Two-hundred phone banks, 500 volunteers, over 12,000 post cards and more than 70,000 emails. That is what has gone into passing Illinois' equal marriage bill this far, according to advocates.
LGBT groups revealed some of their behind-the-scenes efforts to pass equal marriage at a community meeting May 22.Those efforts have included massive phone banks, outreach to political funders and an intense social media campaign, they said.
The meeting came just days before an expected final vote on equal marriage, which advocates have predicted will pass by month's end.
The Wednesday meeting, held at the Chicago Urban League, drew approximately 35 people.
Organizers shared that they had facilitated several lobby days, operated phone banks almost daily and worked closely with faith leaders throughout the state to build support for the bill.
Karen Sheley, attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, noted that the Illinois Unites for Marriage coalition had used social media extensively to promote its message. She also explained that the coalition had pushed for editorials in favor of the bill; an effort that let to endorsements for equal marriage from major papers throughout the state.
Caroline Staerk, field director at Equality Illinois, detailed thousands of calls, post cards emails and other grassroots efforts to build support for equal marriage among Illinois voters.
Jim Bennett, Midwest regional director for Lambda Legal, reiterated his comments earlier in the week that the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness act, which would legalize same-sex marriage, has the support it needs to pass by the end of session.
"We are as certain as we can possibly be that this will pass by May 31," he said.
Lindsey Clark, phone bank administrator for the Illinois Unites for Marriage Coalition, said that the tone of phone bank calls has shifted in recent weeks. An increasing number of people against equal marriage have expressed hesitation, Clark said.
"We ask [on the calls], 'Do you support same-sex marriage?'" said Clark. "One of my favorite responses is, 'I'm so sorry, I don't.'"
Bennett pointed to another shift. The conversation in Illinois about equal marriage started with a message about benefits. Now, he said, the message is about love.
"Our messaging is so simple," he said. "A person should be able to marry the person they love. The other side has not found a way to counteract that."
That's a message that has translated over to competing marriage demonstrations, Clark said. Anti-gays have largely outnumbered pro-LGBT protesters at a series of rallies held over the last month to pressure undecided lawmakers. But, Clark said, the difference between those opposed to the bill and those backing it has been the vibe, with pro-LGBT demonstrators sending a message of love.
But some attendees also questioned if messages coming from LGBT groups adequately represented communities of color, after reports suggested that Black lawmakers said that equal marriage had been presented as a white issue.
Roderick K. Hawkins, vice president of external affairs for Chicago Urban League, has done outreach to the Black Caucus on the marriage issue. He reported that Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus and others have been working to make sure that Black lawmakers and Black voters hear from Black LGBT people who support the bill.
Bennett added that The Civil Rights Agenda has also done significant work with Latino representatives and constituents on the marriage issue.
But, Bennett said, some of that work will remain under wraps until the bill passes.
Kim Hunt, executive director of Affinity Community Services, also raised the question of future organizing from groups. She asked what would happen to LGBT organizations after the bill passed.
Bennett said that Lambda Legal had already drafted fact sheets on the proposed law and would be working to educate community members should to the bill pass.
Finally, attendees asked if they would have warning before the bill was called as many want to travel to Springfield for the final vote. Bennett said he wants to give LGBTQ community members the opportunity to see the vote, and that if groups have enough notice, they will work to let the community know and to arrange transportation for some.