Tom Kacich: Senator stands by vote on same-sex marriage
Friday was a busy day for state Sen. Jason Barickman as he answered constituent and media calls about his unexpected vote Thursday in favor of a same-sex marriage bill.
Barickman, formerly of Champaign and now of Bloomington, was the only one of 19 Senate Republicans to support the controversial measure that passed 34-21.
Although Barickman's Facebook page carried a lot of positive feedback about the vote, there also were remarks from supporters who said they were disappointed and would never again vote for him, and that he had voted for "perversion." The phone calls and emails to his office also reflected "a lot of mixed views," he said.
But Barickman stood by his vote, particularly his work to have an amendment put on the bill that he said guarantees "religious freedoms" of churches and other institutions.
Here's the wording of the amendment, agreed to by Barickman and the bill's sponsor, Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago:
"No church, mosque, synagogue, temple, nondenominational ministry, interdenominational or ecumenical organization, mission organization, or other organization whose principal purpose is the study, practice, or advancement of religion is required to provide religious facilities for the solemnization ceremony or celebration associated with the solemnization ceremony of a marriage if the solemnization ceremony or celebration associated with the solemnization ceremony is in violation of its religious beliefs.
"An entity identified in this subsection (a-10) shall be immune from any civil, administrative, criminal penalty, claim, or cause of action based on its refusal to provide religious facilities for the solemnization ceremony or celebration associated with the solemnization ceremony of a marriage if the solemnization ceremony or celebration associated with the solemnization ceremony is in violation of its religious beliefs.
"As used in this subsection (a-10), 'religious facilities' means sanctuaries, parish halls, fellowship halls, and similar facilities. 'Religious facilities' does not include facilities such as businesses, health care facilities, educational facilities, or social service agencies."
Barickman believes the amendment, plus floor debate on the bill, provides a strong foundation of legislative intent should the bill pass the House and become law, and should there be legal challenges to it.
"It is written in a way that at a plain reading, it appears to do exactly what we intended to do. It allows a church or another institution that does not believe in same-sex marriage to be able to preserve their beliefs as this law moves forward," he said. "You listened to extensive discussion immediately after the bill was called where we memorialized the legislative intent of the bill. And that legislative intent was also negotiated to make sure that we did our best to address the numerous questions that people will have about what we were trying to do when we wrote this law."
Barickman, who attends a conservative church in Bloomington, added, "My wife and I, because of our faith, believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. I thought it was critical that we preserve that religious freedom that separates governmental distinction from religious distinction."
"A lot of people," including other Republican senators, were involved in the negotiations with Steans, he said.
"I was asked my opinion of the bill. I said I would read it. I read it and reported back that I opposed the bill because I believed as originally written it imposed upon a religious institution an obligation to do things such as the solemnization of a marriage" that they did not agree with, he said.
"When I informed the sponsor of my opposition she said she would be willing to work with me to preserve those religious freedoms, so long as I would ultimately support the bill," he said.
As late as the morning of the vote it was thought other Republicans would vote with Barickman for the bill. One upstate senator told me she wasn't proud of herself but that she had backed off support for the bill in the face of fierce opposition from some constituents.
Coincidentally, earlier in the week I spoke to Barickman's government class at Illinois State University (in the same building where I had taken classes 40 years ago) and the subject of the scheduled gay marriage bill came up. I had assumed Barickman was a no vote, and he never let on that he might vote yes. But the students in the class were overwhelmingly in favor of the bill, including one woman who tearfully expressed support.
I asked him Friday if his students' support was part of the reason for his vote.
"No," he said, "they're going to be as surprised about this as you are."
Mike Frerichs has the potential to make some local history next year.
The six-year state senator from Champaign last week made it official that he is interested in running for a statewide office.
In an email to supporters, Frerichs confirmed "that I am exploring a statewide run. I'm excited to take what I've learned from my time as state senator and use it to help the entire state of Illinois. You've been there for me in the past, and I'm asking that you be with me again throughout this journey.
"To kick off my exploratory campaign, I'm having two events in March: one in Chicago and one in Springfield," Frerichs wrote.
Tickets for the receptions are $150 apiece. Other levels of support — from $500 to $5,300 — also are available.
His last campaign disclosure report showed that Frerichs' campaign already had almost $375,000 on hand.
Frerichs wouldn't say what office he is seeking, but state treasurer would be a good fit for the former county auditor. Further, it appears the office will be open since the current treasurer, Dan Rutherford, virtually announced last week that he is running for governor.
The last candidate for a statewide office from Champaign County was Republican Jim Skelton, who ran for treasurer in 1978 and lost to Democrat Jerry Cosentino, who years later was convicted on a bank fraud charge unrelated to his work as state treasurer.
"I'm talking with a lot of people around the state and getting different advice, seeking support from different areas and I'll be exploring it for the next several months or so before I make a decision," Frerichs said last week.
Frerichs isn't interested in running for governor or attorney general, he said. The popular Secretary of State Jesse White, who will be 80 years old in November 2014, said he's running for a fifth term. And Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said she too is running for re-election; Frerichs is smart enough to not challenge her.
For now that leaves only treasurer.
If Frerichs runs and wins, he'd be the first state treasurer from Champaign County in the state's 195-year history. But you could say that about any of the six constitutional offices. There has never been a governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer or comptroller from Champaign County.
The last statewide constitutional officer from Champaign County was Vernon Nickell, the superintendent of public instruction (when it was an elected office), a Republican who served until 1955.
Perhaps of greater political note is that Democrats haven't elected a candidate for a statewide constitutional office from downstate Illinois since Jim Donnewald, from Breese in southern Illinois, was elected treasurer in 1982.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.