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In the last hours of session, the Illinois House struggles for support of Marriage Equality

failYesterday the Illinois House of Representatives failed to pass the bill that would ensure equal marriage throughout the State. The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act was not even introduced for a vote in the last hours of session, due to what many believe is a result of teh lack of support from the Black Caucus in Springfield. The decision was met with tears and disappointment as Illinois failed to join 12 other states in its passage of this historic legislation.

The Bill, which was passed by the Senate on Valentine’s day with a 34-21 vote, stalled in the House until the very last hours of session while proponents gathered votes from legislators ranging from the Dems of Chicago to the conservatives of downstate. With a total of 60 votes needed to pass the legislation and very little word as to how close- or far- from success the passage was, hopefuls continued to make trips to the Capitol and press on in phone banks with the assurance of sponsor Rep. Greg Harris. Those of us familiar with the fight for marriage equality in the Illinois House are not surprised with the delay, something we experienced over several sessions before Civil Unions were passed in November 2010. As the session came to a close even President Obama urged the House to make the right decision, reiterating his support for a measure that he “deeply supports.” Though constituents remained hopeful with the guidance of our most influential Representatives, all were blindsided when session ended without mention of the bill.

The language in the legislation specifically addresses those who are concerned that their religious beliefs will be affected by the bill, including wording that ensures a religious institution will not be penalized for refusing to perform same-sex ceremonies. Instead of a religious validation synonymous to most marriages, this bill offers a government validation beyond the spousal rights afforded to those entered into a Civil Union. Even with the language that was provided as a solace to those with conflicting religious beliefs, the 60 votes necessary were still not there.

As we face hurdles as the next session approaches in November, there are many key players to whom we owe great thanks. Though their time, resources and energy have been dedicated to marriage and other equalities far beyond just this year, the last few months have proven their perseverance and a sense of community support more than ever before. In addition to Bill sponsor Rep. Greg Harris, who has been pursuing marriage equality legislation term after term, as well as those legislators who have followed their hearts and conscience, it is the voters and those activists who educate them that have shown that conversations really can make the difference. GIGANTIC props to Equality Illinois, Lambda Legal, the Human Rights Campaign and the ACLU of Illinois, (and their hundreds of dedicated staff and volunteers), for their countless hours of phone banks, rides to Springfield and waiting that have gotten us this far.

What this, and many other defeats, have taught us, is with one step back we are able to take two jumps forward. With each disappointment sparks passion, activism and determination that will do nothing other than make us stronger as a community. We have seen Minnesota- another state with an overly liberal metropolis surrounded by the ever red rural spans of farms and industrial communities- face these hurdles and be meet with success and we are closer than ever ourselves. Lets keep our heads up, eyes open and hearts strong as we become more solid than ever before. The fight isn’t over. Despite this major disappointment, Lamba Legal has vowed to continue their same-sex lawsuit, Darby vs. Orr, and keep pushing until all couples get equal recognition under the law. The Bill is still eligible for the “veto” session this upcoming fall, and you can bet we’ll keep the pressure on until the job is done.

Please watch. Rep. Greg Harris and Rep. Deb Mell gave an amazing and powerful speech after the failure of the Illinois House to take up the freedom to marry.

About Lauren

Lauren was born and raised in South Minneapolis and like many other innocent midwesterners got sucked into the black hole of Chicago politics 4 years ago. As the LGBT Coordinator for the Gery Chico for Mayor Campaign she attempted to take on the entire city and hasn’t looked back since. Now working for a communications firm, she spends her extra time running around with cases of PBR playing in different sports leagues, hosting couchsurfers from all over the place, and deciding how she is going to change the world. A simple lady at her core, she has decided that the first person to send her an edible arrangement must be the one.

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