Illinois vote on gay marriage may have other consequences
Opponents of gay marriage in Illinois, operating under the broad banner of the Illinois Family Institute, have worked hard enough to gather more than 345,000 signatures on petitions that apparently will put an advisory referendum on the ballot this fall. We say "apparently" because it's possible that if enough signatures are ruled invalid, the advisory referendum would be thwarted.
But what is the harm in asking the electorate its opinion on this or virtually any other public policy issue?
The full text of the referendum is simple and straightforward: "Shall the Illinois General Assembly submit an amendment to Article IX of the Illinois State Constitution to the voters of the State of Illinois at large in the next General Election stating as follows: 'To secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for the future generations of children, a marriage between a man and a woman is the only legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State'?"
Illinois law already bans gay marriage, but proponents of the advisory vote say they fear that the courts could undo that law. And the state's Constitution makes it virtually impossible for the electorate to make constitutional revisions on its own, so this is the only way that voters can take the initiative and demand action by their lawmakers in what is essentially a 100 percent accurate public opinion poll. Even with that, the referendum is nonbinding so that legislators are free to ignore or abide by the wishes of their constituents. In fact, they did so the last (and only) time that a statewide advisory referendum was put on the ballot since the 1970 Constitution.
That was in 1978 when the so-called "Thompson Proposition," the brainchild of a Republican governor fearful of a California-style tax revolt in Illinois, went before the voters. Gov. James Thompson had offered the vaguely worded and virtually meaningless proposal in mid-July but was able to collect more than 600,000 signatures (some workers were paid to collect signatures) in a little more than a month. The Thompson Proposition said, "Shall legislation be enacted and the Illinois Constitution be amended to impose ceilings on taxes and spending by the state of Illinois, units of local government and school districts?"
It passed with 83 percent of the vote. Still, the Legislature never submitted a constitutional amendment imposing ceilings on taxes or spending.
This year's marriage amendment might realize a similar fate – approval by the voters but not by the Legislature.
The real beneficiary, if the marriage amendment gets on the ballot, could be the recently luckless Illinois Republican Party. In 1978 the Thompson Proposition helped energize conservative voters and enabled Illinois Republicans to gain seats in the Illinois House and Senate, and re-elect Thompson (with 60 percent of the vote), U.S. Sen. Charles Percy and Attorney General William Scott. And in the old 22nd Congressional District where Democratic Rep. George Shipley was retiring, Danville dentist Dan Crane, a Republican, beat state Sen. Terry Bruce. That tipped the Illinois congressional delegation to the Republican Party.
A big turnout this November, boosted by the marriage amendment, could help Republican gubernatorial candidate Judy Baar Topinka and the rest of the statewide GOP ticket, as well as two Republican congressional candidates locked in close election contests in the Chicago suburbs.