Lt. Governor Sheila Simon adjusts the bow tie on Jesse Tyler Ferguson at a press conference with marriage equality advocates who urged supporters across the state today to make their voices heard on Illinois’ marriage equality bill. Ferguson is in ABC’s hit comedy “Modern Family”. The press conference was at the Thompson Center on Wednesday, January 2, 2013. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times
SPRINGFIELD – A bid to legalize gay marriage in Illinois suffered an unexpected setback Wednesday when supporters fell two votes shy of getting the legislative hearing they wanted, meaning no Senate vote on the measure until Thursday at the earliest.
The 28-24 procedural vote showed the razor-thin margins surrounding the contentious issue and clearly caught backers off-guard, thwarting their plan to advance the measure to the Senate floor Wednesday night.
“It’s a little bit too soon to conclude it was a fatal blow,” said Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago).
Late Wednesday, Phelon said the measure would be voted on by the Senate Executive Committee early Thursday.
Earlier in the day, supporters moved to waive a six-day waiting period set out in Senate rules to get the measure heard in committee Wednesday night, but key absences among Democratic supporters and unified GOP opposition torpedoed the effort.
“The least we could do is show [voters] the respect and say, ‘Here it is, take a look at it for a few days according to our rules,'” said Sen. Dale Righter (R-Charleston), an opponent of the legislation.
Missing Wednesday were two supporters, Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston) and Sen. Emil Jones III (D-Chicago), who likely would have given backers of the bill the 29th and 30th votes needed to get the bill out of committee Wednesday.
“Two of our votes weren’t present today on the floor,” said Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), the bill’s chief Senate sponsor. “We’ve always known the votes were going to be there. I just think we’re going to hear it in committee tomorrow instead.”
After hitting the GOP-placed legislative roadblock, Steans and other supporters appeared to find a parliamentary way around the six-day waiting period so the legislation could be heard immediately in the Senate Executive Committee.
“As I’ve said, this is fluid in terms of actually having everybody be present, so we’re going to be doing our nose-counting tomorrow and make sure everybody’s present,” Steans said.
A leading gay-rights supporter minimized the impact of Wednesday’s developments.
“This is just a technicality and is not something that we are worried about,” said Rick Garcia, director of the Equal Marriage Illinois Project and senior policy advisor of The Civil Rights Agenda. “We look forward to the bill being heard in committee tomorrow.”
Even though Republicans were the ones who blocked a Wednesday committee hearing, backers of the gay-marriage legislation picked up unlikely support from the head of the state Republican Party, Pat Brady.
“Giving gay and lesbian couples the freedom to get married honors the best conservative principles,”
Brady said in a prepared statement. “It strengthens families and reinforces a key Republican value that the law should treat all citizens equally.”
Brady’s emergence could give a handful of Republicans the cover they need to vote for the measure. A top Senate GOP source told the Chicago Sun-Times that up to three Republican senators are heavily weighing supporting the gay-marriage legislation, though none voted with Steans on Wednesday. In 2011, when the Legislature approved civil unions at the behest of gay-rights supporters, only one Republican senator — state Treasurer Dan Rutherford — backed the effort.
Before Wednesday’s unexpected delay on a gay-marriage vote, a interfaith coalition of religious leaders led by Cardinal Francis George urged Illinois lawmakers to reject the legislation, arguing that redefining marriage poses “serious danger” to society.
“The ongoing attempts to alter the definition of marriage in civil law are full of serious danger, primarily by degrading the cultural understanding of marriage to an emotional bond between any two adults and by giving rise to a profound interference with the exercise of religious freedom for those persons and religious institutions whose faith and doctrine recognize the spiritual foundation of marriage as an authorized union between a man and a woman,” George and other religious leaders wrote in a letter to lawmakers. “It comes a day after Cardinal George released a similar letters to Illinois members of the Catholic church.
The lobbying drive included the head of Chicago’s Roman Catholic community and leaders of the Council of Islamic Organization of Greater Chicago, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Lutheran Church MIssouri Synod and the Anglican Church in North America.
Contributing: Zach Buchheit