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Illinois is set to become the 15th state to recognize same-sex marriage.
The measure passed in both chambers of the state’s legislature yesterday. Illinois’ governor, Pat Quinn, said he would sign the bill into law.
The vote came after months of intense lobbying. As Illinois public radio’s Brian Mackey reports, both sides claimed they were fighting for individual freedom.
Other states also have same-sex marriage legislation in the works, including Hawaii and New Mexico. But the majority of states have amendments in their state constitutions that specifically prohibit same-sex marriage.
Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson speaks with Joe Solmonese, former president of the Human Rights Campaign, about the LGBT community’s political strategy.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Please state for the record, on this question there are 61 voting yes, 54 voting no, two voting present, and this bill having received a constitutional majority is hereby declared passed.
HOBSON: The question he was referring to is same-sex marriage, and now Illinois is set to become the 15th state to allow it. The state House narrowly approved the legislation yesterday. The Senate signed on shortly thereafter, and Governor Pat Quinn says he will sign it into law.
The vote came after months of intense lobbying, as Illinois Public Radio's Brian Mackey reports.
BRIAN MACKEY, BYLINE: It's been a busy year for people who care about same-sex marriage in Illinois. Supporters had an early victory on Valentine's Day when the state Senate approved what backers call marriage equality legislation. Then the opposition geared up and the proposal stalled in the House. There have been rallies and counter-rallies and speculation a vote might have to wait until next year.
Then this week the wind shifted, and the bill was up.
STATE REPRESENTATIVE GREG HARRIS: Since we left in May and returned to our districts, the decision was made at the Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.
MACKEY: Representative Greg Harris is a Democrat from Chicago, sponsor of the marriage bill and one of just a few openly gay lawmakers. Harris says because the U.S. Supreme Court only extended protections to legally married same-sex couples, civil unions are no longer good enough.
HARRIS: In Illinois we tried civil unions, and that separate status has time and time again proved to fall short.
MACKEY: Harris has been working on gay marriage for a long time. His speech, like his approach to winning votes from his colleagues, is measured and deliberate. Others wear their hearts on their sleeves. Representative Kelly Cassidy is a Democrat from Chicago. She's also a lesbian and says the debate raised questions about how the state of Illinois defines the family she and her partner have created.
ILLINOIS STATE REPRESENTATIVE KELLY CASSIDY: You've met my boys. Josh, Daniel and Ethan are watching today. They face those questions about our family, not just on the playground where you might expect it but here in this very building.
ILLINOIS STATE REPRESENTATIVE DAVID REIS: This is not about racial rights. This is not about equality pay. This is not about interracial marriage. My wife's Hispanic. It's not an issue. I'm not talking about that. This is about individual religious rights.
MACKEY: David Reis is a Republican Representative from Willow Hill in southern Illinois. He says same-sex marriage threatens religious freedom. Supporters counter by pointing to safeguards in the legislation. Clergy, for example, are not required to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies, and groups like the Knights of Columbus will not have to open their doors to such events. But Reis says...
REIS: I've had three judges in my district call up and say, David, there is not a facility in your district that's going to perform these ceremonies. They're going to call me. Where's my religious individual freedoms?
MACKEY: In the end, supporters of same-sex marriage won out, barely, 61 votes, just one to spare. Now it goes to Governor Pat Quinn, who says he will sign it into law, but it's going to be a while before we hear any same-sex wedding bells in Illinois. Gay and lesbian marriages won't be legal until next year, on the first of June. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Brian Mackey in Springfield, Illinois.
HOBSON: So a big day in Illinois, but what now in the fight for and against same-sex marriage all across the nation? Joe Solmonese is former president of the Human Rights Campaign. He is a founding partner of the consulting firm Gavin/Solmonese, and he joins us now. Joe, welcome back.
JOE SOLMONESE: Thanks, thanks for having me.
HOBSON: Well, you know, we've been hearing about how Illinois is now set to become the 15th state to allow same-sex marriage once Governor Pat Quinn signs the bill into law as, as we just heard, he will do. It would be the biggest state in the nation's heartland to have same-sex marriage. What does that say to you, first of all?
SOLMONESE: Well, you know, not surprisingly, and as you mentioned in the piece prior to this, I think the overturning of DOMA, the notion that to be married is now to be able to access those most important of benefits, benefits that are conveyed at the federal level, things like Social Security survivor benefits, you know, the sorts of things that we look to when we're perhaps at our most vulnerable or when we're looking out for one another's welfare, or healthcare, really I think, you know, again, as the piece mentioned, I think strengthened the hand and the argument in a place like Illinois.
You know, immediately in front of us, of course we see the Hawaii House Committee voted marriage out and is likely to have a vote today on that. The Hawaii Senate has already voted. So I think in the near future we're also likely to add Hawaii to the list and then, depending on what the New Mexico Supreme Court does, perhaps New Mexico as well.
HOBSON: But if you look across the country, other than those states, most of the states where gay marriage is not legal now have constitutional amendments that say that it can't be legal. So doesn't the fight become much harder at this point?
SOLMONESE: Unquestionably. I think there's a sort of a little bit of room there. There are a couple of, a handful of states or so that I think you'll start to see where we'll approach the fight to overturn those bans. So if you look back to 2004 when a lot of those bans were put in place, and you look at some of those states where they were passed by a very narrow margin - Oregon, for instance - I think you'll see states like Oregon take those bans on and start to do the work of overturning them.
Even if the Supreme Court in New Mexico rules in favor of marriage, I think you're likely to have a ballot fight there next year. So there's no question that at a certain point we're going to come up against, you know, a sort of a line where the next set of states or the remaining states are difficult.
Having said that, though, there are a number of court cases moving now, and I think the possibility of more legal action, but also this notion that at the federal level at least it's going to be much easier to be able to convey marriage benefits I think is going to force the hand here a bit.
In other words if you live in a state like Utah, and the possibility exists that you can go to a state like Massachusetts, be married and return to Utah and perhaps, you know, continue to receive federal benefits, that - it changes the circumstance both in terms of I think the prospect of the fight but also in terms of the real-life circumstances for the people who are living in that state.
HOBSON: But you see the battle mostly from here on out in the courts rather than in state legislatures.
SOLMONESE: I think that you'll start - you'll see a mix, and I think what might not seem possible today as a state legislative matter, you know, may be much more of a possibility in two years or four years down the road. You know, a constitutional ban in a place like Ohio or Michigan, which just a few years ago seemed daunting to overturn, I think will start to be much more of a possibility, you know, if not now certainly in the coming years.
So there are many paths to marriage, and it is certainly a complicated road given the sort of - the distinction between, you know, the state parameters around marriage and then of course the federal benefits that are conveyed and the overturning of DOMA. So I think you're going to see a combination of some ballot fights, some legislative fights and then, yes, a number of legal cases moving and some number of them gaining traction.
HOBSON: Joe, we just have 30 seconds left here, but just in a quick answer, what do you think is going to happen with the Employment Nondiscrimination Act that looks like it's going to pass the Senate, but what about in the House? Any chance?
SOLMONESE: Well, I think that the possibility is difficult in the House given the Republican control of the House. But, you know, when I think back to just maybe even a year ago, the prospect of hitting 60 votes in the Senate - you know, it's anybody's guess. But I do think we've got work to do in the House to try to change those numbers and make that more of a possibility.
HOBSON: Joe Solmonese, former president of the Human Rights Campaign and also founding partner of the consulting firm Gavin/Solmonese. Thanks so much.
SOLMONESE: Thank you.
HOBSON: And you're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.