Thousands rallied and marched outside the state's Capitol building Tuesday, calling on House lawmakers to pass pending legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois. Progress Illinois was there for the protest.
Thousands braved the rain and rallied outside the state's Capitol building Tuesday, calling on House lawmakers to pass pending legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois.
Tuesday marked the first day of the legislature's two-week veto session, and activists from across the Prairie State chanted "Pass the damn bill" at the massive March on Springfield for Marriage Equality. A number of state lawmakers and other Illinois politicians stood in solidarity with the marchers, including Gov. Pat Quinn, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka and Secretary of State Jesse White, to name a few.
Last Valentine's Day, the Illinois Senate passed the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, SB 10, which would have legalized same-sex matrimony in the state. The House, however, failed to vote on the measure before the spring session ended in May. The bill's lead sponsor State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) tearfully said the votes weren't there to pass the measure through the House. Quinn has vowed to sign the marriage equality bill once it lands on his desk.
"This past May, we were told it was time, and we know what happened. We were sold out," said Andy Thayer with the Gay Liberation Network. "(We've) got democratic majorities in the House, and they didn’t get the job done. The Senate passed it. The governor pledged to sign it, but the House failed it. [House Speaker] Mike Madigan's House failed us."
Thayer directed a fiery message to the House speaker: "Pass the damn bill this fall veto session ... We're going to hold your political future in our hands, and we're going to say, 'No more to you, Mike Madigan if you do not pass this bill this fall veto session."
The rally kicked off at noon with a concert, including performances from the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus and the Lakeside Pride Freedom Marching Band, among others. The crowd began to march around the Capitol building just before 4 p.m. Activists toted signs reading "Love will win" and "We vote too" as they made their way along Springfield's streets.
Before the march, Harris called on his House colleagues to stand with all Illinois families and to treat each citizen with equal justice by sending SB 10 to the governor for his signature.
"It's time. We need to get this done," Harris stressed. "We need to extend the protections and responsibilities of marriage to all citizens in the state of Illinois."
Tuesday's action comes just one day after same-sex matrimony became legal in New Jersey, making it the 14th state to recognize gay marriages.
During his speech to the crowd, Quinn said now it's Illinois' turn to make history.
"We're here to march on Springfield to make sure our House of Representatives takes a vote on a very, very important civil rights measure," Quinn told the crowd. "This is our hour. This is our moment. This is where we the people come together."
Activists say it's more important than ever to pass gay marriage legislation in Illinois now that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the federal 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in June, paving the way for legally-married, same-sex couples to qualify for the same federal benefits that have been available to heterosexual married couples.
Back in 2011, Illinois legalized civil unions, which provide same-sex couples the same rights and benefits as married heterosexual couples in the state. Gay couples in the Land of Lincoln, however, will not qualify for federal benefits unless Illinois joins the other 14 states as well as the District of Columbia in recognizing same-sex marriages.
"Now that the Supreme Court has ruled, I say to members of the Illinois House of Representatives, 'You will have an awesome, historic decision. Will you offer to everyone married in our state regardless straight, gay, lesbian, whatever, will you offer them the same federal benefits, or will you discriminate against some?'" asked Durbin. "That's what it comes down to."
Here's more from Durbin, Quinn and Madigan as well as scenes from the rally:
Before the march, longtime LGBT activist Vernita Gray called on state legislators to treat the community equally, and "not just on Tax Day."
"Now is the time you're going to treat me fairly by giving me the right to marry," she said. "For those of you who don’t belive in the gay marriage, then don’t get one. Getting married is not mandatory, but let me get mine for me and my partner ... I have a partner that I love. I don’t have a girlfriend. We are not just good friends. We love each other."
Progress Illinois checked in with Scott Foval, regional political coordinator with People for the American Way, before the march. Foval acknowledged that it's going to be a "tough fight" to get SB 10 passed through the House during the veto session, but he added that local and national organizations and other marriage equality activists would keep the heat on lawmakers. Here's more from Foval:
Rick Garcia with the Civil Rights Agenda said he was moved to see so many people standing tall and proud Tuesday in Springfield.
"High-price lobbyists and millionaires that have more dollars than common sense are not going to get it done up in here," Garcia told the crowd. "National organizations who come in like vultures (are not) going to get it done in here. Who's going to get it done in here? You are. We are."
On Wednesday, opponents of same-sex marriage will be holding their own rally at the state capitol. The event is being organized by the Illinois Family Institute.