No clear direction on gay marriage in Illinois after court ruling
It's unclear whether Wednesday's major victories in the U.S. Supreme Court will bolster the cause of gay marriage in the Illinois House of Representatives.
The Illinois Senate approved legislation on Valentine's Day that would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois on a 34-21 roll call. Thirty votes were needed for passage.
But supporters said they could never round up the needed 60 votes to pass the bill (SB 10) in the House. They might still be short, said lawmakers on both sides of the issue.
"I would hope that for people who were on the fence, and maybe not sure, that this would say to them that its all right," said Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, who is a sponsor of the gay marriage bill.
Even if the House were to approve the gay marriage bill this summer or fall, it wouldn't have an immediate effect unless there was a supermajority — at least 72 votes — in favor. If the legislation passed with fewer than 72 votes the effective date would be next summer.
"I don't know if there is any chance of that," Jakobsson admitted.
There's a chance that lawmakers could take up the issue in early July if they go back into session to take up pension issues. Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, said that legislators have been told not to be out of the state on July 8 or 9.
"Now with this decision," said Jakobsson, "is it possible that this could come up too? I don't know. I haven't spoken to the sponsor of the bill (Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago) about what he is thinking."
The targets most likely to yield yes votes remain black Democrats, said Jakobsson. Downstate Democrats from socially conservative districts probably won't vote for the measure, she said.
"Would they change their mind after this? I don't know, after all, they're representing their districts. It's going to be tough," she said. "I think the folks who pulled off and said they needed to wait, they're the ones who the sponsor of the bill is waiting for."
Republican Rep. Josh Harms of Watseka said he remains opposed to same-sex marriage.
"I'll still be voting no if it comes up," he said Wednesday. "I don't know what anybody else is going to do."
He said he recently surveyed residents of his conservative district that includes Vermilion, Ford, Iroquois, Livingston and Woodford counties and found "they were something like 5-to-1 opposed" to the idea.
Still, Gov. Pat Quinn said that members of the House "now have more than 1,100 new reasons to make marriage equality the law in Illinois."
Quinn said the Supreme Court decision striking down provisions in the federal Defense of Marriage Act helped give "equal access to more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits for same-sex couples."
He said the "opportunity to guarantee equal rights and benefits to all citizens — under both state and federal law — is one we must seize here in the Land of Lincoln without delay. Now is the time for all to put differences aside, band together and redouble our efforts to make it happen."
Bernard Cherkasov, the CEO of the Equality Illinois, a same-sex marriage advocacy group, said that the Defense of Marriage Act ruling "is bittersweet in the states like Illinois where couples are still denied the right and recognition of marriage.
"For anyone who doubts that civil unions in Illinois created an unacceptable second-class status, the court's ruling is a powerful message that the state House urgently needs to join the Senate and pass the freedom to marry."
Ed Yohnka, director of communications for the Illinois ACLU, agreed "that is the sad piece" of the court's verdict.
"The decision means that only those in marriages will get access to these critical federal benefits and protections," he said. "This puts the onus on the Illinois House to take up the marriage bill and pass it as soon as possible. We, as a state, should ensure that families in our state have equal protection in areas critical to family formation and stability. Couples in civil unions already suffered a harm in not being fully recognized as married; now, that harm is more dramatic and tangible."
Civil unions have been legal in Illinois since June 1, 2011. Since that time about 5,200 civil union licenses have been issued statewide, including 196 in Champaign County.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Conference of Illinois and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops decried the court's rulings.
The Catholic bishops said that Wednesday was "a tragic day for marriage and our nation. The Supreme Court has dealt a profound injustice to the American people by striking down in part the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
"The court got it wrong. The federal government ought to respect the truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, even where states fail to do so. The preservation of liberty and justice requires that all laws, federal and state, respect the truth, including the truth about marriage."
The Catholic Conference of Illinois, which includes the Diocese of Peoria covering Champaign and Vremilion counties, issued a similar statement, saying that marriage "comes to us through God's nature as the union of one man and one woman."
The group said that the ruling "does not mandate a redefinition of marriage across the nation, so the citizens of Illinois can still preserve marriage by telling their state lawmakers to honor the natural truth of marriage as the union of one man and one woman."
It pledged to "work to preserve marriage and stress the disturbing lack of religious freedom protections included in Illinois' legislative efforts to redefine marriage."