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Gillian Roberts/MEDILL

Attendees cheered at an LGBT civil rights march held in Chicago on April 21.

Quinn backs gay marriage, but law won’t happen here anytime soon

by Gillian Roberts
May 10, 2012


Gov. Pat Quinn's office.

Gov. Pat Quinn and Chief Judge of the Cook County Circuit Court Timothy Evans stand with the first couple joined in civil union in the state last June. The pair have been together for 35 years.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn Thursday afternoon issued a statement supporting President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage. However, Illinois isn’t likely to pass its own gay marriage bill in the near future.

A pending gay marriage bill stalled in the rules committee and won’t come up for vote in the General Assembly during this session, which ends May 31.

“Governor Quinn joins with President Obama in supporting marriage equality and looks forward to working on this issue in the future with the General Assembly,” his office said in a statement released Thursday.

The law was introduced in Springfield in February and never moved past the Rules Committee. Illinois Rep. Greg Harris (D–Ravenswood), who filed the bill and reported in April that it would not be heard this spring, wouldn’t predict when it might come for vote.

“Of course I have plans to push it,” Harris said Wednesday. “It certainly is helpful when the President makes a statement like this. When Americans consider [the issue of gay marriage] with their friends and family, they will consider his thoughts.”

President Obama’s words Wednesday, which have been widely reported, will go down in history as the first endorsement on this topic by any U.S. president.
Until Wednesday Obama had characterized his position as evolving, and avoided endorsing gay marriage. That all changed during a network interview with ABC.

"It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” he said.

The Illinois Religious Freedom-Marriage Act (HB5170) has seven sponsors in the House, all Democrats. Harris is the highest-ranking openly gay legislator and elected official in the state.

"I think a majority of Americans believe in this," he said.

Representatives Kelly Cassidy (D-Rogers Park) and Deb Mell (D-Irving Park), two of the other sponsors on the bill, are both openly gay.

“We don’t have 60 votes, so pursuing it wouldn’t be prudent at this point,” Cassidy said Thursday. “The will is just not there right now, but the legislature is a dynamic creature and could change, especially in light of yesterday’s news.”

Illinois Rep. Timothy Schmitz (R-Geneva), the Republican spokesman on the committee where the bill currently sits, did not return a phone call on Thursday.

Larry Nazimek, member of the Chicago Republican Party and deputy committeeman (35th), reacted to the question about gay marriage in Illinois by saying “amend the dictionary.”

“The dictionary that I’ve seen, marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said. “You don’t choose to be gay or straight, but you don’t have to choose to be a Democrat either.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is another prominent elected Illinois official supporting gay marriage. He first publicly backed the matter in January as part of the U.S. Council of Mayors’ Freedom to Marry campaign. Emanuel also endorsed the marriage act when Harris introduced it in February.

“I believe in gay marriage,” Emanuel said Wednesday, several hours before Obama’s statement. “We have, in Illinois, a civil union bill, which I’m proud to have put in effect. And I’m also proud that we are working toward a greater inclusion and the right set of values, the right set of policies with that [gay marriage].”

Civil union legislation was signed by Quinn and became law last June. Harris also introduced that bill.

“The Democrats control both the Senate, House and governorship and they decided to finally throw us a bone with civil unions,” said Andy Thayer, founder of the Gay Liberation Network in Chicago. “But the Democrats have been sitting on a fence on gay marriage.”

A civil union provides same-sex couples all the state spousal benefits. However, it leaves the religious traditions associated with that union up to individual religions and churches to recognize.

Quinn’s office said that more than 3,700 couples have been joined under the civil union legislation so far.