SPRINGFIELD - It has been two years since civil unions became an alternative for marriage in Illinois. Since then 11 members in the Illinois Senate and 31 in the House are no longer serving in the legislature. With the next hurdle for GLBT (gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders) activists likely to be voted upon in the Illinois legislature this week, the question observers are asking is, how close are we to legalizing same sex marriage in Illinois?
The January Lame Duck session allows legislation to pass with a simple majority. Over the past few post-election sessions, some of the most controversial bills have been addressed in lame duck, just hours before the newly elected group of legislators is sworn in. The reason? Because passage on controversial issues is easier in lame duck.
While the Democrats have majorities in both Illinois chambers, their caucus members include those that represent downstate conservative districts, whose seats are needed to maintain Democrat majorities. So in both the Senate and the House, bill sponsors of controversial social issues must work to get simple majorities without Downstate Democrats. Sometimes that includes appealing to a more socially-liberal Republican or two to 1.) pass the legislation without the Downstate Dems, and 2.) make the legislation appear as having “bi-partisan support,” something that soothes moderate voters.
The civil union bill SB 1716 fit that pattern. In the Senate, downstate Democrats Gary Forby (Benton), Bill Haine (East Alton), John Sullivan (Quincy) and Chicago area social conservative Democrats Viverito and Meeks all voted “no",” leaving 27 Democrats supporting the measure. That number alone would have been enough to pass the legislation. However, one Republican State Senator - Dan Rutherford – added the "bipartisan" vote to the Democrats’ victory.
If these four Democrats were opposed in 2010 to the more moderate-sounding “civil unions,” it’s likely they will vote “no” on same sex marriage, but their opinions may have changed over the last two years, as well.
Several 2010 Senate Democrats that voted "yes" on civil unions - Bond, Demuzio, Hendon, Emil Jones II, and Wilhelmi - and Viverito, who voted "no," are no longer in the Senate. Democrats Emil Jones III, Pat McQuire, Steven Landek and Annazette Collins now fill their seats, along with Republicans Sam McCann and Suzie Schmidt. While all the new Democrats are likely to be “yes” votes on gay marriage, McCann will likely be a “no” vote, and reports are that Schmidt is leaning to vote “yes.” That leaves the count of the newbies similar to the 2010 civil union vote.
But adding to the concern about Suzie Schmidt’s vote is that she will not be returning in 98th General Session, making her a prime lame duck that has nothing to lose with her vote.
Other Senate lame ducks that voted “no” in 2010 include Ron Sandack, John Millner, Carole Pankau, Chris Lauzen and Democrat Rev. James Meeks.
In addition, Senate Minority Leader Chris Radogno (Lemont) has been heavily supported by gay rights groups, who are actively urging the bill’s passage.
From all assessments, the Senate vote could be down to one member, with 29 or 30 “yes” votes.
Illinois Republican Party chairman Pat Brady says he has been urging Senate Republicans to vote “yes” on gay marriage, saying it’s the only “true conservative” position.
Now and in the new session, while the Senate Democrats will hold a super majority, the Downstate Democrats could prevent passage if the Republicans stand firmly opposed.
A Senate victory will increase momentum for the legalization of gay marriage as a nationally-recognized victory for the LGBT movement, and will place pressure on House members to collaborate
Governor Quinn has urged the bill’s passage.