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Posts tagged "Heather Steans"

h/t: John Byrne at Chicago Tribune

I casted my vote, and in the IL-Gov Democratic Primary, I took the write-in route and picked Steans/Harris.


Supporters of marriage equality say the Republican’s bill is “not going to go anywhere.”

Sen. Kyle McCarter speaking on the Illinois Senate floor Feb. 14, 2013.

Tony Merevick/BuzzFeed

A Republican state senator in Illinois introduced legislation Tuesday to repeal the state’s new marriage equality law, which takes effect this June.

But with a Senate and House controlled by Democrats — who just voted in favor of marriage equality in November — and a governor who pressed for equal marriage rights in the state, advocates say Sen. Kyle McCarter is simply playing to his base of conservative Republicans.

McCarter introduced Senate Bill 2637 to repeal the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, which passed last fall, and amend the state’s marriage statute to redefine marriage as between one man and one woman.

"[McCarter] knows it’s not going to go anywhere," said Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), who was he chief sponsor of the marriage equality bill in the Senate. "He’s just doing this to show his constituents."

Last October, the Illinois House narrowly passed the marriage equality law, but the Senate approved the legislation with a wide margin — both last February in a 34-21 vote and again in November to concur with the House in a 32-21 vote.

"This is just politics," said Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda, an LGBT rights group. "It’s an election year in Illinois and whenever that happens there’s always legislators who introduce legislation that will really go nowhere, but appeals to their base and I think that’s exactly what he’s done here."

Martinez said he has been monitoring new measures introduced that would attempt to set back pro-LGBT legislation.

"We have seen in the past with the civil unions act and the gay rights amendment to the Illinois Human Rights Act that there tends to be attacks on gains made by the LGBT community," he said. "We are checking to make sure that if these bills are introduced that they are addressed and that we fight against them."

Messages were left with McCarter’s district and Capitol office seeking comment.

More surprising is that even the far-right hate group IFI is silent (so far) on McCarter’s proposal to repeal SB10.

Chicago, IL — Many LGBT Illinoisans will likely remember 2013 mainly as the year marriage equality became a reality for our state. While we have to wait until June for marriage to officially wed, the marriage struggle this year gave our community numerous moments of joy, not to mention a few moments of disappointment. Here are some of’s highlights from the past year.

January: The new year brought tremendous hope to supporters when, on Jan. 4, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act is voted out of committee and onto the Senate floor. Supporters hope that the vote would take place quickly, but a number of mix-ups mean it has to wait. Rick Garcia of The Civil Rights Agenda tells that the anticipated Senate vote simply fell victim to bad timing, adding, “This means we are one step closer.”

February: The Illinois State Senate grants a Valentine’s Day wish to gay and lesbian constituents seeking legal marriage recognition—the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act passes in the chamber by a vote of 34-21. Senate sponsor Heather Steans says of the legislation, “It’s time we in the General Assembly catch up to our neighbors. We can confidently and proudly vote for this bill today, because voters in the nation and our state understand and endorse this basic tenet of fairness and equality.” Twelve days later, the legislation passes the House Executive Committee in a narrow 6-5 vote.

March: Chief co-sponsor Greg Harris tells Chicago Sun-Times that, “When I call this for a vote, it will pass.”  Throughout the Spring, marriage supporters and organizers line up high-profile help, among them Mayor Rahm Emanuel as well as retired Chicago Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks and former Chicago Bears defensive end Richard Dent. President Obama’s Organizing for Action project also notifies its supporters that it will be partnering with Illinois Unites for Marriage, which is a joint project by Equality Illinois, Lambda Legal and ACLU Illinois.

Residents of areas with legislators who are on the fence about SB10 report that they’re receiving robo-calls asking them to tell politicians to vote against the legislation.

April: On April 5, a coalition of about a dozen African American pastors speak in the Loop in favor of the legislation. On April 24, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan pens a supportive editorial in the Chicago Tribune. ”Legal arguments aside, this issue at its heart is about one of the most fundamental decisions we can make — with whom to share our lives,” Madigan says. ”In every community in Illinois, same-sex couples have chosen to join together and, in many instances, to raise families of their own. … They deserve the same rights and responsibilities that civil marriage offers straight couples.”

May: Other states achieving marriage equality, including Rhode Island and Minnesota, heighten the anticipation as legislators return to Springfield. Near the end of the month, advocates say that they have the needed number of votes for SB10 to pass the legislation.

"The votes are, indeed, there," Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinoistells ”And I believe the bill is going to pass, but we’ve received no indication yet on when the bill would be called.” 

But on May 31, Harris announces that the vote will not come yet. Fighting back tears, he acknowledges that some colleagues did not have the support of their constituents and asked for more time.

"I have never been sadder to accept such a request," Harris said. He promises that the issue would be re-opened in the veto session in the fall, but adds, "In the meantime, I apologize to the families who were hoping to wake up full and equal citizens."

"I have to say, when you are assured with such certainty that the votes were there for a vote, and then to have one not even take place, was maddening," Lambda Legal’s Midwest Regional Director James Bennett tells ”[Politicians] should not be able to hide behind not having a vote.” 

In a statement, Gay Liberation Network's Andy Thayer calls the failure “abject betrayal” and lays blame at the feet of House Speaker Michael Madigan. ”Anyone who knows anything about Illinois politics knows that Speaker Mike Madigan owns the House–if he had insisted on a positive vote from his caucus, it would have passed.” 

June: Nearly 100 people turn out in the rain for a protest organized by GLN and TCRA at the corner of Roscoe and Halsted. Members of the coalition promise that the struggle will take a more active role in decision-making.

"The top donor to the Democratic party hired all of these contract lobbyist, straight white men, who don’t know shit," Rick Garcia tells the crowd of about 100 people. 

Following a controversial editorial in Windy City Times, publisher Tracy Baim and Harris issue a joint statement: “We as a community can work together for the common cause of marriage equality, even if we have differences of opinion on strategy and tactics. We both have a respect for the role that each aspect of the community plays, including elected officials, activists, donors and the media. … We must unite fiercely as a community and focus our efforts on carrying the beacon of hope and equality for all families, and against those who wish to defeat the full promise of America for all her peoples.”

In mid-June, Illinois Unites for Marriage says that it is hiring a full-time campaign manager who would oversee and coordinate the statewide advocacy campaign and would gather additional input from supporters during nine community meetings held over the summer.

July: Illinois Unites hires John Kohlhepp, a union organizer with AFSCME, to be their campaign manager. Keron Blair of Midwest Academy is hired as field director, and Rev. Benjamin Reynolds is to be the coalition’s faith director. The coalition also announces a goal of raising $2 million.

August: Chicago-based Groupon becomes the latest corporation to come out in support of marriage equality in Illinois, with a YouTube video that announces, “We are Groupon and we are proud of being part of a diverse community of customers, merchants and employees. We work better when everyone, including our LGBT co-workers, can bring their whole selves to work every day. That is why we support marriage equality.”

Pat Brady, the former chairman of the state Republican Party, announces that he is joining the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois to lobby for the passage of same-sex marriage legislation in Illinois. ”Liberty, freedom and equality under the law are all things that Republicans and conservatives have believed in for a long, long time,” Brady tells WBEZ radio. 

September: Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak visits Center on Halsted to unveil a new digital and print campaign designed to draw same-sex couples from Chicago to Minneapolis where they can get legally married. ”The people who built this neighborhood, who have done so much incredible work for this community, you deserve equal rights,” said Ryback. ”Come to Minnesota, a place that already recognizes that you should have those rights.” Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda, additionally cites a recent study by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, estimating marriage equality could add $100 million to Illinois’ economy.

October: Thousands of marriage rights advocates and allies brave the cold rain to rally outside the Capitol as part of the March on Springfield for Marriage Equality, an event to mark the first day of the fall veto session.

"This is our hour, this is our moment," Gov. Quinn tells the record-breaking crowd. "We need love to sign a marriage equality law and I’ll sign it as quickly as possible." Other top state officials in the rally include Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Chicago), Lt. Governor Sheila Simon (D), Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) and Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka (R).

Throughout the afternoon, in what becomes a three-hour rally, the politicians and speakers share the stage with top LGBT musicians, including Steve Grand, Sami Grisafe and Stephen Leonard.

Equality opponents rallied the following day in Springfield.

November: As equality supporters settle in for a three-day stretch of the veto session—many not expecting a vote until the last possible minute—Harris and colleagues surprise most with a vote that’s one of the first items on the House agenda. They approve the bill on Nov. 5 by a vote of 61-54-2

"At the end of the day, this bill is about love. It’s about family. It’s about commitment," Harris tells colleagues on the floor.

Among those speaking on the legislation’s behalf is House Speaker Madigan, who sat next to former state Rep. (and current alderman) Deb Mell during the debate.

"Who am I to judge that they should be illegal? Who is the government to judge that they should be illegal, and for me, that’s the reason to support this bill," Madigan says.

House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) was one of three Republicans in the House to vote for in favor of the bill. The others were Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) and Ed Sullivan (R-Mundelein).

"It should be a proud moment for everyone in our state, but it should be an especially proud moment for thousands of lesbian and gay families across our state, who now know they are on a very short path to achieving equality and all the protections that our law allows," Harris says during a press conference following the vote. 

On Nov. 20, with the stroke of Gov. Pat Quinn’s pen, Illinois becomes the 16th state in the country to allow full marriage equality. SB10 is signed in front of numerous elected officials, advocates and members of the public at the UIC Forum in Chicago.  

"Love never fails and I’m going to sign this bill now," says Quinn, who signs the bill—with multiple pens—on the desk Abraham Lincoln used to write his 1861 inaugural address. 

"There is no straight or gay marriage. From now on there is only marriage in Illinois," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  

For some Illinois couples, the passage is initially a bittersweet victory however. The official start date of gay marriages, thanks to rules applying to the veto session, is June 1. For couples with partners facing serious illnesses, there is no assurance that seven months would afford enough time. But a judge rules that activist Vernita Gray, who is seriously ill, and her partner Patricia Ewert can wed early. The day before Thanksgiving, they become the first same-sex couple to be legally married within Illinois.

December: A federal judge rules that two more couples with terminally ill partners can marry before the June 1 start-date. Additionally, the judge rules that the Cook County Clerk’s Office can set up a streamlined process for couples facing similar circumstances. The ruling initially only applies to Cook County, where issuance of a marriage license is dependent on the completion of a physician’s certification form that can be downloaded on the marriage equality page of the clerk’s website.

"We thank the Court and the clerk’s office for their swift response to ensure that Illinois couples who are struggling with the challenges of a life-threatening illness will have a chance to be married," says Camilla Taylor of Lambda Legal. 

H/T: Matt Simonette at

The Illinois Senate has already approved same-sex marriage, and there is a chance next week of a showdown vote in the House in Springfield. But by most accounts, supporters remain a few votes shy of the 60 needed for passage.

“It’s very close,” Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) told me by phone. She sponsored the bill in the Senate that passed with bipartisan support.

In the House, state Rep. Mike Zalewski (D-Chicago), a Roman Catholic, told me that though he’s on the fence, the amendments attached to the Senate bill that protect religious institutions from being forced to recognize same sex marriage helped its passage. And on those grounds, he said, “It was much more ready to go over to the House.”

State Rep. LaShawn Ford, also a Catholic Democrat from Chicago, is similarly on the fence but says he is open to the possibility of voting for it. But Ford expresses sensitivity to the Austin community that dominates his district.

“Most of our communities are filled with churches on every corner and … we have built relationships with those ministers and pastors. And want to continue to work … so they realize that one vote will not destroy our relationship,” he told me.

Ford, who says members of his own family are gay, sees this as a matter of human rights.

As the House wrestles, the conservative wing of the state Republican Party on Saturday canceled a meeting to dump its chairman, Pat Brady, over the very same issue. Brady publicly supports legalizing same-sex marriage. The conservatives couldn’t muster the votes to get rid of him.

“This is a civil rights issue,” Brady has repeatedly argued.

In the House, Republican leader Tom Cross has made it clear that even if he votes against the bill, he supports the members of his caucus who vote in support of it. Cross and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) have been crucial in mustering support to keep Brady as the chairman of the GOP.

Back in the General Assembly, a vote on the same-sex marriage bill looms large.

To put it in sports terms, as Ernie Banks and his fellow athletes did in a letter posted by Illinois Unites for Marriage, “Any time a player is not treated with fairness and respect, the game is diminished.”

It’s game time for lawmakers in Springfield.

Batter up.

h/t: Chicago Sun-Times 

SPRINGFIELD — Valentine’s Day might wind up being more than just a day of romance for Illinois’ gay and lesbian couples.

Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) wants Feb. 14 to be the day his legislative chamber votes to legalize gay marriages in Illinois.

“I’d like to pass it out of committee next week and pass it on Valentine’s Day,” Cullerton told the Chicago Sun-Times in a meeting Thursday with the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

Cullerton said he believes the legislation, Senate Bill 110, has the necessary 30 votes to pass and move to the House, clearing a major hurdle in making Illinois the 10th state to legalize same-sex marriages.

Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), the bill’s Senate chief sponsor, and Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the bill’s chief House sponsor, have been working to tweak legislation that surfaced and stalled in January.

The aim is to appease religious organizations worried about being forced to permit gay marriage receptions at a Knights of Columbus hall, for example, or at a church deemed a public gathering place because it is used as a polling place or a venue for community events such as a Weight Watchers meeting.

“I think under the language we’re working on, everyone is a lot more comfortable there’s no threat of a religious place having to open up to a religious ceremony if they don’t want to,” Steans told the Sun-Times.

Meanwhile, on another significant issue in Springfield, Cullerton said he is open to a GOP demand to include judges in his plan to solve Illinois’ $95 billion pension crisis — a bill he said he hopes to have the Senate vote on by late February.

In every pension-reform plan that’s surfaced thus far, the 984 members of the Judges Retirement System of Illinois have been left out because of a constitutional protection against having their salaries be “diminished” and worries judges would block a pension deal on legal grounds.

Yet, the judges’ pension system, like every other state retirement fund, is seriously awash in red ink.

As of last June, it had $1.4 billion more in obligations to current and future retirees than it had cash on hand to pay for them — all the while providing judges with an average $117,564 annual annuity, the most well-heeled pension afforded anyone in Illinois’ five retirement systems.

H/T: Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago, IL — Illinois Senate President John Cullerton has said that the timing is right to approve a bill which seeks to make Illinois the 10th state to legalize gay marriage.

Cullerton, a Democrat from Chicago, made his comments Monday during a speech at the City Club of Chicago.

"We’re getting more support in the public every day," he said. "I expect we will call it very early on in the session, if not in the first few weeks."

Supporters attempted to approve the legislation earlier this month during the General Assembly’s brief lame-duck session.

Senator Heather Steans, the bill’s champion in the Senate, said she is optimistic about the bill’s prospects in the upcoming legislative session, which begins February 5.


The Senate sponsor behind a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois says she hopes to move the bill shortly after the senate returns in early February.

Sen. Heather Steans said that she is currently working on revisions to the bill.

"We are working to address concerns expressed with particular language in the bill, and I expect we will take up the marriage bill sometime soon after our return," Steans said in a statement.

Lawmakers had reservations about the bill when sponsors tried to move it to a vote in the lame duck session in early January. Chief among them was whether the bill adequately shielded religious institutions from being forced to perform same-sex weddings.

Sen. Dale Righter argued in committee that the language of the bill was unclear, leaving most churches open to legal action if they refused to perform gay weddings.

"Most churches with which I’m familiar will not qualify," he said in the Senate Executive Committee.

Steans said that bill protects religious freedom and that no church will have to solemnize or consecrate a marriage against its beliefs.

Opponents argued that language in the bill was unclear and said they worried that churches that receive government funds or charge money for weddings could be required to perform same-sex unions.

Rep. Greg Harris, house sponsor of the bill, said the bill prevent any church from performing a marriage against their beliefs.

"What we’re working toward is clarifying existing law that protects religious freedom," he said.

Steans said that the measure takes into account pre-existing anti-discrimination law in the Illinois Human Rights Act.

Unsure of the bill earlier in January, was also Republican Sen. Christine Radogno, who has occasionally been seen as supportive on LGBT issues. She voted “no” on the measure in committee, but expressed openness to supporting it with revisions.

Sponsors reintroduced the “Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act” into the new General Assembly this January with the language unchanged.

But Steans said that she and sponsors are currently working with religious leaders to address concerns raised in the bill.

Steans did not say what the specific revisions would include.

The Senate heads back into session Feb. 5.

H/T: Windy City Times

(via Illinois marriage equality co-sponsor Steans on Current TV’s The Young Turks: “‘There’s really been a sea change of public opinion’ in favor”  // Current TV)

Cenk Uygur talks to state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Ill., about the marriage equality bill she has co-sponsored and seems poised to pass in Illinois.

“We passed civil unions here two years ago, and the nature of the conversations I’m having with my colleagues just two years later is really different. I think there’s really been a sea change of public opinion on this. Every day we see more people supporting what’s fair under our laws and treating everyone the same.”

Democratic State Sen. Heather Steans said Tuesday a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois will be heard by a Senate committee Wednesday night and a full Senate vote on a bill could come as early as Thursday.

“There is certainly a lot of great momentum,” Steans said. “Thursday is what we are aiming for.”

The bill will be considered by the Senate Executive Committee at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, where Steans expects it to gain approval.

The announcement signals the bill’s chief sponsors — Steans in the Senate and Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) in the House — and other proponents of the bill have gained enough votes to secure its passage in the Senate, as forces on both sides of the issue make their final pushes to lobby lawmakers before the legislature’s lame duck session begins Wednesday.

The bill needs at least 30 votes in the Senate before it can move to the House, where it will need 60 votes to make its way to the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn, who will sign the bill into law and has been lobbying state lawmakers for additional support.

Steans said the “yes” votes needed to pass the bill in the Senate are there if all of the lawmakers make it back to Springfield following the holidays.

In addition, both Steans and Harris said they are close to securing the 60 votes required to pass the bill in the House.

“We certainly want to get to 60 by next week,” Steans said. “We are in striking distance — if not already there.”

Lawmakers have until the end of the 97th General Assembly’s lame duck session — Jan. 9 — to pass the bill through both the Senate and the House, when a new class of legislators are sworn in.

Steans attributes the rapidly increasing support for same-sex marriage among her peers to President Barack Obama’s coming out in support of the bill as well as efforts by civil rights and LGBT rights organizations.

“[Obama’s] coming out in support really helped a lot,” Steans said. “I think it really has made a difference.”

But Harris, Steans and several LGBT rights organizations are asking supporters to contact their local legislators, regardless of their voting record or current stance on gay marriage.

Just hours before Steans announced the bill’s next steps, Chicago Cardinal Francis George issued a pastoral letter to Roman Catholic priests across the state in which he urged them to oppose the bill.

“Civil laws that establish ‘same sex marriage’ create a legal fiction,” George wrote. “The State has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible.”

George also argued that same-sex marriages violate natural law because gay and lesbian couples cannot procreate.

Along with the local Roman Catholic Church, a coalition of other conservative organizations has formed to combat the growing support for the bill, including the Illinois Family Institute, the Thomas More Society and several religious groups that oppose LGBT rights.

However, a group of over 260 religious and faith leaders from across Illinois signed a letter to state lawmakers urging them to vote in favor of gay and lesbian nuptials because it’s the compassionate, just and fair thing to do.

h/t: Chicago Phoenix

The Illinois marriage equality bill may be considered as early as tomorrow, Windy City Times reports.

The state Senate will be in session Wednesday, and Sen. Heather Stearns is expected to introduce the bill in that chamber this week. “LGBT leaders say that a vote on a bill seeking gay marriage is likely to come sooner rather than later,” the Times reports. Stearns hopes to get the bill voted on quickly so it can then go to the state House, although a report in the Chicago Tribune says she and Rep. Greg Harris, the lead House sponsor, will go for a vote only if they feel assured of passage. Activists from around the state plan to gather tomorrow in Springfield, the capital.

Both chambers have until January 9 to pass the bill in the current legislative session. After that, a new legislature will be seated, meaning advocates will have to restart their lobbying efforts.

Illinois currently offers civil unions to same-sex couples. Gov. Pat Quinn supports marriage equality and would sign the bill. Several other high-profile politicians have thrown their support behind it, including President Obama, who served as an Illinois state and U.S. senator, marking the first time during his presidency that he has become involved in a state-level legislative campaign.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Francis George, head of Chicago’s Roman Catholic archdiocese, today sent a letter to priests in which church members are urged to contact their legislators and ask them to vote against the bill. “Civil laws that establish ‘same sex marriage’ create a legal fiction,” George wrote, according to the Tribune. “The State has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible.” Priests can choose to share the letter with parishioners.

He noted that the church has a right to its own views on marriage, but under the law no church would be forced to perform any marriage that goes against its beliefs.