Gay-Marriage Bill Clears Path for GOP Candidates Print
Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
Written by Rich Miller   
Sunday, 10 November 2013 11:00

Perhaps the biggest loser in November 5’s historic passage of a gay-marriage bill in Springfield was the National Organization for Marriage.

The group, based in Washington, DC, has been at the forefront of attempts to stop gay marriage in states throughout the country. A Maine investigation uncovered what it claimed were internal NOM documents about the group’s strategy, including 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, spending tens of thousands of dollars on politically connected consultants and robo-calls into black districts in the spring, summer, and right up until the day of the vote, and holding media-friendly events in the black community. The bill wasn’t called for a vote last spring mainly because black House members were overwhelmed by fervent local opposition.

In the end, NOM lost badly. Fourteen of 20 Democratic members of the House Black Caucus voted “yes” on the gay-marriage 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).

Ironically enough, though, other than gay-marriage supporters, those who probably cheered the loudest after the bill’s passage were 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. The big talk last week in the U.S. Congress was about a bill to prohibit employment discrimination against gay people. Illinois has had that law on its books for years. Despite much screaming by opponents that the end of the world was surely near, everybody just accepted the law and moved on without incident.

But people don’t always move on. 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. It obviously wasn’t done that way, so he could be forced to answer some touchy questions.

State Representative Tom Cross, a Republican candidate for state treasurer, is undoubtedly hoping that the issue fades quickly, at least in the run-up to the spring primary. Cross voted “yes,” even though a spokesperson had recently told the Chicago Sun-Times that he opposed the bill. But it’s been known for weeks that Cross was truly struggling with the issue, both on philosophical and political levels.

Cross has a primary opponent, the socially conservative DuPage County Auditor Bob Grogan. Grogan hasn’t been much of a campaigner to-date, raising little money and garnering few major supporters. He says he’s not interested in Cross’ vote. Some anti-gay-marriage forces are, though, and that could cause him problems.

The immediate fear among Cross’ allies is that his gay-marriage vote could generate more interest 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 Senator Michael Frerichs. Cross clearly 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 and “modern” Republican in the general election.

And speaking of Republicans, unlike in the Senate – where the lone Republican “yes” vote was more symbolic than essential to the outcome – the three House Republicans who voted for the bill last week helped provide the margin of victory. Without those votes, the going would’ve been a whole lot tougher.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and CapitolFax.com.