Gay Marriage Supporters in Illinois Look to Next Session

Story by Brian Mackey

Illinois moved one step closer to legalizing gay marriage on Thursday. A Senate panel sent the measure to the floor on a strict party-line vote, but some key absences meant there weren’t enough votes to pass it in the full Senate.

Supporters of gay marriage began the day in high spirits, with a “bow tie” rally in the Capitol rotunda.

The actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson was on hand. He stars in the ABC comedy “Modern Family.”

“I’m half of a gay couple on the show, raising a daughter,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson is also half of a gay couple in real life. He and his fiance, Justin Mikita, plan to get married in New York.

“We wish we could do it in California,” Ferguson added. “It’s not legal, so we’re taking our business elsewhere. Don’t let that happen to you, Illinois.”

Later in the day, it became clear that could very well happen to Illinois. Backers of gay marriage were at least three votes short of being able to pass the measure. One senator was out of the country, another’s mother just died, and a third had a family health issue.

“The windows are closing a little bit on our ability to get marriage equality done right now,” said Bernard Cherkasov, the director of the gay-rights group Equality Illinois. “We’re not fully giving up yet and we’re always optimistic that miracles happen. But the chances are lower and lower right now.”

It goes without saying gay marriage is a contentious issue. Only one Republican senator voted for civil unions two years ago, and he is no longer a member. That means supporters would have to look for the bulk of their votes from among Democrats.

But there are several Democrats who oppose gay marriage — Sen. John Sullivan is from Rushville, in west-central Illinois. In keeping with his Downstate district, he is one of the more conservative members of the Democratic caucus.

“The saying around here is, ‘You vote your district,’ and that’s always important. But there’s also, when you get into — on these types of issues — you get into where you believe personally where it needs to come from, so I think that that’s more relevant in some of these bigger social issues,” Sullivan said.

It is just that sort of personal conscience that is left his fellow Democratic Sen. Mike Jacobs, from the Quad Cities area, who is undecided on the issue.

“You know, as a Catholic, I understand the religious push-back, and people saying marriage is for a man and woman,” Jacobs said. “But I also understand that love takes many forms in the new modern society that we live in. And if people love each other, should they not be able to marry? I just think those are really difficult questions.”

Jacobs said he probably will not know how he will vote until the last minute, when he has to decide whether to push the red or green button on his Senate desk.

But there are plenty of people who aren’t wrestling with their conscience over the issue. That includes Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield. He testified before a Senate panel.

“Neither two men, nor two women, can possibly form a marriage,” Paprocki said. “Our law would be wrong if it said that they could.”

Paprocki said approving gay marriage would enshrine three harmful ideas in state law.

“One: What essentially makes a marriage is romantic, emotional union,” he said. “Two: Children do need both a mother and a father. Three: The main purpose of marriage is adult satisfactions unrelated to the procreation of children.”

Mercedes Santos and Theresa Volpe were among dozens of supporters of gay marriage who waited most of the day for a hearing on the subject.

Santos and Volpe say they raise their children with positive values from their Catholic church in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. Still, they say the right to allow gay couples to marry is a civil right, not a religious issue.

“It’s very unfortunate that other people feel—have negative feelings for our family,“Santos said. “Because really all we are is we are a loving family — a loving couple. And we have great children. Our children, they’re here, they’re so patient. They know they’re here to support their moms and their family, and you know, what more can we ask for? And we want Illinois to know that.”

At the end of the day, the gay marriage legislation passed out of the committee on a strictly party-line vote.

But because of those missing members, the full Senate left town without taking it up.

With only a few days remaining until the current session of the General Assembly adjourns for good, the gay-rights group Equality Illinois declared a temporary victory and said it would be back in the spring.

Both the House and Senate will have more Democrats sworn in by then, and gay rights activists say that works in their favor.

They are confident gay marriage will eventually be the law in Illinois. They say it’s not a question of “if,” but “when.”

Story source: Illinois Public Radio