Show of support, but no signs of success
BY DAVE MCKINNEY Springfield Bureau Chief October 22, 2013 10:44PM
Tuesday afternoon's March on Springfield for Marriage Equality. | Jessica Koscielniak/Sun-Times
Updated: November 24, 2013 6:40AM
SPRINGFIELD — Saying it’s “criminal” gays and lesbians can’t marry in Illinois, more than 1,000 gay-rights supporters braved a steady rain at the Capitol Tuesday to push stalled same-sex marriage legislation — but faced a harsh backlash from a top Catholic leader.
And by the end of the day, the demonstrators saw no legislative movement for their efforts.
“This is the opportunity to send a message to our whole country that marriage equality’s time has come,” Gov. Pat Quinn said on a day of political speeches, music and marches by sign-waving gay and lesbian couples, who came by the busload to the state’s historic seat of government.
Focusing the spotlight on the Illinois House, Quinn was joined by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Republican Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, Secretary of State Jesse White, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and the bill’s chief House sponsor, state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago).
“It is about time that the Illinois House of Representatives passes marriage equality,” said the three-term attorney general, whose father, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), chose not to appear with the other politicians urging passage of Harris’ bill, though the speaker has said he supports it.
Throughout the day Tuesday, activists rallied, marched and met face-to-face with House members. Later in the day, a trio of Roman Catholic gay-rights activists — greatly outnumbered by police — silently prayed the rosary in support of Harris’ legislation at Springfield’s largest Catholic cathedral.
Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, head of the Springfield Catholic diocese, warned earlier in the day that anyone wearing rainbow sashes — a sign of solidarity in the same-sex marriage push — would be barred entrance to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception because their defiance against church policy on marriage amounted to “blasphemy.”
The activists who showed up at a late-afternoon mass at the church were not wearing the sashes.
“It is blasphemy to show disrespect or irreverence to God or to something holy,” Paprocki said in a prepared statement. “Since Jesus clearly taught that marriage as created by God is a sacred institution between a man and a woman (see Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:6-9), praying for same-sex marriage should be seen as blasphemous and as such will not be permitted in the cathedral.
“People wearing a rainbow sash or who otherwise identify themselves as affiliated with the Rainbow Sash Movement will not be admitted into the cathedral, and anyone who gets up to pray for same-sex marriage in the cathedral will be asked to leave,” the bishop said.
“Of course, our cathedral and parish churches are always open to everyone who wishes to repent their sins and ask for God’s forgiveness,” Paprocki said.
The hard-line edict from Paprocki drew condemnation from the governor, who himself is Roman Catholic, as are Durbin, Lisa Madigan, Topinka and White.
“I think that’s disappointing,” Quinn told reporters. “I think people should be able to wear what they want when they worship.”
One of the activists attending mass with his purple rosary beads reacted angrily to Paprocki’s words.
“I’ll tell you what the blasphemy is,” Rick Garcia, political director of the Civil Rights Agenda, said from the church’s front steps. “The blasphemy is that this bishop has blasphemed the body of Christ, and we are all the body of Christ. Each and every one of us is a member of the body of Christ. And when you criticize or disparage the body of Christ, that’s blasphemy. We’re not committing blasphemy. The bishop is committing blasphemy.”
The state Legislature’s fall legislative session opened Tuesday, but the prospects of moving the same-sex legislation seemed unlikely this week — if at all this year.
Opponents, including a group of influential black ministers, have launched advertising and automated phone call campaigns against undecided members of the House Black Caucus.
One leading African-American lawmaker, state Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago), told the Chicago Sun-Times she thinks a vote should wait until January, after a December deadline for candidates to file nominating petitions to get on the spring primary ballot and challenge potential “yes” votes. Davis predicted Harris’ bill eventually would pass.
On Tuesday, Harris would not divulge if he had lined up enough support in the House to even meet the minimum 60-vote threshold needed to pass most legislation. His bill, which already has passed the Senate, now requires 71 House votes for passage because it would take effect 30 days after Quinn signed it. After Jan. 1, that threshold drops back to 60 votes.
“I hesitate to talk about timing or roll calls,” Harris said when asked about a timeline for voting on the bill. “But again, what you heard here today is every day that this bill does not become law, there are people in Illinois in every community who are suffering, and that’s doubly so since the U.S. Supreme Court extended the protections and responsibilities of marriage under federal law. Our citizens are not even given those basic rights.”
“We need to realize that discrimination anywhere is intolerable everywhere, and we need to pass this,” Harris said.
But Garcia cast a more clear picture on the headcounting, putting the number of “yes” votes in the House short of what advocates need.
“Right now, I think we’re close. We’re probably at 55, and you know what, from this point on, I’m just being unbelievably transparent of where we are over there, who’s on board and who isn’t on board, because I think people need to know.”
After Harris couldn’t muster the votes last spring despite a push by President Barack Obama, advocates were buoyed by a pair of U.S. Supreme Court rulings. One struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a move that would extend federal benefits to the same-sex spouses of federal employees in states that recognize same-sex marriage. The court also overturned California’s ban on same-sex marriages in June.
That Illinois, one of the bluest states on the nation’s political map, can’t seem to do what 14 other states have done in legalizing same-sex marriage was a universal frustration among those attending Tuesday’s rally.
“We just think it’s horrible we’re not allowed to be married,” said Richard Gibbons, a 63-year-old architect from Chicago’s Lake View neighborhood who traveled to Springfield with his spouse, Robert Ollis, to show support for Harris’ bill.
Gibbons and Ollis have been partnered for 37 years but chose two years ago to travel to New York to marry since that wasn’t possible in their home state.
“I think it’s criminal we live here, pay taxes here and we’re denied civil rights,” Gibbons said. “We don’t judge other people whether they can get married. Why should they judge us?”