were told by one of the lobbyists one hour before it happened. All of us said No, it's unacceptable, we want a vote."

Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois echoed that disappointment, which he directed at the General Assembly as a whole.

"They should be embarrassed of themselves," said Cherkasov.

Rick Garcia, a veteran activist and policy director for The Civil Rights Agenda, said that Harris had failed to follow through.

"Today, we are not only disappointed but angry," he said.

Harris, surrounded by reporters on the House floor after adjournment, called the letdown one of the "hardest" things of his life.

But he said that colleagues had promised to go back to their districts and work to build support for the bill. He said he hoped the bill would be passed during November's veto session.

"This is the long game," he said. "Fighting for equality in this country is the long game."

Harris said that he had the votes for the bill but that a group of people backed out.

Underlying his comments were rumors around the Capitol that the House Black Caucus was not supporting the measure.

But state Rep. Ken Dunkin, chair of the Black Caucus, said he felt it was unfair to pin the bill's failure on the that caucus, a perception he attributed to media portrayals of Black lawmakers.

"This is not the Black Caucus' burden," Dunkin said, adding that he felt some lawmakers could have been swayed had the bill been called.

Speaker Madigan, approached in the Capitol rotunda, declined to be interviewed but reiterated his support for same-sex marriage.

"I'm for it," Madigan said. "I'm for the bill."

Hours leading up to the vote had been ripe with uncertainty as the spring legislative session drew to a close May 31. With the clock ticking on the bill, LGBT organizations and families gathered outside of House Speaker Michael Madigan's office May 30, in a hastily organized press conference to urge a vote on the bill.

Sponsors had until May 31 to call for a vote on the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, and LGBT groups said they were confident the bill would pass but needed Madigan and chief sponsor Greg Harris to call for a vote.

"We need the freedom to marry, and we need it now," said Jim Bennett, chair of the Illinois Unites for Marriage Coalition.

"A vote has been promised, and it's time to deliver on that promise," Bennett added.

Harris previously told Windy City Times that he would "absolutely" call for a vote on the bill by the end of spring session Friday, and that it would pass.

The May 30 press conference, held against a backdrop of approximately two dozen LGBT organizers and families, aimed to put pressure on Madigan and sponsors to move the bill as the hours left to pass it dwindled.

The press conference signaled a sense of urgency on the part of coalition members as mixed reports circulated in Springfield on the fate of the bill.

Some expressed concern that the bill would not come for a vote by session's end. Others stated that a vote was expected by the day's end.

Pressed on whether the bill had the 60 votes it needs to pass, Bennett said it did.

"We're confident that if that bill is called for a vote there are enough votes to pass marriage in Illinois," Bennett said.

Also speaking at the conference were Jim Darby and Patrick Bova, who will celebrate 50 years together in July, as well as Theresa Volpe and Mercedes Santos and their two children.

But session ticked on into the evening May 30 without a vote.

In an effort to pressure House leadership, the coalition called on supporters to flood the Capitol to show support Friday morning.

The morning of May 31 opened with excitement in the Capitol as LGBTs were Springfield-bound from throughout the state.

Anti-gay activists also converged in Springfield May 31.

Approximately 30 people gathered in the rotunda of the Capitol building to show their opposition to the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, which would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The gathering came just an hour before an anticipated pro-gay rally in the same location.

Among those at the anti-gay gathering were representatives from the Illinois Family Institute, which has opposed the bill at rallies across the Chicago area in recent weeks.

Pastor Danny Holliday of Victory Baptist Church argued that the state had no right to say what marriage is, and that passage of the bill would change what children were taught in schools.

"If they redefine marriage in the state of Illinois, it will be just like the state of Massachusetts, where they teach children differently," he said.

Sharee Langenstein, a lobbyist for Family PAC and Eagle Forum, and David Smith of the Illinois Family Institute also spoke briefly.

The group prayed as major media outlets looked on. The convening wrapped up without incident.

Following that rally, more than 100 equal-marriage supporters poured into the state Capitol building.

LGBT leaders appeared confident as LGBT families and organizers were invited into Speaker Mike Madigan's box in the House chamber.

LGBTs convened in the Capitol rotunda with banners and flags to show their support for the bill and urge a vote.

The group sang patriotic songs like "This Land is Your Land" and "God Bless America."

Speakers included bill sponsors Kelly Cassidy, Sam Yingling and Ann Williams.

Bennett drove home the urgency of calling for a vote.

"This is our day," Bennett said. "There is no more time. It has to happen today."

"It's a civil right," he added later. "It's always been our right, and now we're claiming it."

Darby added that he cannot wait any longer for marriage rights. He is 81 years old and wants to get married now.

"Maybe after 50 years, Patrick can make an honest man out of me," he joked.

The Capitol buzzed with excitement as families began to fill the House chamber. LGBT supporters were also Springfield-bound on a bus from Chicago, organized by LGBT groups.

But as the day wore on, hopes waned and rumors spread that the bill was short on votes. Some said they wanted to see a vote regardless of the outcome in order to know who supported it and who did not. But

A look back at the fight for marriage

Last May, Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois (ACLU) filed coordinated lawsuits seeking to overturn the state's marriage ban. They targeted Cook County Clerk David Orr, a longtime LGBT ally, who refused to fight the lawsuits. State's Attorney Anita Alvarez backed Orr, and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed in support of the lawsuits. Without opposition for the lawsuits, five downstate country clerks filed to intervene to fight the lawsuits, headed by the Thomas More Society, a conservative law firm.

Those cases were still in the beginning stages when Harris and other lawmakers announced that they would be moving forward with a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.

Emboldened by sweeping successes for LGBTs in November elections, sponsors eyed the state's lame duck session for a vote, a time when outgoing lawmakers are more likely to vote their conscience without fear of reprisal. It was the same strategy used to pass civil unions.

Illinois Unites for Marriage—a coalition of more than 30 groups headed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, Lambda Legal and Equality Illinois—formed to push for the bill. The Civil Rights Agenda, another LGBT Illinois policy organization, also mobilized to build support for the measure.

Senate sponsor Heather Steans led that early January effort, but unexpected absences in the Senate stalled progress on the bill, and advocates made the call to wait for the new session to begin.

At the start of the new session, Harris and Steans reintroduced the marriage bill, and sponsors negotiated changes with religious leaders who were worried that churches would be forced to solemnize same-sex marriages.

The measure passed in the Senate on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, but the house was seen as the toughest fight for the bill.

For months, LGBT leaders anticipated a House vote on the bill, but sponsors struggled to secure the 60 votes needed.

The delay on a vote gave anti-gay organizations time to mobilize, and the Illinois Family Institute began holding weekly rallies against the bill. The Saturday rallies, spread out across the city and suburbs, targeted wavering lawmakers. LGBT groups, including Gay Liberation Network, organized counter-demonstrations to the rallies. Anti-gays largely outnumbered pro-LGBT demonstrators at the rallies, but pro-LGBT demonstrators changed story headlines from protests against marriage to competing demonstrations on the bill.

By late May, however, some had started to worry about lack of movement on the bill. Harris told Windy City Times that he would "absolutely" call for a vote on the bill and that it would pass.

On May 31, however, that plan fell short.

Gay Liberation Network called for a demonstration 8 p.m. Saturday at Halsted and Roscoe to protest the lack of a marriage vote.

Video links:

See Windy City Times video of the press conference after the lack of an Illinois House on marriage equality 5-31-2013, featuring Jim Bennett of Lambda Legal and others, Bernard Cherkasov of Equality Illinois, Ed Yohnka of ACLU, Rick Garcia of TCRA, the Neubecker family, here: www.youtube.com/watch .

See press conference clip here: www.youtube.com/watch .

See video interview with Black Caucus chair Rep. Ken Dunkin after marriage non-vote here: www.youtube.com/watch .

See video of Mercedes Santos and Theresa Volpe and their children Ava and Jadon, at press conference 50-20-2013 calling for the vote on marriage equality .

www.youtube.com/watch .

Read the responses of local and national groups here: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/No-vote-on-marriage-groups-vow-more-work/43048.html .

See additional photo spread of May 30 and 31 in Springfield, by Kate Sosin and Tracy Baim, here:

www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/photospreadthumbs.php .

See additional photo spread of May 30 and 31 in Springfield, by Tim Carroll, here: www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/photospreadthumbs.php .




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