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Illinois marriage vote uncertain due to absent senators

By Tony Merevick| Chicago Phoenix
Thursday, January 3, 2013
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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Activists and lawmakers backing legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois are regrouping and recounting potential “yes” votes in the Illinois Senate after key members of the chamber reportedly said they will be absent from Thursday’s proceedings in the General Assembly’s lame duck session.

At least two senators — and possibly three — have been called away from Springfield due to family emergencies, according to sources on the ground at the statehouse, who wished not to name the lawmakers.

Rep. Greg Harris (center) and Sen. Heather Steans (right) at the state capital. Photo: Tony Merevick.
Photo by Tony Merevick, Chicago Phoenix.

Proponents of the bill in Springfield, who were anticipating potential victory in committee and then on the full Senate floor on Thursday, are regrouping their efforts in hopes of progress before the end of the day.

“Everyone is counting heads again and finding out when they will be back,” said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, a Chicago-based LGBT rights group pushing for the bill. “This is not something to be worried about.”

The development comes after a failed vote to bring marriage equality legislation to the Senate Executive Committee Wednesday night, also due to several absent senators.

If approved by the committee Thursday, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act — carried as an amendment to House Bill 4963 — would move to the Senate floor for full vote, which is key to the legislation’s success in the lame duck session, which ends Jan. 8.

The House could potentially take up the bill for consideration when it returns Jan. 5-6 as a last ditch effort for the bill, but some question if that is a viable option.

“If it doesn’t come up for committee vote today, it can’t go to the Senate for full vote,” Cherkasov said.

Cherkasov and other advocates for the bill remain optimistic, as the Senate Executive Committee can take the measure up for vote any time Thursday. The hearing was supposed to begin at 11 a.m., but has been delayed due to lawmakers saying farewell and issuing their final resolutions before a new class of lawmakers are sworn in next week.

“We can still be optimistic that this can get done,” he said.

In addition, Cherkasov wants the uncertainty to be met with a call to action from supporters around the state.

“Call your senator’s office right now,” Cherkasov said. “We cannot let our supporters feel like their work is done.”

Rick Garcia, a longtime LGBT rights activist and Equal Marriage Project Director at The Civil Rights Agenda remains optimistic.

“Things can change at any moment,” Garcia said.

Rep. Greg Harris, the chief sponsor of the legislation in he House, declined to comment for this story.

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