With reporting by Zach Buchheit
SPRINGFIELD-Legislation that would make Illinois the 10th state to legalize gay marriage eked out of a House committee late Tuesday in a sign it still may be short of votes to pass the full legislative chamber.
The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act advanced out of the House Executive Committee by a 6-5 vote with the panel's four Republicans voting against the plan. State Rep. Eddie Jackson (D-East St. Louis) also voted "no," the lone Democrat on the panel to do so.
"What we have here tonight is a chance to make an important step for the state of Illinois, to make Illinois a more just state, to make Illinois a state that respects all of its citizens equally under the law," said state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the bill's chief House sponsor.
Advocates of Harris' legislation waited for more than seven hours for the committee to take up the issue after the House was consumed for much of the day by a marathon floor debate over amendments to concealed-carry legislation.
Harris assembled a pair of high-powered black ministers in a bid to help shore up shaky support among some African-American legislators like Jackson. The legislation is backed by Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and already has passed the Senate.
Testifying in support of the bill were the Rev. B. Herbert Martin, former Mayor Harold Washington's minister, and the Rev. Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, which is President Obama's former church on the South Side.
"Today, as a son of the South, born in the little town of Mound Bayou, MS, the largest all-black town in America, also as a father, a grandfather, a great-grandfather, an ordained member of the clergy and with an abiding conviction to justice and equality, I call upon you this evening to protect all Illinois residents under the law and support Senate Bill 10," Martin told the panel.
Moss said the legislation "enhances our ideals as a state and nation" and urged the committee to "ensure all citizens are included in the cathedral of democracy, that they may have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Other religious groups lined up against the initiative, saying it undermined traditional religious values that define a marriage as a union between a man and woman and threatened religious institutions like Loyola University and Maryville Academy with having to sanction same-sex marriages.
"Religious freedom belongs to all people. It's not confined to four walls of a church or to a certain individual. It belongs to every American. This bill fails to protect religious freedom, that is the constitutionally protected freedom that belongs to every American," said Kellie Fiedorek, litigation counsel with the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance Defending Freedom.
Beyond Jackson, there were other fissures within the Democratic Party. Harris' bill drew opposition from state Rep. Luis Arroyo (D-Chicago), who voted to let the legislation move to the House floor but said he likely wouldn't be a supporter once it's called for a final vote.
"I don't think I could vote for this bill on the floor of the House because of my religious beliefs and because of the churches in my district I represent and support," Arroyo said.