August 26, 2013

Rep. Sue Scherer under pressure as Illinois gay marriage campaign mobilizes grassroots

Civil rights advocates were disappointed at the end of this year's Illinois legislative session after the gay marriage bill failed to come up for a vote. The movement responded by quietly going home because getting too aggressive might upset Democratic leaders.

Just kidding! Actually, they turned up the heat with a grassroots statewide campaign. Illinois Unites for Marriage hired organizers to mobilize support before the next legislative session and they're not limiting themselves to the usual liberal areas of Chicago. Their target list includes downstate representatives like Democrat Sue Scherer in the 96th district, which covers most of Springfield and Decatur.

Scherer's public comments have been vague but generally against gay marriage. Back in February she said:

“We've had civil unions, and it hasn't even been two years,” Scherer said. “The purpose of the civil union was to give people in this situation the rights they felt they deserved. I think that needs to have time to go through the system before we go further.”

This is an interesting quote. I usually describe someone as being "in this situation" if they're on the side of the road having car trouble or if they accidentally discover their butt got too big for the McDonald's playland tube. But at least she's not saying anything hateful, so that's OK.

I'm also not sure how one would know when civil unions have sufficiently "gone through the system." Maybe when date night becomes routine? Since we just passed the anniversary of Martin Luther King's famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial, she might remember a phrase King used in a similar situation: "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

More recently, Scherer was quoted thus:

“If the bill is just straight up as I have seen it to be then I would be not voting for gay marriage, but I can’t say that for a fact, because there are always things that get thrown in and changed, I know that’s not just a black and white answer but unless I’m looking at the bill and voting it could always change up to the minute we vote on it.”

I think that means she could go either way.

The usual knee-jerk assumption of the statehouse establishment is to assume that anything liberal and controversial will be a liability come election time, especially in a downstate district. But, Scherer represents an overwhelmingly Democratic district with a significant LGBT population. There's virtually no danger of her being defeated by a Republican. She could be the most liberal Democrat in the legislature and it would only help her more easily win the primary.

Her only political risk with this vote is from a pro-civil rights primary challenger should she fail to support gay marriage. It's both the right thing to do and the politically smart thing to do.

If you're interested in the campaign you can volunteer at the Illinois Unites for Marriage website or contact Drew directly if you're represented by Sue Scherer.