DeKalb County’s two state representatives voted “no” Tuesday on legalizing same-sex marriage, but they also took a pragmatic view now that the issue has been decided.
The measure passed the state House by a 61-54 vote, and pending technical changes in the state Senate and a signature from Gov. Pat Quinn, sanctioned gay weddings could be held in Illinois by June. Quinn has said he plans to sign the measure.
“We have one of the major issues that has been consuming the House behind us so that we can move forward to some of the other issues confronting our state,” said state Rep. Robert Pritchard, a Hinckley Republican.
Both Pritchard and State Rep. Tom Demmer, a Dixon Republican, seemed relieved that the vote had settled the matter, even if they did not agree with the outcome.
“The vote’s been a long time coming,” Demmer said. “I know people have been watching the issue, especially since the Senate took action [in February.]”
Supporters of same-sex marriage argued Tuesday that allowing same-sex marriage was an issue of equal treatment under the law, and in light of the tide of public opinion, allowing it would put the state on “the right side of history,” as Quinn put it.
Both Demmer and Pritchard said their opposition was based on their reservations about revising a longstanding human and religious tradition.
“Marriage has existed a long time before the state of Illinois existed, and before the state Legislature existed,” Demmer said. “And I didn’t think it was within our authority to redefine what marriage was in the state legislature.”
Pritchard said the state’s 2011 move to legalize civil unions, which granted same-sex couples many of the same rights as married couples, opened the door to the eventual legalization of same-sex marriage in the state. Pritchard voted against the civil union measure in 2011, Demmer was not yet a member of the House.
“[Civil unions] was an issue where many of the same arguments were debated about discrimination and about freedom and the rights of individuals,” Pritchard said. “Those issues were not resolved by civil unions, so this day was going to come.”
Pritchard said it was a difficult decision for him because he, like many others, knows people in same-sex relationships who feel they are not treated equally. However, he said he ultimately decided that the state’s constitutional protections against discrimination and its recognition of civil unions provided enough protection for same-sex couples.
“In the final analysis, many people felt that wasn’t enough,” Pritchard said. “But as I looked at this, I still felt we had to be respectful of those that want to protect and preserve the traditional definition of marriage.”
Even in Democrat-dominated Illinois, the measure received the minimum number of votes necessary for passage in the House, a fact Pritchard said reflected the public sentiment.
“I think there’s a real split in our state population over this issue, and I think it probably will take years longer before there is a clear support for this issue,” Pritchard said. “I think the vote today kind of represented the feelings of the citizens of our state in that it is very close to a 50-50 split.”
With the high-profile vote now cast, however, lawmakers must turn their focus to pressing fiscal matters, including the still unresolved matter of the state’s unfunded public pension obligations, which are estimated at around $100 billion.
“We’ve talked time and time again about how pensions and pension reform have to be our top priority,” Demmer said, “yet we’ve taken action on hundreds of other bills.”