In perhaps the most strongly worded pro-gay statement ever made by a governor of this state, Rod Blagojevich last week put the Illinois gay-rights bill on the frontburner for this fall veto session.
Both Blagojevich and Senate President Emil Jones said it is time to pass Senate Bill 101, the human-rights bill that would protect gays and lesbians from employment and housing discrimination.
Blagojevich included SB 101 among his top three priorities for this session, alongside death penalty reform and ethics legislation.
'Civil rights and equal rights are the hallmark principles of what our country is about,' the governor said. 'And as we move forward with a progressive agenda in the veto session, I think we need an agenda of reform and compassion and fairness. And that's why I think it's important for us to move also and dedicate ourselves to finally passing Senate Bill 101, the Human Rights Bill, a bill that will end discrimination in employment and housing for gays and lesbians.'
Political activists Rick Garcia and Ellen Meyers were in Springfield lobbying the senate on the bill when they were asked to attend the press conference. Garcia said they had no idea the governor was going to make the bill such a high priority.
'He said all the right things,' noted Garcia, political director of Equality Illinois.
Garcia said Sen. Carol Ronen, a key player in Blagojevich's administration, has been working very closely with the governor on this issue, as has Rocco Claps, the openly gay head of the state's Department of Human Rights. Claps and Mary Anderson, legal counsel for the governor, have been attending Equality Illinois meetings.
'The governor's office has really been a partner with us and other groups,' Garcia said.
When Sen. Emil Jones addressed the media during the Nov. 13 press conference, 'he also said we have been talking about it too long—it is simple, we have to get it done,' Garcia said.
As for the nitty gritty of getting the votes, Garcia believes they have loosened up at least two more, and they will be working this week to push more over to a 'yes' vote. The legislature is off this week, and they return Nov. 18-20, when SB 101 could finally come up for a vote.
Concerned Women for America is in Springfield lobbying, handing out flyers urging politicians to 'STOP THE HOMOSEXUAL
AGENDA,' including voting against SB 101, Garcia said.
According to Garcia, Chicago-area senators who need to be lobbied include: Louis Viverito, Edward Maloney, and Vince Demuzio. Also, Westmont's Kurt Dillard, and Dan Cronin from Elmhurst. (See www.legis.state.il.us/senate/default.asp)
Sen. James Meeks, who has been very high profile in his opposition to gays, is still not a 100% no, Garcia said, if Jones and others can pull some strings at the last minute.
If the bill passes the Senate with the necessary 30 votes, it goes to the House for the 2004 session, which starts in January. Garcia said they are close to the 60 votes needed—but there is a concern since some of the pro-gay House votes are no longer there. Some representatives at one time said they would only vote for the bill if it passed the Senate—not wanting to risk a political backlash given that former Senate President Pate Philip held up the bill every year. Will they now have the political courage to vote for the bill?
If the House passes SB 101, it then goes to the governor, where he could sign it that very day.
The complete statement from Gov. Blagojevich at the press conference follows:
'And while we're at progressive legislation, there's one more reform I think we should pass in this veto session. Civil rights and equal rights are the hallmark principles of what our country is about. And as we move forward with a progressive agenda in the veto session, I think we need an agenda of reform and compassion and fairness. And that's why I think it's important for us to move also and dedicate ourselves to finally passing Senate Bill 101, the Human Rights Bill, a bill that will end discrimination in employment and housing for gays and lesbians. I would like to see us move forward on that bill as well, another piece of the progressive agenda. America is a great country because we're a country of civil rights and equal rights. I happen to be a Democrat, at a time when we have a Democratic governor, a Democratic House, and a Democratic Senate. These sorts of things don't always exist, and so I believe we ought to seize the opportunity and invite men and women of good will in the Republican Party who believe in equal rights to join us and finally pass the Human Rights Bill, that has been languishing in the legislature. And I think it's time we finally act on that.'