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Veto session looms as marriage organizers push for last votes
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times
2013-09-11

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Zero. That is the number of on-record "yes" votes for marriage equality added since May 31.

See related story, The vote count, at www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/The-vote-count-Push-for-marriage-equality-continues/44316.html .

But LGBT leaders say that support for the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, SB10, is growing and they intend to see a vote on the bill during this fall's veto session.

LGBT leaders and sponsors are in the midst of a massive push to pass the bill, after an attempt to do so fell short during the spring session in May.

Illinois Unites for Marriage, the coalition of organizations leading that charge, has put 19 field organizers on the ground in 38 districts across the state. The campaign has also employed a field director and two deputy field directors under Campaign Manager John Kohlhepp, who was hired following the May shortfall.

"We hope to pass SB10 in the veto session," Kohlhepp said.

Organizers are knocking on doors, running phone banks and collecting post cards from supporters, he added.

"It's a matter of elevating the voices of people who care about the issue, and that is what the campaign is about," he told Windy City Times.

Kohlhepp reiterated the goal of securing an ambitious 71 votes, 11 more than the bill needs to pass. Those extra votes would allow sponsors to amend the effective date to 30 days after passage, rather than the June effective date that would be required if the bill passed during veto session. Kohlhepp said that campaign continues to work towards the 71 vote goal but makes no guarantees.

The bill passed the Senate in February but fell short of support by session's end in May. Rep. Greg Harris, sponsor of the bill, previously said that wavering colleagues had assured him they would return in the fall ready to vote on the measure.

But Harris will not say whether he intends to call for a vote on the bill during the veto session, which begins Oct. 22. He recently told Windy City Times he has not ruled out veto session, but would not say for certain if he would move the bill then.

"I would like to see it take effect as soon as possible," Harris said, adding that the 71 vote goal is "a broad reach."

Sponsors will have between Oct. 22-24 and Nov. 5-7 to pass the bill in the veto session. If sponsors fall short of shoring up 71 votes, they will need to decide if they want to move the bill in the fall veto session or wait until January when regular session begins. That would allow them to pass the bill in January and see an effective date the following month, rather than in June.

Harris said that the Supreme Court's effective strike down of the Defense of Marriage Act has given sponsors more ammo for their argument that civil unions fall short of marriages. That is because same-sex married couples will now be able to access a number of federal benefits—like veterans benefits, joint tax filing and social security recognition for spouses.

"I think we need to continue to work with folks in their districts and let them know how things have changed," Harris told Windy City Times.

Pressure will be on Harris and other sponsors to call for a vote on the bill during veto session.

Thousands are expected to rally in support of the bill Oct. 22 outside the Capitol Building. The March on Springfield, planned by Windy City Times Publisher Tracy Baim and a group of LGBT activists from around the state, is scheduled for noon that day.

Organizers are urging thousands to flood the capitol for the march. Illinois Unites has also thrown its weight behind the rally, using its listserv to publicize the event.

Asked if organizers have added numbers to their "yes" count, Kohlhepp said, "I believe that we can say that we have."

But supporters face a tough fight. Those that have switched to the "yes" column have yet to make their stances public, leaving them room to back out. Additionally, the veto session falls before election filing deadlines, increasing chances that lawmakers fearful of primary challenges will balk at voting on controversial bills.

Rick Garcia, policy advisor for The Civil Rights Agenda, said that reality is making him cautious about forecasts for the fall.

"I'm making no predictions because after what happened in May, I'm gun shy about doing that," Garcia said.

And Garcia suggests another challenge— organizers have yet to secure even 60 votes, he said.

"We're cobbling together votes that we need," he said. "We need a handful."

That, he said, should be reason for equal marriage supporters to contact their state reps. and put the pressure on.

"How can we position [representatives] in a way that they're comfortable in doing this before a primary?" Garcia asked.

More information on the March on Springfield is available at marchonspringfield.org . Information on Illinois Unites and volunteer opportunities can be found at illinoisunites.org .

See related story, The vote count, here: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/The-vote-count-Push-for-marriage-equality-continues/44316.html .


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