Christians urged to stand firm as bill is not dead
Springfield | A months-long round of legislative sparring over same-sex marriage ended May 31, when Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), failed to call for a House Floor vote on SB10, the “Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.”
The non-vote was a victory for supporters of traditional marriage, but a new season of lobbying has begun for advocates on both sides of the issue, which could be back in front of legislators this summer or fall.
“I don’t think the battle is over by any means,” said David Howard, director of missions for Capital City Baptist Association. Howard has been a vocal opponent of redefining marriage, and has urged other pastors to speak out. “We as believers need to be involved in the political arena,” he told the Illinois Baptist.
“I believe it is imperative for Christians to know who their senators and representatives are – both state and national. Our state representatives need to be constantly told by us to vote no [on SB10]. My representative knows I am solidly opposed, but he still hears from me.”
‘Fight back, Illinois’
Advocates on both sides of the marriage debate anticipated a vote by the end of the House’s last day in session. Previously, Harris, the bill’s chief sponsor, had told a Chicago newspaper he would “absolutely” call the bill to a vote before session ended and that it would pass. “When I put it up on the board, it’s going up to win,” he said.
But that evening, an emotional Harris addressed the House chamber. “As chief sponsor of this legislation, decisions surrounding the legislation are mine and mine alone. Several of my colleagues have indicated they’d not be willing to cast a vote on this bill today.
“… They’ve asked for time to go back to their districts, talk to their constituents and reach out to their minds and hearts and have told me they’ll return in November with their word that they’re prepared to support this legislation.”
Harris faced criticism from same-sex marriage advocates for his failure to call the bill for a vote, but proponents quickly rallied to renew their lobbying efforts. On June 1, the gay rights organization Equality Illinois posted a new banner on its Facebook page: “Fight back, Illinois!” Legalizing same-sex marriage in Illinois “isn’t a matter of if – it’s a matter of when,” read a post on the page.
Opponents of the bill credit many for halting the bill’s momentum, including God and black pastors. Danny Holliday, pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Alton, was in Springfield for much of the legislature’s last week in session. He prayed at a rally sponsored by the Illinois Family Institute on the morning of the anticipated vote.
“God got the victory,” he told the Illinois Baptist. “That’s the bottom line.
“He got the victory, and I’m glad that the church pulled together in Illinois.” Holliday pointed out that people from all over the state, of different races and religions, worked hard against the legislation. But many media reports said the influence of African American pastors was key in legislators putting off a vote.
In May, the Chicago area African American Clergy Coalition used automated phone calls to urge voters around the state to contact their local representatives and tell them to vote no.
Following the non-vote, Bishop Larry Trotter, co-chairman of the coalition, told WFLD TV Fox Chicago, “Today our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has won! We are so proud of the God-fearing Black Caucus members who withstood the pressure of the LGBT forces.”
Members of the House Black Caucus, believed to be swing votes in the debate, will continue to be watched closely by advocates on both sides for how their votes might shift in the summer and fall.
Sharee Langenstein, a lobbyist who has worked with conservative groups during the same-sex marriage debate, told the Illinois Baptist, “I think for too long we have unfortunately kind of assumed that the African American community, which does traditionally vote Democrat, would not be with us on some of our social issues.
“And we have all learned…that in fact we have a lot more in common than we ever thought, and God has really worked well through this whole process in helping us work together and form alliances that before we never had thought were possible.”
Christians urged to stand firm
For months, Christians of different denominations, from all walks of life and different races, banded together to stop what many believed was inevitable when the Senate approved the bill Feb. 14. They continued their opposition, even gathering in the Capitol rotunda to pray together on the morning of May 31.
Following the non-vote on SB10, IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams said he was “encouraged by the majority of our state representatives who stood firm for traditional marriage, in spite of tremendous political pressure. I believe the voices and prayers of Illinois Baptist churches and church members made a difference, and helped defend churches and Christians throughout the state from pressures, requirements and litigation that would certainly have flowed from the proposed legislation, if it had passed.”
According to an article in the Illinois Observer, a Capitol news website, House Speaker Mike Madigan extended the bill’s deadline for approval to August 31, meaning it could be brought back when the General Assembly returns to Springfield June 19 for a special session called by Gov. Pat Quinn. However, the bill would need to receive a 3/5 majority vote in the House.
To avoid such a high threshold, supporters would need to amend SB10 to go into law Jan. 1, 2014, rather than 30 days from being signed by the governor. The Senate would also have to vote on the amended bill. Neither of these scenarios seems very likely. It is more likely the House would revisit the bill during the fall veto session, which begins Oct. 22.
Adams urged Southern Baptists in Illinois to remember their work is not done. “I hope Illinois Baptists will continue to pray zealously, and to engage legislators and legislative processes in a way that supports Biblical marriage, and that protects churches from infringements on their religious liberties.”