BOYSTOWN — Despite lingering storms, more than 100 people turned up to demonstrate in a 7-Eleven parking lot after Friday’s decision by Illinois lawmakers not to vote on a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage.
At Saturday’s protest, activist Bob Schwartz said he was stunned and upset, and ultimately blamed Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan for not making the bill a priority.
“Madigan, who rules the House like a feudal lord, hasn’t deemed this important enough to get it passed,” Schwartz said.
On Friday – the last day of the spring legislative session – the bill’s sponsor Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) said he did not have enough support to call the bill for a vote, saying he's "never been sadder."
As the sun set and the rain slowed to a drizzle Saturday, gay rights activists from The Civil Rights Agenda, Gay Liberation Network and Bisexual Queer Alliance voiced their frustration and outrage with Friday’s decision in Springfield.
Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network who organized Saturday’s event, also pointed a finger towards Madigan for the stall.
“[Madigan] owns the house, it’s his property,” Thayer said. “What good is a democratic supermajority if they just end up screwing you in the end?”
On Friday night, as legislators prepared to go home, Madigan told his colleagues that while key issues, such as pension reform and same-sex marriage were left unaddressed, they will be back on the table when the General Assembly reconvenes in November.
“I don’t think we should take a lack of success today as a reason to give up,” Madigan said.
But Harris, a longtime advocate and member of the LGBT community, also drew fire from gays who were upset he didn't bring the issue to a vote. Tracy Baim, publisher of the LGBT newspaper Windy City Times, called for him to give up his sponsorship of the bill and suggested his support in the community is waning.
If he fails to pass the bill in the fall, Baim wrote in an editorial, "he will have lost the trust of the people he made commitments to, and it is very difficult to lead once that trust is gone."
But Thayer stressed that the inability of the local LGBT community to effectively organize that has also hurt the bill.
Elizabeth Heaton, a 25-year-old teacher who recently got engaged to her girlfriend of six years, said the segregation of Chicago’s gay population is palpable.
“It’s a very divided community,” she said at Saturday’s rally. “It’s hard for everybody to mobilize together, let alone try to mobilize for anybody else.”
The couple will not go out of the state to marry; Heaton said she’d rather get a civil union here in Illinois where both she and her girlfriend grew up.
“It sucks, it sucks. We really thought we’d be able to get it. It really would have been nice just to hear where the state stands on it,” she said.