SPRINGFIELD — Thousands of gay rights advocates descended on the Capitol Tuesday hoping to convince hold-out members of the House to make Illinois the 15th state to legalize marriage between same-sex couples.
But, despite a raucous crowd and a big-name line-up of speakers including U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Gov. Pat Quinn, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, the proposal appears to remain short of the needed 60 votes to become law.
The measure’s chief sponsor, state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, told reporters he has not yet scheduled the measure for a vote during the six-day veto session, which began Tuesday
“I hesitate to talk about timing or roll calls,” Harris said.
Asked if he was waiting to call the legislation until after the December deadline for candidates to file for the primary election – a move that could appease fence-sitting lawmakers worried about picking up an opponent – Harris said the same excuse could be said of waiting until after the March election to vote.
The rally on the grounds of the Capitol marked the beginning of the legislature’s fall veto session, in which lawmakers will be again faced with tough votes on overhauling the state’s underfunded pension systems and a controversial proposal aimed at cracking down on gun violence in Chicago.
David Bentlin of the Prairie Pride Coalition helped bring a busload of supporters from Bloomington-Normal to the Capitol grounds. He said the delays in bringing the issue up for a vote were beginning to irritate gay advocates.
“There is a general level of frustration. We want to see some results,” Bentlin said.
Not all Tuesday’s action was in the newly renovated Statehouse. Bishop Thomas Paprocki, the head of Springfield’s Roman Catholic diocese, told gay marriage backers that they could not hold a prayer vigil at a Catholic church several blocks south of the Capitol.
In a statement, Paprocki called such a vigil “blasphemy.”
Quinn called gay marriage the “most important” civil rights issue of the day and pledged to sign the legislation if it arrives on his desk.
The governor later sent out a fundraising plea, calling on his supporters to contribute money to the gay rights cause.
Durbin, in his hometown in the aftermath of the federal government shutdown, urged reluctant lawmakers to vote “yes.”
“This is our opportunity to end discrimination in our state against gay and lesbian couples,” Durbin said.
Topinka, the lone Republican to speak at the rally, said gay marriage is not a partisan issue.
“Why should we deny equal rights under the law? This is where history is going. Let’s be part of it,” Topinka said.
While the lobbying by gay activists was front and center Tuesday, opponents of the proposed change are scheduled to be in town Wednesday to try and keep the status quo.
The legislation is Senate Bill 10.