Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Marriage Equality Legislators Have Message for Supporters: Keep Calling

Image courtesy of www.lambdalegal.org
Members of the Illinois General Assembly return to Springfield today and representatives and LGBT rights advocates are determined that a vote on Senate Bill 10, the Marriage Fairness and Religious Freedom Act, will take place before the legislature goes into recess March 23 for Easter and Passover. 

That means that in a matter of days, Illinois could become the 10th state plus the District of Columbia where same-sex couples can legally marry.

Representatives and advocates say they are very close to securing the 60 votes (or 51 percent) needed to pass the legislation, which was passed in the Senate on Valentine’s Day. But, says, Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda, “In Springfield, people change their votes from hour to hour.”

Representative Kelly Cassidy, one of four openly gay House members and a co-sponsor of the bill, points out that the anti-marriage forces are using automated calls and flooding the capital with yellow-stickered volunteers – one of whom entered her office and, in front of Cassidy’s kids, told her that same-sex headed families are “unnatural” and that "real families" must have a man and a woman raising the children.

This is why, say supporters of the bill, constituents need to keep calling their lawmakers.

“What we’re hearing now is that a lot of people are saying they’re 50-50 [on the fence], which is why it’s incredibly important that people reach out to their representative and encourage them to vote yes,” says Martinez. “In the end, there are some legislators who are going to look at the count from their constituents and make the decision based on numbers.”

“If you’ve called once, call again,” says Rep. Greg Harris, who is the lead sponsor of the bill. “We’re hearing from both sides, so it’s very important that we hear from the good voices – the voices for marriage equality.”

Cassidy says that this vote, unlike any she’s ever taken, is highly emotional for everybody involved.  “This is really a soul searching thing for a lot of my colleagues,” says Cassidy. “Even the people who are struggling with the decision are talking to people who are going to be impacted by this.” Cassidy feels that in the end, there will be some surprise votes, to put the total at more than 60.  “We will see someone for whom this is personal and we didn’t know it.”

Martinez agrees. “There are people who realize that this is the right thing to do and in 20 years they don’t want to be on the wrong side of history.” But, he cautions, “Most people are trying to figure out where their district is, so they won’t be attacked by the opposition.”

Illinois residents can go to www.pflag.org/takeaction to find their representative’s contact information.