Several state officials spoke at the rally in favor of same-sex marriage, lending popular support to the controversial measure, but the fate of the bill remains uncertain.
People from all over Illinois attended the March On Springfield for Marriage Equality rally on Tuesday, despite cold, rainy weather. Organizers claimed 5,000 people attended, and speakers from state government, religious institutions, labor unions, immigration rights groups and other organizations voiced support for same-sex marriage, with several calling the issue a matter of civil rights.
Gov. Pat Quinn quoted the Bible and channeled civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in support of the bill, saying it should pass because same-sex marriage is about love.
“This is our hour,” Quinn said, speaking in light drizzle on a stage facing the Capitol building. “This is our moment. This is where we the people come together. This moment is very, very important. We believe in marriage equality. We believe in love.”
Quinn said he is ready to sign the bill. Joining Quinn in supporting the bill were Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Secretary of State Jesse White.
The event called for the Illinois House to pass Senate Bill 10, which would change language in Illinois law specifying that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. The proposed language would allow marriage between two people, regardless of sex. It would also strike a separate section which lists a marriage between two people of the same sex as prohibited.
The bill attempts to address religious concerns by stating that no religious organization can be forced to perform a same-sex marriage, and no religious organization that refuses to do so may be sued.
Under the bill, same-sex marriage performed in other states or nations would be recognized in Illinois, allowing participants to receive spousal benefits and maintain the same legal rights as straight married couples.
Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, introduced the bill earlier in the legislative session and has sponsored similar bills in previous sessions. Harris, who was the first openly gay state legislator in Illinois, drew the ire of many same-sex marriage supporters when he declined to bring the bill for a vote in May, citing an uncertain roll call. He spoke at the rally, urging his fellow House members to pass the bill.
“I see hundreds and thousands of people here, and there’s lines of people waiting to get into the Capitol and our office buildings to say to my colleagues that equality is the law of the land in Illinois,” Harris told the crowd. “To stand for all families is the right thing to do in Illinois. To treat every citizen with equal justice is the right thing to do in Illinois. … It’s time. We need to get this done. We need to extend the protections and responsibilities of marriage to all citizens of Illinois.”
The rally brought performances from musical artists like Marcus Terell, who appeared on “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent,” and country singer-songwriter Steve Grand, whose single “All-American Boy” received more than 1 million hits on Youtube.
Despite the show of support, it was unclear at publication time whether lawmakers in the House would vote on the bill during this week’s veto session because the bill was not certain to pass.
A session day on Thursday was canceled, and the House meets again in early November.
The bill passed the Senate on Feb. 14 – Valentine’s Day – with a vote of 34-21 that fell mostly along party lines with most Democrats in favor and most Republicans opposed.
A counter-rally by the Illinois Family Institute was planned for Wednesday. The Catholic Conference of Illinois participated in the rally, saying the “Defend Marriage Lobby Day” would bring about 16 bus loads of people to Springfield to lobby against Senate Bill 10.
Zachary Wichmann, director of government relations for the Catholic Conference of Illinois, said his organization has offered changes to the bill that would enhance legal protections for religious groups, but those changes were not adopted.
“Our opinion is marriage should not be redefined,” Wichmann said. “It’s important for many reasons to keep it that way. The most important to us is that man and woman, by their very nature, are meant to be together, to create families, to reproduce children and care for them and raise them.”
Contact Patrick Yeagle at email@example.com.