SPRINGFIELD-Senate Democrats appeared to wave the white flag Thursday on gay marriage and guns with Senate President John Cullerton conceding there “may be even more support” for the hot-button issues next spring.
That stony assessment came on a frenzied legislative day when the Senate advanced legislation out of committee to legalize gay marriage but stood silent on bids to ban military-style guns and the ammunition that feeds them.
With the lame-duck General Assembly poised to finish its two-year term next Wednesday, the failure to pass gay-marriage or gun-control packages to the House demonstrated that math wasn’t on the side of supporters of the high-profile legislation and enhanced the likelihood of a slew of unfinished business spilling into the spring, including pension reform, Gov. Pat Quinn’s highest priority for the lame-duck session.
“We start up again next Wednesday, and I think that on these issues there may be even more support for them in the next General Assembly,” Cullerton (D-Chicago) said, speaking of guns and gay marriage.
The potential demise of gay-marriage leaves President Barack Obama and state GOP chairman Pat Brady with a degree of egg on their faces.
By wading back into the chaotic affairs of the Illinois Legislature and urging passage of the bill last weekend, the president invested his prestige in the debate’s outcome while Brady faces certain backlash from his party’s conservative flank for urging Republicans to back gay marriage when a final vote wasn’t even taken.
Cullerton was non-committal about having the Senate come back next Tuesday, saying that would depend on whether the House managed to legalize gay marriage, enact stiff gun-control measures on its own or move packages cutting state pensions – possibilities widely regarded as a steeper legislative climb than in the Senate.
The House comes to Springfield late Sunday and is scheduled to be in session through next Tuesday.
In the Senate, the wheels came off the gay-marriage wagon Thursday after three key supporters wound up being absent, leaving the roll call being assembled by the bill’s backers below the 30 votes needed for passage by the full Senate.
The absent senators included retiring Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston), who was in Israel; Senate Majority Leader James Clayborne (D-Belleville), who had a family health crisis emerge involving his son; and Sen. Suzi Schmidt (R-Lake Villa), whose mother died.
At one point during the day, backers of the gay-marriage bill went so far as to try persuading Schoenberg to tender his resignation from the Senate and allow his successor, Rep. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), to be seated, meaning a pick-up of a gay-marriage vote. But that plan fizzled.
So instead, the legislation got a lengthy hearing in the Senate Executive Committee, which voted 8-5 to move the bill to the Senate floor.
Republicans were against the measure. But Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) left open the possibility of “bi-partisan support” if changes were made to appease worries of religious leaders, who testified Thursday about their concerns over how the legislation would impact churches opposed to gay marriage.
State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), the marriage bill’s chief Senate sponsor, held out hope for a Tuesday vote but also acknowledged her issue might have to wait until after a new, more Democratic-version of the Legislature is seated Wednesday
“This is totally a question of when we’re going to do it, not if we’re going to do it,” she said. “If for some reason we don’t have all our members here and can’t do it next week, I’ve been assured we’ll do it very early on in the next session.”
On guns, the Senate Wednesday advanced out of committee two bills that would ban an array of automatic and semi-automatic weapons plus the ammunition they need to operate.
But the measures withered under a furious pushback from the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights advocates, who told the Sun-Times Thursday that neither measure had more than 27 or 28 votes in the Senate, shy of the 30 needed for passage.
Cullerton acknowledged the votes weren’t there for either gun bill but said “we learned about potential ways to enhance those bills. Those bills, of course, will be taken up in the next General Assembly.”