SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – With a 10-seat majority in the Senate, Democrats say they have enough votes to move Illinois toward legalizing gay marriage with a floor vote Thursday.
For Republicans, the issue is far more complicated.
GOP leaders in Illinois and nationwide vowed after a drubbing at the polls last fall to be more inclusive and diverse. Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady reiterated that message last week, saying if the party has any hope of winning the 2014 governor’s race or gaining seats in the General Assembly, it must do more to appeal to young people, minorities and women demographics that helped Democrats to huge wins in November.
“We just have to do things differently,” Brady said. “We need to deliver to a bigger audience and convince them we’re not just a party of angry old white guys that we do understand everyone’s problems and we want to help everybody.”
But the bill (SB10) to end Illinois’ ban on same-sex marriage shows how difficult change can be. After Brady publicly backed gay marriage during January’s lame-duck legislative session, members of the more conservative wing of his party called for his ouster. Opponents of gay marriage pledged to fund primary challenges to any Republican who voted in favor of the bill.
The internal conflict comes as polls show voters’ feelings shifting rapidly in favor of gay marriage rights. President Barack Obama said last year he supports same-sex marriage, and in November voters in four states either approved or voted down bans on gay marriage.
Jim Bennett, regional director for Lambda Legal, said supporting same-sex marriage is “both politically smart and morally right.” Young people in particular see it as a civil rights issue, he said.
“If (Republicans) want to relate to younger voters, they have to move on some of these issues,” Bennett said. “I think it’s a safer vote to vote with us than to vote against us at this point.”
Illinois Democrats didn’t have the votes to pass the measure on the Senate floor during the lame duck session. But with the party now in control of 40 seats, supporters are confident they have the 30 votes to move it forward. The legislation then would go to the House, where Democrats also are in control. If the bill makes it to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk, Illinois would become the 10th state in the nation to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.
With that scenario seeming almost inevitable, many Republicans are hoping the issue will be resolved quickly and quietly without doing the party too much political damage.
It remains to be seen whether any Republicans will vote yes on the Senate floor Thursday, and it’s likely some Democrats particularly those from more conservative downstate districts will vote no.
The bill was approved in a Senate committee last week on a straight party-line vote, with Republicans saying they had concerns it would force religious organizations to allow same-sex marriage ceremonies in their fellowship halls, parish centers or even in their sanctuaries. Bishops in Illinois, led by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, also have said they oppose the idea as against the “natural order.”
Brady has said he believes lifting the prohibition on gay marriage is the most conservative position because the government shouldn’t be telling people who can and can’t get married. He called the organizations threatening to fund primary challenges to any Republican who votes yes “paper tigers,” saying they don’t have the money.
And there’s reason to believe Brady wasn’t completely going rogue when he went public with his position.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, the state’s ranking Republican lawmaker, voted to end the policy on gays serving in the military, known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He’s a lead co-sponsor of a bill to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, and he opposes a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
“Sen. Kirk has full confidence in Pat Brady’s leadership as chairman of the Illinois Republican Party and looks forward to working with him to elect Republicans in 2014,” said Lance Trover, a spokesman for Kirk.
Bennett said he believes Illinois is ready for gay marriage, and he’s hopeful Republicans will agree.
“We don’t need their vote, but I would absolutely love to have them,” he said.
The bill is SB10.
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