The earth has not opened up. Lake Michigan is still in place. And nary a peep from the pulpit.
Last fall, the Illinois General Assembly approved the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, and Gov. Pat Quinn signed it into law. It provides same-sex couples the marriage rights that heterosexuals enjoy.
There were dire predictions that if marriage equality came to Illinois, the world as we know it would vanish. Marriage equality opponents, led by the Catholic Church and African-American pastors, fervently promised that legislators who supported same-sex marriage would be targeted for defeat in the 2014 elections.
Those threats fell short. “It shows that the world is not ending,” says Randy Hannig, director of Public Policy at Equality Illinois, a leading gay rights group. “Fire and brimstone will not rain down.”
It’s here. Last month a federal judge ruled that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender couples in Cook County can get married right now, rather than wait until June 1, the law’s effective date.
Time to pop the champagne, but watch for potholes ahead. The Equality Illinois Political Action Committee is backing eight legislators who voted “yes” on marriage. Equality expects to spend about $100,000 in direct candidate contributions and another $25,000 in phone banking and other support in the primaries, Hannig said.
Most vulnerable are two Republicans — State Representatives Ron Sandack of Downers Grove and Ed Sullivan, from Mundelein. Two Illinois PACS run by conservative activists are spending big to knock them off. Another legislator on the bubble is South Side State Rep. Christian Mitchell, the leading African-American co-sponsor of the marriage bill. But his opponent, Jay Travis, a Bronzeville community organizer, cares not a whit about that vote. Travis and the Chicago Teachers Union are double-teaming Mitchell, excoriating him for his positions on pension and education reform.
Traditionally, Equality Illinois’ electoral muscle goes to electing LGBT candidates. While none of the targeted legislators is openly gay, they all took a huge risk for marriage. Equality is putting a “laser-like focus” on saving their seats, Hannig said.
There are only three openly LGBT newcomers on the March 18 ballot — all running in the Democratic primary. Judy Rice, the respected former Chicago city treasurer and banking executive, is vying for a Cook County Circuit Court judgeship in 7th Subcircuit. While it had long been known in LGBT circles, Rice came out as a lesbian last fall.
James Crawley, a longtime personal-injury attorney, is running for judge countywide.
Activist Jorge Zavala Jr. is taking on U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Chicago’s 4th Congressional District. Zavala, 26, has a degree in international studies and marketing from DePaul University, and has traveled and worked internationally. Zavala won’t beat the 22-year incumbent, but he is still one to watch.
“It is shocking to me at how few openly LGBT candidates are running for office,” says Windy City Times Publisher Tracy Baim. The astute political watcher notes that districts with significant gay populations already have representation, and it’s tough to unseat an incumbent.
She looks to “a new generation of lawyers and other folks who are considering it as a career path.” For them, being gay is “not as much a negative, as a positive.”