Illinois Misses Opportunity To Pass Marriage Equality Bill


It seems that a push by President Obama, backing by the head of the Illinois GOP, and the star power of an actor with the hit television show Modern Family wasn’t enough to get gay marriage passed in Illinois. If passed, Illinois would be the tenth state in the nation to allow gay couples to obtain a legal marriage.

At the end of December President Obama urged Illinois lawmakers to pass the bill that addressed the issue . While he doesn’t ordinarily get involved in individual state’s legislation, he obviously felt that this was an important issue to weigh in on. A bill was drafted earlier in the year, but had not been acted on since March. Its chief sponsor, Representative Greg Harris, worked with other Chicago area state legislators to push for a vote during the lame duck session. It seems the push helped the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act to make progress. Just a few days before the end of the lame duck session, the Senate Executive Committee passed it on a vote of 8-5.

There was optimism that the bill might make it to the governor’s desk when actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson, of the hit show Modern Family, spoke at several events in Chicago. He teamed up with Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon to talk about the issue. Ferguson’s appearances in the Chicago area included an interview with Gay Pride TV. When asked why everyone should be concerned about gay marriage, Ferguson replied by saying

I always hesitate to call it gay-gay marriage. I would prefer to call it marriage equality. I think we’re all Americans, and we all deserve the same rights.

Religious groups also weighed in on the pending bill. The Catholic Conference of Illinois and Missouri Synod Lutherans have both expressed opposition to the bill. They also urged their parishioners to express their opposition by contacting their legislators.  However, more than 250 religious leaders have expressed support for the bill, including Jewish and some Protestant leaders.

Despite strong support in the religious community, and even support by the Illinois GOP party leader, the bill was never called up for a vote. While the push was not successful, the state currently has a civil union law, which is a legal relationship that provides persons with the same obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits given to spouses. It applies to both heterosexual couples, as well as same sex couples. While the civil union law does offer many benefits, its limitations include not being eligible for Social Security survivor benefits, and not being able to file joint federal taxes. Supporters hope to close those limitations by addressing a bill in the next legislative session, which begins January 9th.