Legislatures in Illinois, Rhode Island on track for final votes this month; one-third of Americans may soon live where gay nuptials are legal

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

The race to become the 10th marriage-equality state just got more interesting, as both the Illinois and Rhode Island legislatures are on track to take final votes this month.

In a surprise development, Rhode Island Senate President Teresa Weed acknowledged to a Providence Journal reporter that she would allow a floor vote on the marriage-equality bill by the end of the month. Weed, who is opposed to the bill, had previously promised only to allow a Senate committee vote if the bill passed the House. The marriage-equality bill passed the Rhode Island House in January on a 51 to 19 vote.

Weed press spokesman Greg Pare confirmed this week that Weed plans to bring the bill to a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee soon after the legislature returns from its spring break next week. He said Weed also committed to allow a floor vote a “couple of days after that,” before the end of this month.

Meanwhile, the Illinois House is also looking at the real possibility of taking its historic vote on marriage equality this month. The Senate passed the legislation in February on a 34-21 vote.

As of Tuesday, April 9, Equality Illinois leader Bernard Cherkasov said he didn’t have a timeline for when the House vote might happen, but added, “I do feel confident that the marriage bill will pass with strong bipartisan support.”

The Illinois House has 118 members, 71 Democrats and 47 Republicans. The bill needs 60 votes to pass. According to the Associated Press, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn told reporters Monday,

April 8, that supporters of the legislation are “very close” to getting the votes they need.

Both Quinn and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent, have said they will sign the marriage equality legislation. While either state would represent another success for LGBT civil rights supporters, passage in Illinois would put the nation’s fifth-most populous state in the victory column. That would make Illinois the second-most populous of the marriage-equality states, behind New York. It would also mean that 15 percent of the U.S. population would be living in states where same-sex couples are allowed to marry. If Rhode Island and California come onboard this year — as they could (California through a U.S. Supreme Court decision) — that figure would jump to nearly one-third of the population.

The Illinois Legislature has been in recess for the past several weeks and reconvened Monday, but both supporters and opponents of marriage equality have been busy during recess.

Several local websites have reported escalating use of robo-calls by opponents of allowing gays to marry. One Chicago neighborhood website, dnainfo.com/Chicago, said constituents of at least one House legislator were receiving robo-calls saying that same-sex marriage “denies children the right to know who their real parent is.” The website said the recording was produced by Family-PAC. An earlier robo-call message said “homosexual activists” were demanding marriage regardless of its consequences, adding, “Children are not playthings or social experiments.” It was recorded by a local conservative talk show host, Sandy Rios.

But there have been high-profile supporters, too. National civil rights leader Julian Bond issued a statement in support of Illinois marriage equality last week. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Urban League CEO Andrea Zopp, Hyatt Hotels Corp. President Mark Hoplamazian, Latino Policy Forum Executive Director Maria Pesqueira, and the two local daily newspapers are also supporting marriage equality. And the LGBT newspaper Windy City Times reported that four well-known sports stars sent a letter to House members urging their support for marriage equality. They included Chicago Cubs’ Baseball Hall of Fame shortstop Ernie Banks and three former players with the Chicago Bears football team.

Even the head of the Illinois Republican Party, Pat Brady, announced support for the bill. That move, in January, put him at odds with many in his party — so much so, the state party held a caucus March 8 to consider ousting him from his position as chairman of the state party. But the Chicago Tribune reported that the meeting was later cancelled when opponents failed to identify enough votes (60 percent of the membership) to replace Brady.

© 2013 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 12, 2013.