In Illinois, Religious Groups' Best Deal Is On The Table, Up To Rep. Greg Harris To Call.

Representative Greg Harris

Update: Bill was called today. Congrats to all involved. Another step towards true equality. Illinois House Votes to approve Gay Marriage. Illinois owes alot to Rep. Greg Harris. THANK YOU!

Being a politician isn't easy. Just ask IL State Rep. Greg Harris, the man charged with the Herculean task of carrying Illinois' marriage equality bill across the finish line. As the possibility of a vote on SB10 in veto session seems to tip back and forth (more forth as of late), pressure mounts from within to out reluctant legislators regardless of the count. And while it may cost Rep. Harris friendships, campaign dollars, and the respect he has earned in the Illinois gay community, he must stand strong for the bill.

The mounting frustration in the gay and straight community is understandable with state after state passing marriage equality in the news, and it seems unthinkable that the Democratic-heavy blue state of Illinois hasn't joined the list. (And in some ways it completely is.) However, forcing a vote to fail would not only solidify legislators leaning against SB10, but it would also strengthen those in the vocal minority that stand opposed to equality.

There is another reason to hold back the vote on SB10 if the bill is to fail, and that is the IL courts could soon decide once and for all on this issue for Illinois. I’ve argued against court decree, and I still contend that it tells our gay Illinois brothers and sisters that as a community, they are still the lesser. But one thing a court decision brings that this law won't is a lack of protections for religious organizations who discriminate against gay marriage.

These aforementioned “protections” were necessary to secure moderate legislator votes in the Illinois Senate and House, but they gave up too much by compromising at all. “Protections” that—though they are not written into straight marriage laws—limit recourse for gay couples in the event of discrimination with religious facilities.

In other words, a court ruling could give Illinois a fairer rule of law.

If a court ruling passed, it is unlikely that the legislature would then vote to limit protections after giving rights to the LGBTQ community. The best deal for religious organizations is on the table, and the decision now is whether they want to take it.

The decision for Rep. Greg Harris is easier: count the votes and make your decision to call accordingly. It was painful to sit in the gallery of the Illinois House last spring and hear Rep. Harris’ passionate speech asking for patience for a cause where no one should have to wait. It was excruciating to see him in the hallway afterwards, torn apart about not getting this bill across the finish line while not ten feet away LGBTQ leaders ripped into his leadership and strategy. The calls for new leadership will get louder, the second-guessing will get uglier, but no one said being a leader was easy. While I don't envy the representative’s position, there is no greater issue to die on the mountain for than equality.

My hopes are that the coalition efforts (of which my employer organization is a member), representative meetings, shifting polls, and ultimately the desire of our legislature to do what is right wins out, and that a law is passed this week which treats gay couples equally. There is no question that public announcements like Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth's and Rep. Al Riley has the coalition the closest to passage Illinois has seen to date. Think about how refreshing in a time of growing distrust of governmental process will it be to see an impromptu equality parade emanate from the streets of Springfield and spider out to all corners of the land of Lincoln.

However, if the votes aren’t there to pass SB10, my hope is that legislators like Rep. Harris have the strength and support to hold firm. The goal here is not to valiantly support and lose on SB10; it is to bring a long overdue fairness to Illinois. And that just may mean waiting a little longer if it ultimately results in passage further along.

Filed under: Illinois Assembly

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