State Rep. Ken Dunkin hosted a benefit for his re-election campaign Oct. 10. He is the chief co-sponsor of the marriage equality bill. He's pictured here with fellow reps at the event, from left: Dunkin, Christian Mitchell (South Side), Greg Harris (North Side, chief sponsor) and Derrick Smith (West Side). Photo by Tracy Baim
While the Illinois LGBT community and our allies are more powerful in 2013 than we have ever been before, there is still a question of whether there are enough votes in the Illinois House to pass SB 10, known as the marriage equality bill.
This is despite the fact that Democrats have a super majority in the House; that the bill has passed the Senate; that the Democratic governor has said he will sign it; that some Republicans are in favor of the bill; and the majority of Illinois citizens support marriage equality.
Outsiders (to politics and to Illinois) wonder: What is wrong with Illinois? If you give a politician an inch, they will delay it a mile.
There are myriad factors holding up the bill in Springfield, not the least being the timing of a vote three weeks prior to the filing deadline for candidate petitions. When colleagues of the bill's sponsor, Rep. Greg Harris, asked him for a delay in the vote to the veto session, they claimed they wanted more time to take this back to their constituents for discussion. Well, no public forums have taken place, so it's clear the main reason for the delay was to make the vote happen closer to the deadline for election petition signatures.
Which means some politicians still have cold feet and want a further delay, to the January legislative session. But, of course, there are no guarantees that courage will strike them, because then they will be just a few weeks away from the primary election in March. It is odd that other people are saying it is OK for elected officials to wait on this issue when they continue the drumbeat for a vote on other issues no matter what--pensions, gun control, you name it, the pressure is for politicians to act, not delay. Why is it OK to say wait on this issue?
Another factor is based on power and money, things that are of course reality in politics. It's a crass part of the game, and it is playing a role in how people are responding to the push for marriage equality: When do they get some of the gold at the LGBT rainbow's end?
There are also divisions along class, race and geography that can't easily be overcome, even for an issue of economic equality. A lot of work has been done to build bridges in communities these past few months, but ultimately, win or lose, our own LGBT community has a lot more work to do to be true partners in the social justice movement. Those who do intersectional work need to be more out as LGBTs in that work, and those who have remained single-issue focused on LGBT rights should take a lesson from the coalition work that has been done this year, and make it stronger for future battles.
But despite all of the problems, and potential for a delay, the vast majority of the LGBT community and its allies are pushing for a veto session vote. Some strategists believe it is better to wait "if the votes are not there," but many admit that the "yes" votes on a bill like this may not even be fully known until the actual vote is taken. This has been the case in other states, where the momentum created during the casting of the votes actually sways some members to cross the finish line for equality.
So what is at stake if the vote is taken and it fails? Well, if it fails in the veto session there is still time to target at least some of the more vulnerable representatives in districts with large LGBT and allied constituencies. We would at least know what reps to target where the community is strongest--because in every district of the state, marriage equality is polling in our favor. Some of the most vulnerable reps will be those on Chicago's West and Northwest sides (with districts extending into near suburbs), and those in the North, Northwest and West suburbs.
And for those who do vote yes, our community's votes and dollars can be funneled just to those candidates, and not wasted on those "maybes." We can shore up our true allies.
We have to be realistic and know that the community can't influence races in every House district, but targeting a few key districts for support of pro-marriage incumbents and challengers is the effective route taken in other states.
If the vote fails, our strategy will include advising all LGBT couples in Illinois to go to Iowa or Minnesota for marriage licenses, so that they immediately can take advantage of the benefits and responsibilities afforded by the federal government. Perhaps Lambda Legal and the ACLU can coordinate bus trips for couples who need help getting there. These couples will still have Illinois benefits related to civil unions, but most of the gaps have been filled with the partial dismantling of the Defense of Marriage Act by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Lambda and ACLU also have a strong legal case pushing for marriage equality, and that decision should come down in 2014. If it wins, that will make marriage equal in Illinois without a vote.
Another question is what a legislative loss will do for the marriage movement nationally. I believe this is an unanswerable question, and one we really can't base our own actions on. The marriage movement has massive success and momentum in its favor, including victories at the voting booth, in legislatures and in the courts.
In fact, those marriage equality wins fuel our need for a vote now in Illinois. Because of those victories, we now have more strength to demand a vote than ever before.
When is a good time to vote on an issue of justice? Those who are scared will always say "tomorrow." When is equality convenient for those without courage? The answer is never. So the solution is to push for a vote now. Giving the politicians the ability to delay means we agree that this issue is a liability. If they believe justice is a "liability," if they do not have the fortitude for this, then they can vote "no." They can stand up for their beliefs and say to the world "I am afraid of justice." For those with the courage to vote "yes," they will be counted in the history books as taking a stand for their brothers and sisters, and standing up to the bullies who would restrict rather than expand who is fully equal in the Land of Lincoln.