Area legislators discuss same-sex marriage bill


by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI

Nearly all Northwest Side legislators voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage called the vote in the House of Representatives last week a historic event for the state.

The House voted 61-54 on Senate Bill 10, with two representatives voting present. The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act provides same-sex couples and their children equal access to the benefits, protections, rights and responsibilities of civil marriage between a man and a woman.

The bill does not require religious institutions to solemnize same-sex marriages or to provide their facilities for those ceremonies. The state also will recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

The Senate concurred with the bill on a 32-21 vote because it has approved its version in February. Governor Pat Quinn said that he will sign the bill on Nov. 20 and that it will take effect in June.

The bill’s chief sponsor in the House was state Representative Greg Harris (D-13), who for years has pushed for equal rights in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual community. Harris is recognized as one of the few openly gay legislators in the General Assembly.

Harris was criticized at the end of legislative session in February when he decided not to call the bill for a vote because he did not have enough votes to pass it.

"The world is changing, and people in every neighborhood know that it is changing, and I’m thrilled about what happened," Harris said. "I’m so happy. It was a nail biter, but we knew that we were there in terms of votes and I decided to call it."

"People who have been together in relationships for 15, 18 or 20 years can finally get married in this state and not be treated like second-hand citizens," Harris said. "I think that a lot of other states were looking up to Illinois to see what we were going to do. Here we did it at the legislative level and not through a lawsuit."

Harris was referring to a lawsuit in Cook County that challenged the state’s prohibition on same-sex marriage.

"Some of it gained momentum when the Supreme Court struck down (the Defense of Marriage Equality Act) and suddenly civil unions were not enough and we didn’t want to be seen as second class citizens," Harris said. "At the end of the day, many people are thrilled about this, and there are lot of families that are now protected."

The General Assembly passed a bill approving civil unions in 2010. The law required county clerks to issue civil union licenses and allowed judges, clergy and public officials with the authority to marry couples to perform civil union ceremonies.

The bill granted both same-sex and opposite-sex unmarried couples many of the same rights guaranteed to married couples, such as visitation rights in hospitals, the right to inherit from their partners and the right to make decisions for each other in probate matters.

Couples who have entered into civil unions or marriages in other states had their unions recognized in Illinois, although same-sex marriages were recognized only as civil unions rather than as marriages.

One legislator who has voted against civil unions and opposed gay marriage because it was a religious issue for him is state Representative John D’Amico (D-15), who voted in favor of the measure.

"I’ve gotten an awful lot of phone calls from people who were either really against it or really for it," D’Amico said. "In the end I felt like I had had a lot of meetings with people on this issue and I wanted to vote in line with my constituents. The majority of people wanted this.

asically what it came down to is that the state should not discriminate against anybody."

D’Amico said that he is not the only one who changed his mind on the issue. House Republicans Tom Cross (R-97), Ed Sullivan Jr. (R-57) and Ron Sandack (R-81) also voted in favor of the bill.

House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22) voted for the bill, and Senate President John Cullerton (D-6) did not vote, although he supported the bill. State Senator Ira Silverstein (D-8) also did not vote.

Cullerton said in a statement that the Senate was proud to take the lead on the issue and "we are happy to have the legislature’s final word on the issue of marriage equality."

D’Amico said that he made his decision before the vote on the House floor. "Obviously it was very quiet when the debate was happening on the House floor," he said. "Normally people are milling around and they are calling other bills and people are walking, but this was different. It’s a historic vote and we have to see if the rest of the nation will follow suit or not."

State Senator John Mulroe (D-10), who also voted for the bill, said that he found himself in a similar position to D’Amico’s.

"D’Amico got out of the box on this one, and it was something that I had to do too, because I’m Irish Catholic and even in Irish Catholic families there are kids who are gay and what can you do in those situations, tell them they are not the same?" Mulroe said.

"I got calls from people that said that they would never vote for me anymore because I betrayed the Irish Catholics. Some people bring up religion, but I think it’s basically about common decency to your fellow man and that you treat others the way you want to be treated."
Mulroe said that he went to the chamber to witness what he considered a "historical moment for Illinois." He said that Harris was the last one to speak before the vote and that he received cheers.

State Representative Michael McAuliffe (R-20) said that he voted against the bill but that there was a lot of pressure on Northwest Side lawmakers to support it.

"When the civil union bill passed it was just the beginning," McAuliffe said. "Then the Senate passed the gay marriage bill and the pressure just kept on building, but I’m glad that it’s over and done with so we can move on to other issues facing the state."

"D’Amico, for example, there was a lot of pressure on him to do it, and some other legislators changed their minds and (Mayor Rahm) Emanuel made phone calls to Democrats pressuring them to get it done," McAuliffe said. "I think I voted in the spirit of my district and I reflected my district."

State Senator William Delgado (D-2), who did not vote because he was absent from Springfield but who supported same-sex marriage in the past, said that it is good for the state to free people who "needed liberation."

"We abolished slavery and now we abolished the old way of thinking that gays can’t marry," Delgado said. "We decided to give civility a try and give equality to homosexuals and not discriminate against them based on their persuasions."

Delgado said that the new law will not affect the institution of marriage between heterosexual couples. "This is not about the sanctity of marriage," he said. "People are getting divorced all the time at an alarming rare.

"I was getting pressured to not vote for it, but it’s been a fascinating experience because I got to talk to a lot of people about this and in the end I figured, ‘How does this affect my marriage?’ It doesn’t. As heterosexuals we’ve done a pretty good job of screwing up the institution by ourselves, "Mulroe said.

D’Amico said that Madigan quoted Pope Francis during the debate before the vote. "Madigan quoted the pope, you know, who was he to judge, and that’s a pretty powerful statement coming from the pope," he said.

Former state representative and current 33rd Ward Alderman Deb Mell, who got married to her lesbian partner in Iowa, said that she is extremely happy that the state finally will allow same-sex couples to marry. Illinois will be the 15th state that allows it.

"It was a very nice feeling in the chamber and everyone spoke really well during the debate," Mell said. "It was important for Illinois to be on the forefront of this issue and getting in line with what is happening in the country."


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