Illinois Senate inches forward on same-sex marriage

Joseph Diebold, Web Editor

A legislative battle over same-sex marriage has attracted strange bedfellows in President Barack Obama and Illinois GOP chairman Pat Brady, which has North Shore supporters cautiously optimistic that Illinois may become the 10th state to legalize same-sex marriage.

State Senate Democrats were reportedly hoping to pass House Bill 5170, which would legalize same-sex marriage, during the lame-duck period, a phrase referring to the last few days of a legislator’s term. The current Illinois General Assembly’s term ends Wednesday. Instead, Democrats settled for a hearing last Thursday in front of the Senate Executive Committee, where the bill won an 8-5 victory.

Among those testifying in front of the committee was a representative from the Northern Illinois Council of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, an LGBT advocacy group. PFLAG council president Toni Weaver said despite significant victories in November’s elections — where voters in Washington state, Maryland and Maine all approved marriage equality laws — progress on the issue will continue to be slow.

“Momentum is definitely building, but I think it’s still going to take a while and it will still be done incrementally,” Weaver said Saturday. “I would love to see an immediate change, but I don’t think we’re going to see that because we’re dealing with human beings and human beings are slow to change.”

The Democrats’ chances for the bill’s passage in the Senate may be greater in the upcoming session, when their numbers advantage will grow from 35-24 to 40-19. Among the new senators will be state Rep. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), who will replace retiring state Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg (D-Evanston).

Biss, former president of the Democratic Party of Evanston, has been a strong advocate for marriage equality. He campaigned on his support of marriage equality in his state senate campaign against Republican challenger Glenn Farkas and co-sponsored House Bill 5170, also known as the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. Before being picked up by the Senate, the bill had been stalled in the House Rules Committee since March.

“One of the things that was among the most meaningful ways that my wife and I honored our marriage was when we went to the wedding of my dear friend (Evanston Ald.) Mark Tendam (6th) and his husband Neal Moglin last year,” Biss said in a September debate against Farkas. “It was enabling them to build a loving partnership with the kind of commitment that we have — that’s been recognized by the state in the way that ours is — that makes us feel so good about our own marriage.”

However, Tendam told The Daily on Sunday that Democratic growth in the assembly does not guarantee the bill’s passage.

“We’re progressive, but we’re also very conservative in the southern part of the state,” he said. “We have one large urban area, but this is sort of a state divided. It’s certainly going to be a close vote.”

Tendam added the potential political damage from losing the vote means supporters should be particularly careful in ensuring they have the votes for passage before bringing the bill to the Senate floor.

In addition to the more conservative Democrats downstate, the bill’s supporters will have a difficult time attracting Republican backing. The conservative National Organization for Marriage has pledged to campaign against those on the fence who vote for the bill and called for Brady’s resignation.

“Any Republican in Illinois who betrays the cause of marriage will be casting a career-ending vote and will be held accountable to their constituents,” NOM president Brian Brown said in a news release.

Illinois’ civil unions law, passed in 2011, “provides that a party to a civil union shall be entitled to the same legal obligations, responsibilities, protections and benefits afforded or recognized by the law of Illinois to spouses.”

Although progress was made under that law, full equality will not be reached until marriage is open to all couples, said Tendam, who entered his civil union with Moglin on Jun. 2, 2011.

Despite the full legal rights afforded by civil unions, they still represent a degree of segregation to Weaver.

“It’s a matter here of words,” she said. “Marriage is an affair of the heart. You don’t think about people getting excited to become engaged to have a civil union, sending out invitations for a civil union. There’s a lot that really is wrapped up in the word, and if same-sex couples are not allowed to have their loving relationships recognized as marriage, there’s a fundamental inequality.”