Although Illinois lawmakers failed Friday night to approve a bill to make it the 13th state to perform gay marriages, legislative leaders pledged to bring it back for passage with some holding out hope that it could before the end of the summer.
The 60 votes were not there for the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, said state Rep. Greg Harris, one of four openly gay members of the Illinois House of Representatives.
Several colleagues said “they could not cast a vote on this bill today,” Mr. Harris said tearfully, not long before the chamber adjourned.
“I have never been sadder to accept such a request,” he said, but they asked for time to go back to their districts, talk to constituents and return in November to support the bill.
“We will be back, and we will be voting on this bill, in this legislature,” Mr. Harris said.
Friday was the last day when the gay-marriage bill could be passed in the regular session. The measure can be revived in November in what as known as a “veto session,” but 71 House votes would be needed to pass a bill in that session.
There is also the possibility that if Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn calls lawmakers back for a special legislative session in the summer to address pension reform, which also was left without resolution Friday, he could include the gay-marriage bill.
On Friday night, before the House adjourned, House Speaker Michael Madigan took the step of extending the bill’s deadline date for approval until Aug. 31, according to the Illinois Observer online newspaper. This keeps the gay marriage bill alive, but also likely requires more legislative steps, including a concurrence from the Illinois Senate, the political website said.
But even the bill’s failure to pass was a stunning turn of events.
“In a liberal state like Illinois, this is a truly remarkable victory,” said Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute, one of the groups that opposed the “genderless marriage” bill.
“Today our Lord and savior Jesus Christ has won! Pastor James Meeks, Bishop Lance Davis and I are so proud of the God-fearing Black Caucus members who withstood the pressure of the [lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender] forces and allowed God’s word concerning marriage to remain between one man and one woman in Illinois,” said Bishop Larry D. Trotter, co-chairman of the African American Clergy Coalition.
But gay marriage supporters were outraged.
Bernard Cherkasov, chief executive of Equality Illinois, called the turn of events “disgraceful,” but took heart that three other states — Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota — moved gay marriage through their chambers this year. “This proves that our country is moving toward the right side of history, and quickly,” he said.
“Make no mistake, we will fight and make our case until all Illinois families have the freedom to marry the person they love, and until the legislative vote reflects the solid majority of Illinoisans and Americans who stand for treating their neighbors the way they want to be treated,” said Marc Solomon, national campaign director of Freedom to Marry.
Other gay-marriage supporters noted that other legislatures, including Maryland’s, had punted before they finally passed the law legalizing gay marriage.
The Illinois gay-marriage bill had sailed through the state Senate on Valentine’s Day, and it was expected to do the same in the Illinois House.
State political figures, including Mr. Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, both Democrats, and now-former Republican Party chairman Pat Brady, urged support for gay marriage.
Even President Obama made a personal push for the bill while at a Chicago fundraiser: “I wrestled with this for a long time,” Mr. Obama said Wednesday, “and I am absolutely convinced it is the right thing to do.”
But the African American Clergy Coalition, which was aligned with Catholic and other religious and traditional-values groups, stood against the bill. Chicago pastors in particular warned lawmakers that they would not be invited to speak in their churches if they failed to protect the biblical view of marriage.
In addition, the Thomas More Society advised lawmakers that their gay marriage bill had “the worst religious liberty protection of any same-sex marriage bill in the country.” Opponents also criticized Illinois politicians for appearing to be attempting to bribe lawmakers who were refusing to vote for it.
After the legislative session ended, the black pastors praised lawmakers for standing for traditional marriage “despite threats of political retaliation and mass criticism.”
“While today’s victory is historic, the real fight continues tomorrow morning. Collectively, the black church must continue to defend the word of God by speaking boldly of our beliefs, our convictions and our faith,” said Bishop Lance Davis, co-chairman of the African American Clergy Coalition.’