SPRINGFIELD-Former President Bill Clinton Tuesday joined Illinois' push to legalize gay marriage, becoming the most influential voice to date to urge the Illinois House to pass stalled legislation.
"Since the days of Abraham Lincoln, Illinois has stood for the proposition that all citizens should be treated equally under the law," President Clinton said in a prepared statement.
"Lincoln himself came to Springfield in search of opportunity, and he dedicated his life to securing equal opportunity for all citizens. I believe that for Illinois and for our nation as a whole, in the 21st century that must include marriage equality," the 42nd president said.
Advocates for Senate Bill 10 have waited for weeks to call the same-sex marriage legislation for a vote in the House, hovering slightly below the 60-vote threshold needed to pass the measure to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk.
A bloc of 20 black House members has become the pivotal swing vote on the issue, seeing their legislative districts blanketed by thousands of robocalls from black ministers, including the former state Sen. and the Rev. James Meeks, who are opposed.
Clinton has remained highly popular within the Democratic Party, including with black voters. His support could help offer important political cover to members of the House Black Caucus, who either are on the fence or in support of the legislation carried by state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago).
For weeks, there had been murmurs among those promoting same-sex marriage that Clinton could emerge in Illinois' gay-marriage debate. Some in the movement had predicted Clinton could be pressed to make phone calls to wavering House members, but Tuesday's statement did not make clear whether he would take on that role.
Clinton has had close ties with one of the main movers behind Illinois' gay-marriage push, publishing and broadcasting mogul and Democratic activist Fred Eychaner. In 2008, Chicago Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet reported that Eychaner was among the top donors to the Clinton Foundation, the philanthropic organization that Clinton established after leaving the White House.
When former First Lady Hillary Clinton was appointed secretary of state by President Obama, Bill Clinton released the names of donors to his foundation, and near the top of that list was Eychaner, who gave between $10 million and $25 million, according to the Clinton disclosure.
"Our nation's permanent mission is to form a 'more perfect union' - deepening the meaning of freedom, broadening the reach of opportunity, strengthening the bonds of community," Clinton said. "That mission has inspired and empowered us to extend rights to people previously denied them. Every time we have done that, it has strengthened our nation. Now we should do it again, in Illinois, with marriage equality."