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History was written by these victors: Brown

Updated: December 7, 2013 6:40AM



Sixty-one state representatives made history Tuesday in the Illinois House with their votes to legalize gay marriage, and it took practically every one of them to make it happen.

But some deserve special recognition for the history books.

Rep. Greg Harris, the Chicago Democrat who was the bill’s chief sponsor, was a noble figure, strong and steadfast, in his leadership of the disparate LGBT factions demanding action.

Harris suffered especially after the disappointment of the spring legislative session when he pulled the measure back from a vote, drawing criticism from some of its supporters.

In retrospect, it was undoubtedly the right move at the time. I’m not sure there were 60 sure votes in favor of the bill before Tuesday morning.

When Democrats gave Harris a standing ovation just before the vote, there was heartfelt acknowledgement in the chamber that this gay man had served as a profile in courage.

Harris singled out House Speaker Michael Madigan, who once again showed that when he is focused on an issue he can make things happen in a hurry.

While their profiles were not as high, the House’s two other openly gay members, Kelly Cassidy of Chicago and Sam Yingling of Round Lake Beach, also deserve to be singled out.

As one of their colleagues observed, it took courage to put their personal and family lives on the line and ask their colleagues to treat them as equal members of society.

As an African-American woman representing a region where Democrats are more socially conservative than her counterparts in Chicago, Rep. Jehan Gordon of Peoria was also in a tough spot.

Until she announced her position in favor of marriage equality in her local newspaper Tuesday morning, nobody was sure where she stood. Outspoken opposition from Peoria’s Catholic bishop made her decision even more tricky.

But Gordon said she decided the current state of Illinois law created a “separate but equal” situation that is “un-American.”

Other members of the Black Caucus also undoubtedly deserve credit for standing up in the face of strong opposition from religious leaders from their communities threatening retribution at the polling place. I’m just not sure who to single out among them.

Black legislators had been the focus of concern among same-sex marriage supporters. In the end, they supplied their fair share of votes for the bill.

Rep. John D’Amico was viewed as a likely “no’ vote just a couple weeks ago by the bill’s proponents but ended up voting for it.

When I wrote about his predicament a couple weeks ago, it was clear the practicing Catholic from a comparatively conservative part of the city was struggling with his decision.

He didn’t make a floor speech to explain himself but told me afterward it came down to simple belief that “we shouldn’t discriminate against anybody.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel may had some influence there, too, and D’Amico’s aunt, Ald. Margaret Laurino, was conspicuously present on the House floor for the vote.

Then there were the three Republicans who voted “yes”: Tom Cross, Ron Sandack and Ed Sullivan.

At least it’s good to know that somebody in the Republican Party sees the wisdom of not discriminating against gays and lesbians.

Cross, who recently gave up his post as the House Republican leader to run for state treasurer, had been another mystery before the vote.

Even though it only makes sense for him as a statewide candidate to show that he’s got some compassion, it still couldn’t have been an easy vote for Cross considering he is facing a GOP primary opponent.

Sullivan actually made one of the best speeches in favor of the bill, explaining that his mother-in-law is a lesbian and that he couldn’t face his children if he voted against it.

You may have got the idea from reading my columns on this subject that this is personal to me. Yes, it is. One of my sons is gay.

There’s not much I can do as a parent to protect him from the prejudice and discrimination that he will face throughout his life.

But I certainly want to do everything I can to make sure that he goes through his life on equal legal footing as anyone else.

I have witnessed history previously in the Illinois Legislature: the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment, the midnight deal to keep the White Sox in Illinois, the impeachment of Rod Blagojevich.

This was different. This was better.

Email: markbrown@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkBrownCST



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