Rep. Rita Mayfield (D-60) wants to vote "yes" on same-sex marriage this month, she says. The Waukegan lawmaker has a gay best friend and gay family members.
But last election cycle, she vowed to vote the will of her district, and so far, she says, that voice has been a resounding "no."
Mayfield took up that issue at a town hall meeting March. 4.
But what was intended to be an informational gathering on the bill, quickly turned into a shouting match, with those opposed to the bill both dominating attendance and the discussion.
A handful of supporters attended the evening event, but in a packed room of more than 100 in opposition pressed Mayfield to vote "no."
Many on both sides had come from out of the district, according to some residents.
Mayfield said that despite attempts to turn out support for equal marriage, she does not believe her district supports the bill.
"I made a pledge to the people of the 60th District that this would not be a dictatorship," said Mayfield. "I always ask my constituents, 'how do you want me to vote?'"
According to Mayfield, she sent survey to 108,000 of her constituents in June. Of the 20 percent that returned that survey, 70 percent said they were against the bill.
LGBT advocates have since pressed Mayfield, she said, stating that the survey did not adequately capture the district.
Illinois Unites for Marriage, a coalition in support of the bill, published an ad in Mayfield's local paper, asking constituents to call her and urge a "yes" vote. But that effort backfired, said Mayfield. She received 250 calls against the bill.
Mayfield said the Monday evening town hall meeting was another attempt to gauge support.
Khadine Bennett of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois fielded questions on the bill, which ranged from religious protections in the legislation to fears that gay couples raise gay and transgender children.
Bennett drove home messages that sponsors of the legislation have put forth in recent weeks. The bill is about equality, she said, not about religious marriage.
"It's a civil marriage, it's not a religious marriage," said Bennett.
But religious leaders and others argued that the bill would change school curriculums and send a message that being LGBT was okay.
Mayfield repeatedly called for respectful as dialogue and the discussion often spiraled into angry shouts.
Opponents, some of them school-aged children, held up signs condemning the bill.
At the end of the hour-long discussion, attendees asked Mayfield how she would vote. She said she would vote the will of her district.
"Your district says 'no!'" one man shouted. Opponents surrounded Mayfield shouting "no," and holding sings above their heads.
But Mayfield told Windy City Times that despite opposition, she can't bring herself to vote against the bill. That was her stance on civil unions, too. She voted "present" on the measure, a vote she is likely to repeat for same-sex marriage, she said.
"I might end up having to vote 'present,'" said Mayfield. "I can't vote 'no.'"
But as sponsors need 60 votes the pass the measure, a "present" vote effectively counts as a "no."
Still Mayfield would like to start an LGBT group in the district to raise awareness, she said.
"I'm tired of hearing that there are no gay members of my community," she said.
Mayfield's Springfield Office: (217) 558-1012. Information on Mayfield and her Dist. is here: www.housedem.state.il.us/members/mayfieldr/index.htm .