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Illinois marriage foes fall short on signatures

by Larry Buhl

PlanetOut Network - LINK

Based on a sampling, opponents of marriage equality in Illinois don't have enough valid signatures to get an anti-marriage measure on the Nov. 7 ballot, the state Board of Elections said Thursday.

A sample check of 19 percent of the more than 330,000 signatures submitted showed that Protect Marriage Illinois is likely to fall short in its effort to put a measure on the ballot asking voters to decide whether the state should amend its constitution to ban same sex marriage.

The signatures were delivered in May to the the state Board of Elections in Springfield. Since then, the FAIR Illinois Committee, which consists of Equality Illinois, Lambda Legal, PFLAG, Gay Liberation Network and others, have used volunteers to double-check all 330,000-plus signatures.

"This is petition checking, not a definitive ruling, but it confirms what we found in that (Protect Marriage Illinois) are nowhere near the number of valid signatures they need," said Andy Thayer, co-founder of Illinois' Gay Liberation Network. "They needed an 82 percent success rate, and in some areas in the state we found only 20 or even 10 percent of their signatures to be valid."

Thayer said that the finding signifies a watershed moment in which the public is beginning to tire of ballot measures prohibiting same-sex marriage.

"Protect Marriage Illinois saw this ballot measure as a stepping stone to build a stronger antigay movement, but what they'll get is the opposite," Thayer said. "They wasted tons of their own effort and it will be difficult to recover."

Although a recent poll showed a majority of Illinois voters opposing same-sex marriage, only 40 percent support asking state lawmakers to amend the constitution to ban it, according to the Chicago-based Glengariff group.

The apparent failure of the ballot effort indicates that anti-marriage efforts are losing steam nationwide and never had much traction in Illinois, said Rick Garcia, executive director of Equality Illinois.

"Not only is this force anti-marriage, they also supported rabidly antigay candidates for statewide offices, they fought the state nondiscrimination bill and tried to stop domestic partner benefits for state employees," Garcia said. "And the good news is, they failed in all of their efforts."

The results of the petition drive must be certified by the state Board of Elections by Sept. 1 and the state has given Protect Marriage Illinois until Aug. 1 to demonstrate that they have enough valid signatures.

Peter LaBarbera, executive director of Protect Marriage Illinois, told the Chicago Sun Times that the marriage fight is not over, and that his group would prevail in the end.

More than 40 states have taken steps to define marriage as between as a man or a woman, either through constitutional amendments or statutes. Illinois is a bellwether state in the anti-marriage effort, according to Thayer.

"This is the first place where the right-wing juggernaut will be stopped," Thayer said. "And it will be stopped in other places if gay people are able to cast these marriage foes as bigots, which is what they are."

In related news, a 2007 Pennsylvania constitutional marriage-ban ballot issue fizzled when that state's House and Senate recessed for the summer without reaching agreement on parallel versions of the bill.

And anti-marriage activists in Arizona also received a setback as Lynn Stanley, chairwoman of the Protect Marriage Arizona Coalition, died in a car crash Tuesday, according to the Arizona Republic. Stanley's coalition had planned to submit some 300,000 signatures to the state Wednesday. Following Stanley's death, the group delayed the handover until Thursday, the deadline.

Posted July 5, 2006


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