SPRINGFIELD — A key House lawmaker seeking to legalize same-sex marriage remained cagey Monday about voting on his legislation this week, but all signals pointed toward that — with perhaps the biggest sign of all being House Speaker Michael Madigan’s heightened involvement in the push.
State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the lead House sponsor of the measure to permit gay and lesbian couples to wed in Illinois, gave his social media followers a strong hint that a long-delayed House vote on the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act may be imminent.
“Heading to Springfield to get it done,” Harris posted in a status update Monday morning on his Facebook account, as state lawmakers prepared to convene Tuesday for the final, scheduled, three-day leg of their fall session.
Harris also dropped another hint over the weekend that the tally was at a critical phase, telling his Facebook followers that he was “counting votes and twisting arms.”
In an earlier interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Harris said his bid to persuade House members to pass his legislation was “moving in the right direction” and, in yet another sign of a possible roll call this week, said “the time is now to make sure people are treated with equality in Illinois.”
A concrete precursor to a vote this week likely would be a move by Harris to tweak the bill so it would take effect next year instead of possibly later this year. Doing so would lower the number of votes he would need in the House to pass it from 71 to 60 but would require backing from the Senate, which should not be a problem. As of late Monday, Harris had not filed an amendment containing such a change.
But unlike in the spring, when Harris didn’t have the votes to pass the same-sex marriage bill, Madigan (D-Chicago) has been actively working over members to persuade them to pass the legislation.
“I had a brief conversation with [Madigan]. He was asking about the bill because he is trying to pass it,” said Rep. Thaddeus Jones (D-Calumet City), a member of the House Legislative Black Caucus who’s among more than a dozen House members still undecided on the bill.
State Rep. John D’Amico (D-Chicago), another undecided House member, said he, too, had a conversation about Harris’ bill with Madigan. “I’m still meeting with people, talking to my constituents, and I’m not going to make my mind up till I get on the floor and listen to the debate,” D’Amico said.
Harris has been unwilling to divulge how close to 60 votes he is, but gay activist Rick Garcia, who also is helping to pass the measure, said, “We’re closer to 60 than we were even three weeks ago.”
Garcia said there is “a very good chance” Harris will seek a vote on the bill this week and that Madigan’s involvement amounts to a “very significant” development in trying to pass the legislation.
“We’re within striking distance. The speaker isn’t going to make calls if we have 52 or 53 votes, right?” said Garcia, political director of the Civil Rights Agenda. “The speaker will make calls if we’re at 57 votes, you know? He’s not going to bring 10, but he can persuade a couple, and I think that’s what we’re going to rely on.”
Madigan is not alone in trying to line up votes for Harris’ bill. Gov. Pat Quinn has done so, as has Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Sarah Hamilton, the mayor’s communications director, told the Sun-Times that Emanuel has been “very active and engaged, making calls, meeting with members and leaders” in anticipation of what he hopes will be a historic vote.
A top mayoral aide described the head count as “very, very close.” Another pegged it as “58, very close to 59” in favor of gay marriage.
Opponents of the legislation think they still hold the advantage. But they acknowledged Madigan’s involvement, in particular, represents the single-most ominous development against their effort to keep the measure from getting to Gov. Pat Quinn, who has vowed to sign it.
“I think they’re short now, but that can change in a heartbeat,” said David Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, who led a Statehouse rally two weeks ago against Harris’ legislation.
“We’ve seen it time and time again. With Mike Madigan involved, who knows what can happen. I’ve seen him work bills before and get the handful they need, and it’s possible they have it. I don’t know. My count right now is they don’t, but Madigan can flip a few,” Smith said.