Clinton urges Illinois to OK gay marriage; Jackson opposed, for now

News-DemocratMay 21, 2013 

— Former President Bill Clinton wants Illinois legislators to legalize same-sex marriage, but his endorsement Tuesday didn't have much effect on one metro-east lawmaker who is said to have a key vote on the issue.

Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson, in a tactful way, essentially said Clinton doesn't have to answer to voters in the 114th Illinois House District. Jackson said his plan -- at least for now -- is to vote against same-sex marriage.

"Clinton being for the bill is not a direct influence on me as it relates to District 114," Jackson said in an interview Tuesday. Hours earlier, Clinton issued a statement urging state lawmakers to vote in favor of a same-sex marriage bill that is pending in the House.

The House's 20-member black caucus is considered crucial to passage of the bill. But fewer than half of them say they support the bill or are likely to support it.

Jackson, an East St. Louis Democrat, is among black lawmakers whose districts have been targeted by robocalls, paid for by opponents of gay marriage. In a recorded message to Jackson's constituents, a black minister from Chicago said he's opposed to the bill and urged residents to contact Jackson's office and voice their opposition.

Jackson downplayed the role of black lawmakers on the bill.

"This is not a black caucus issue," he said. "This is an issue, for me, as it relates to the constituents in my area. My area is saying to me that they're not ready for marriage equality at this juncture."

Rep. Christian Mitchell, D-Chicago, said religion has been a factor for black legislators on the issue of same-sex marriage.

"I think after President Obama came out as a supporter of equal marriage there was a belief that it would be a no-brainer," Mitchell told the Chicago Sun-Times. "But I don't think folks properly understood the influence and role of the church as it relates to African-American politics."

Jackson voted against the bill while it was in a House committee, and said then that he also would vote against the bill when it reaches the House floor.

But on Tuesday he left open the possibility that he could change his mind.

"I'm looking at what my constituents are saying, and I'm taking that position," Jackson said. "Marriage is something that we're going to continue to debate on the floor, and once it gets on the floor, then I'll see where I am. But I'm not changing my position, as of yet."

He added: "I always want to leave open a door, in case there's something that would give me a reason to. But if I had to bet, I would say I'm not for passing the bill."

Some supporters of same-sex marriage say they believe the bill can get the 60 votes needed for passage in the House. Others believe it's currently a few votes shy of passage. The bill already has been approved by the Senate.

Clinton's full statement follows:

"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. 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. Since the days of Abraham Lincoln, Illinois has stood for the proposition that all citizens should be treated equally under the law. 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."

Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 239-2511.

Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 239-2511.

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