On Valentines Day this year, the Illinois Senate voted for Marriage Equality. The bill (SB10) passed in the Senate and awaited action from the Illinois House of Representatives. By the end of the spring legislative session, the bill fell short of the 60 votes needed for passage and the sponsor- Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago)- postponed a vote. Several years ago, Illinois lawmakers approved civil union legislation, which ultimately lacked the same legal protections found in standard marriage.
Back in February, SB10 received only one GOP vote in the Senate. Two GOP Representatives proceeded to openly announce their support for the bill in the House after the Senate vote. This caused fringe Republican groups to protest their district offices, despite the fact that both are rather conservative members.
The concepts of tolerance and equality apparently are beyond the Tea Party litmus test. How extending equal protection of the law infringes on individual freedom and impedes religious liberty is unclear to me.
As many of you know, SB10 was up for another vote yesterday for Illinois lawmakers. Upon hearing the Rep. Harris’ closing remarks prior to yesterday’s roll call, my gay colleague and I listened in silence for SB10’s outcome. He jumped in joy when the presiding speaker read the winning roll call. He hugged everyone near him and endeared us with joy!
Illinois is no longer a separate-but-equal state in regards to LGBT rights. As a state, we now support equal protection of the law for all. It was a truly heartwarming moment.
Despite frustrating opposition on SB10 from Black House Democrats facing opposition from ministers in their districts, all but three Republicans, and even groups like the Illinois Farm Bureau (seriously), the Illinois General Assembly surprised, rather than disappointed, voters in this rare instance.
The bill’s fate always rested in the more conservative and politically conscious House. Their members face voters every two years and have fewer opportunities to lead, and instead follow the impulses of voters who don’t know who they are. The voice of Illinois voters was heard yesterday in a historic vote in the General Assembly.
Despite legislative gridlock on pensions and tax policy, it was fascinating to witness honest leadership from our lawmakers. Some staunchly religious members faced tremendous pressure and opposition from their churches but they bravely broke with the very institutions that divide our nation and divert attention from important causes.
Once signed by Governor Pat Quinn (D-IL), the new law will give the same State benefits and protections already afforded to heterosexual couples. The government is no longer in charge of whom you can love in one less State. Same-sex couples will have to wait until June of 2014, due to legislative protocol.
Republicans were on the wrong side of this issue. But, the controversy will pass and new opportunities to demonstrate leadership will present themselves. Illinois now has one less wedge-issue to distract voters. This is the time to come to the table with real ideas to make government more efficient and responsive.
GOP Representatives Sandack, Cross, and Sullivan broke with their party to do what’s right, even though each member faces Tea Party primary opponents this March. They exhibited real leadership yesterday.
61 Illinois lawmakers were on the right side of history yesterday. Politics is rough game, and voters can be unforgiving. But, yesterday leadership prevailed, and it should be rewarded. The voters who are represented by the 61 affirmative members would be wise to keep their Representatives next fall.