The Illinois Senate left the State Capitol later today without voting on measures to legalize gay marriage and outlaw assault weapons, leaving the fate of those controversial issues in doubt.
A committee advanced the same-sex marriage bill late this afternoon, but the sponsor acknowledged she did not have enough votes to win approval on the Senate floor.
Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, dismissed a question on whether she ever had a solid 30 votes lined up to pass the legislation. "Oh, no, no, no," Steans said. "We really did have the votes. We were just missing members today."
Such are the political dynamics of a lame-duck session in Springfield: some lawmakers who are in their final days of service don't show up to work, making it difficult to pass tough legislation.
The Senate’s failure to take a final vote also came after a furious lobbying pushback by the Catholic Conference of Illinois and Cardinal Francis George.
The Senate Executive Committee advanced the measure on an 8-5 vote following a lengthy debate that featured testimony from both sides of the issue.
"It's not often that we really have a chance in this chamber to be taking a look at something providing a basic civil right and advancing fairness," said sponsoring Sen. Steans. "Same-sex couples want to marry for the same reasons we all do--for commitment, family, mutual responsibility.
Steans said gay couples have suffered from the 2nd-class status. Underscoring Steans' point was emotional testimony from Mercedes Santos and Theresa Volpe, a lesbian couple from Rogers Park who got a civil union in Illinois.
"Right now, we are in a civil union, but it is not enough," testified Theresa Volpe.
Springfield Catholic Bishop Thomas John Paprocki testified against the proposal, saying, "It would radically redefine what marriage is for everybody." He maintained the "natural family" is undermined by the legislation.
"Neither two men nor two women can possibly form a marriage," Paprocki said. "Our law would be wrong if it said that they could.
"The basic structure of marriage as the exclusive and lasting relationship of a man and a woman, committed to a life with the potential of having children, is given to us in human nature, and thus by nature's God," Paprocki said.
At the same time, an effort to ban semi-automatic assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines --- backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel --- also lacked the votes needed for passage. Opponents argued the measure was too broad and unworkable.
With no action on those two controversial issues, senators were preparing to return home. A final day of the Senate’s lame-duck session remains an option for Tuesday, the day before the next General Assembly is inaugurated. But that could depend on whether the House takes any action. House members are scheduled to be in Springfield from Sunday through Tuesday.