Legalizing same-sex marriage in Illinois could give Democrats a much-needed boost of enthusiasm headed into next year’s critical elections, though financial woes and high unemployment could mute long-standing traction for the party that rules the state.
For Republicans, the gay marriage vote could put a renewed focus on social issues for a GOP that had hoped to keep its arguments against Democrats next year based on fiscal concerns.
Such is the potential political fallout from the General Assembly’s narrow vote Tuesday to make Illinois the 15th state to approve a measure allowing same-sex couples to wed. On Wednesday, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn said he would sign the bill by month’s end.
Among the four major Republican challengers to Quinn, state Sens. Bill Brady of Bloomington and Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale voted against the marriage bill. Another contender, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford of Chenoa, voted for civil unions as a state senator but opposed same-sex marriage.
Lawmakers provided a pass to GOP governor contender Bruce Rauner, who repeatedly has refused to express his personal view on the issue. Instead, the wealthy equity investor has said he preferred a statewide referendum on same-sex marriage, though any such vote in Illinois would have been non binding. Absent a referendum, he said, as governor he would veto such legislation.
The stakes are particularly high for Republicans next year, having lost the governor’s office to Quinn in 2010 following the scandal that sent Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich to federal prison. Brady, the GOP nominee, found his bid to keep the campaign focused on fiscal matters upended in the final weeks before the election amid heavy Democratic criticism of his social conservatism.
That loss allowed Democrats, led by longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan, to redraw state legislative and congressional boundaries without Republican input. In 2012, those new maps produced a super-majority of Democrats in the House and Senate and Democratic pickups in the congressional delegation.
David Yepsen, the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, said the passage of the legislation could help Republicans in the short term.
“This is actually a good thing for Republicans because it gets this issue off the table. This is a loser for them in Illinois,” Yepsen said. “This discussion and in so many of these social issues, some of the rhetoric in this makes them look intolerant. Now, Republicans can focus on their traditional winning issues, fiscal issues, jobs and the economy.”
But in a general election, the GOP’s positioning on social issues in a deepening Democratic state could be exasperated if state Sen. Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove seeks the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate and wins the March primary. The outspoken Oberweis led the effort to remove Pat Brady as state GOP chairman over Brady’s support of same-sex marriage.
Three House Republicans voted for the gay marriage bill: Reps. Ed Sullivan of Mundelein, Ron Sandack of Downers Grove and Tom Cross of Oswego. Cross is the former House Republican leader now running for state treasurer. As House GOP leader, Cross …read more