“We want lawmakers to understand that if they oppose civil rights for all people or deny civil rights based on sexual identity, they are going to have a fight ahead of them,” says Lowell Jaffe, policy director for The Civil Rights Agenda, a Chicago-based group advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights. Jaffe’s group is targeting in the upcoming general election state lawmakers who voted against civil unions in the previous legislative session, hoping to punish the opposition and set the stage for passage of same-sex marriage.
“It’s not about what you believe as opposed to who you sleep with,” Jaffe said. “We really don’t care about that. We care about how you vote. It’s been made very clear to most lawmakers that if you vote against this, we will be committing resources to unseating you.”
Jaffe said his group is approaching the election from several angles: they helped recruit candidates to challenge opponents of civil unions and raised funds for civil union supporters in the legislature, among other tactics.
Much of the group’s work is concentrated in the collar counties surrounding Chicago and its closest suburbs. Many of those counties are strongly in support of civil unions and same-sex marriage, Jaffe claims, yet some lawmakers from those counties still voted against civil unions in 2010. While he declined to name specific targets for fear of undermining operations, he said his group is involved in “dozens” of races statewide.
The efforts of Jaffe’s group are part of a larger push by a statewide coalition of left-leaning groups called Progress 2012. The coalition, sponsored by the pro-choice Personal PAC, Planned Parenthood of Illinois, and Equality Illinois, sees 2012 as a make-or-break year for several issues because it will see the first election under the newly created redistricting maps. Jaffe said The Civil Rights Agenda participated in legislative hearings on redistricting to ensure the new districts protected legislators in districts with a high concentration of LGBT people and allies.
“A big part of our message was that LGBT people are in every corner and pocket of the state,” Jaffe says. “We actively fight against the perception that there are only LGBT people in Chicago and specifically on the north side.”
Equality Illinois, another Chicago-based group with a similar mission to The Civil Rights Agenda, has donated nearly $89,000 in campaign contributions to various candidates for statewide office since the start of 2010, according to data from the Illinois State Board of Elections. Illinois Times could not locate contribution data for The Civil Rights Agenda.
Rep. Greg Harris, a Democrat from Chicago and one of three openly gay Illinois lawmakers, earlier this month introduced House Bill 5170 to allow same-sex marriage, among other provisions.
Jaffe said same-sex marriage may not be approved in Illinois this legislative session, but he feels it won’t take as long to pass as civil unions.
“Civil unions were on the drawing board for six years, and all the planets and stars needed to align for that to happen,” he said. “Six years ago, the thought of same-gender marriage was not conventional, but now we have whole countries and other states adopting it. Marriage is not going to take six years.”
Illinois House Republican spokeswoman Sara Wojcicki Jimenez said the House Republicans weren’t aware of anyone targeting them for an election upset. She expects votes on same-sex marriage to fall along the same lines as civil unions. While Jaffe says lawmakers shouldn’t make legislative decisions based on religious beliefs, Wojcicki said many issues facing lawmakers generate similar controversy.
“Representatives seek input from their constituents regularly and seek their advice and counsel on legislation,” she said. “But ultimately voters in each of the 118 districts elected representatives to exercise their best judgment to represent them in the General Assembly.”
Contact Patrick Yeagle at email@example.com.
Download civil union voting records here to see which lawmakers may be targeted for an election upset.