Illinois Gay Marriage Supporters Look to Next Session
The stalling of Illinois’ gay-marriage push - at least for now - shows the difficulty of approving legislation to legalize it, even with a nudge from the home-state president, steadily rising support in the polls and national momentum from the November elections.
Democrats control both chambers of the General Assembly and the governor’s office in the solidly blue state. Yet the margin of support State Senate Democrats were able to pull together for a bill last week was so thin that a death in one lawmaker’s family and another senator’s extended trip to Israel were enough to push the issue into the next legislative session.
Supporters downplayed the delay, saying a Senate committee’s vote to advance the measure was history itself and insisting same-sex marriage here is inevitable. But there’s no denying that even as the nation’s feelings about the issue appear to be shifting, lawmakers have been more reluctant to do so - particularly in the nation’s heartland.
No legislature in the middle of the country has approved gay marriage. Of the nine states that allow it, Iowa is the only one not located on the nation’s coasts, and it adopted same-sex unions through the courts, not the Legislature.
As it became clear last week that Illinois didn’t have a deal and would have to push back a vote until possibly February, Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, mentioned same-sex marriage along with gun control as measures that are "always going to be very, very tough" to pass.
That makes a potential victory in Illinois even sweeter, advocates say. The Iowa Supreme Court’s decision to void the state’s gay marriage ban in 2009 shocked people on both coasts and sent ripples across the nation, said Jim Bennett, director of the Midwest office of Lambda Legal.
Chicago-Downstate Dichotomy Affects Democrats, Too
"I think Illinois is the same way," Bennett said. "There’s a sense that if it happens in the middle of the country, it’s not a trend. It’s a new understanding of the gay community and where we are."
While President Barack Obama’s home state is known for its liberal policies, its Democratic leadership hails mostly from Chicago while the rest of the state - including fellow Democrats - are far more conservative. One Republican from downstate Illinois said what happened last week was a reflection of that.
"I think the Legislature is a microcosm of the state’s society, and it proves once again that the state of Illinois is not ready for gay marriage," Sen. Sam McCann said.
But Edwin Yohnka, director of public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which is part of a coalition pushing the bill, characterized the committee vote as "a great accomplishment."