Illinois GOP candidates glad to have gay marriage issue settled

November 11, 2013 

Perhaps the biggest loser in last Tuesday's historic passage of a gay marriage bill in Springfield was the National Organization for Marriage. The group, based in Washington, D.C, has been at the forefront of attempts to stop gay marriage in states throughout the country. A Maine investigation uncovered alleged internal documents about the group's strategy that included this passage:

"The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks -- two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African-American spokespeople for marriage, develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots. No politician wants to take up and push an issue that splits the base of the party."

The organization tried all that in Illinois. The bill wasn't called for a vote last spring mainly because black House members were overwhelmed by local opposition.

In the end, NOM lost badly. Fourteen of 20 Democratic members of the House Black Caucus voted "yes" on the bill while just four voted "no" (Monique Davis, Mary Flowers, Eddie Lee Jackson and Chuck Jefferson) and two voted "present" (Rita Mayfield and Derrick Smith).

Other than gay marriage supporters, those who probably cheered the loudest after the bill's passage may have been the four Republican gubernatorial candidates. They've been hoping this issue would be safely put away, allowing them to move on to their own agendas.

They may be right. These things do tend to fade away once a bill is passed. But social conservatives could try to stir up a backlash by demanding that the Republican candidates pledge to repeal the marriage measure. Three of the four candidates are on record opposing gay marriage. The fourth, Bruce Rauner, said he would only sign a gay marriage bill into law if the public had first voted to approve it via a non-binding referendum.

State Rep. Tom Cross, a Republican candidate for state treasurer, is undoubtedly hoping that the issue fades quickly, at least in the runup to the spring primary. Cross voted "yes," even though a spokesman had recently told the Chicago Sun-Times that he opposed the bill.

The immediate fear among Cross' allies is that his gay marriage vote could spark more interest among, and money from the far right to defeat him. Cross has done a good job so far of rounding up traditional GOP supporters, however, so the calculation was that the vote won't be fatal in the primary.

Last week's vote will, however, take an issue away from Cross' Democratic rival, state Sen. Michael Frerichs. Cross took the long view, and that could come with significant benefits, including campaign contributions from gay marriage supporters and the ability to paint himself as a moderate Republican.

And speaking of Republicans, unlike in the Senate, where the lone Republican "yes" vote was more symbolic than essential, the three House Republicans who voted for the bill helped provide the margin of victory. Without those votes, the going would have been a whole lot tougher.

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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