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Greg Harris's marriage equality law may help spur local economy

by Kerry Cardoza
Aug 25, 2014

State Rep. Greg Harris, chief House sponsor of the Illinois marriage equality law, is receiving a lot of wedding invites this summer. Sitting in his cluttered Uptown office, the 59-year-old Democrat speaks modestly about the months he spent gathering support for the controversial bill, which at times ignited ire from both conservatives and liberals.

SB 10, signed into law on Nov. 20 and which took effect June 1, requires that all Illinois marriage laws apply to same- and different-sex couples equally.

“It was really amazing,” Harris said of the passage that made Illinois the 16th state to legalize same-sex marriage. “In a very short period of time, public opinion has shifted on this dramatically.”

The first to arrive at his office on a recent morning, the bald and serious-looking legislator made a pot of coffee and recalled the challenges of obtaining the necessary votes. “Most of it was talking about the politics,” the openly gay Harris said.

Former GOP chairman Pat Brady, an unlikely ally of Harris, supported the bill, leading his party to call for his resignation. For Brady, being on the right side of history was more important than toeing the party line.

“When they asked me to support it, I said absolutely,” Brady said. “It was the right thing to do.”

After his resignation, Brady worked for the ACLU trying to win Republican support for the bill.

“Greg Harris did all the work,” Brady said. “He got it done in very difficult circumstances.”

One outcome of the bill discussed during negotiations was the economic boost that same-sex marriages can bring to local and state economies. In a March 2013 report published by UCLA’s gender policy think tank The Williams Institute it is estimated that the state would see an estimated $5.4 million tax revenue increase in the first year.

“Certainly we wanted to talk about the fact that this would bring benefit to the state, that it would bring economic development to their districts, that it would help small businesses,” Harris said.

A 2009 Williams Institute study on the economic effects of same-sex marriage legalization in Massachusetts, which passed the law in 2003, estimated that it added up to $111 million to the state economy in the first five years.

Florist Stephen English predicts the increase in business he’s seen at his South Side shop, The Blossom Boys, to continue. “Everyone I’ve talked to...said their business has boomed,” English said.

“I have been getting a lot more calls about gay weddings,” said Marcy Baim, proprietor of the event space Keith House, located just south of downtown.

Her sister, Tracy Baim, publisher of LGBT newspaper Windy City Times, was one of Harris’ most vocal critics during the bill negotiations, due to his political maneuvering.

“It was never personal,” Baim said. “Out of that darkness and kind of anger came...a way to create better community.”

Now that the marriage equality fight is over, Harris is working on health care issues in the coming months, due to changes stemming from the Affordable Care Act. In the meantime, the wedding mail keeps coming in. Picking up a stack from his desk, he said, “Look, every week I get more invitations.”