Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Makes Push for Marriage Equality

Noting that "the time is right," Chicago mayor and former presidential aide Rahm Emanuel says it's time to get to work on marriage equality in Illinois.

BY Trudy Ring

November 14 2012 4:01 AM ET

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel

Saying “the time is right” for marriage equality, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has thrown his considerable political weight behind getting a same-sex marriage bill passed in Illinois.

The mayor had a letter to that effect published in Tuesday’s Chicago Sun-Times, and he followed that up with a conversation with The Advocate, noting in both that the results of last week’s election make this an opportune time to continue the push for equality.

The election “continued America’s great history of expanding opportunity and equality,” Emanuel, a Democrat, wrote in the letter. “Today, we must take the next step on that journey by affording the opportunity to marry to all Americans — and we can continue that march by quickly enacting marriage equality here in Illinois.”

Speaking with The Advocate, he added, “The time is right, the time is now.” Illinois has offered civil unions to same-sex couples since June of 2011, and momentum for marriage equality is building around the nation, with the victories in Maine, Maryland, and Washington State on Election Day, the defeat of an anti-equality constitutional amendment in Minnesota, and the election or reelection of many supportive politicians, including President Obama.

In Illinois, a marriage equality bill was introduced in February by the state’s three openly gay legislators (there will be a fourth in the next term). Gov. Pat Quinn, also a Democrat, has made it clear he supports such a measure. The Democrats have a majority of seats in both the state Senate and House, and in the next term, beginning in January, will have supermajorities.

All these factors would appear to bode well for the bill, and there has been speculation that a vote on it could come before the end of this year. Emanuel, however, declined to predict when the legislature might take it up or if it would pass. He said he simply wants to ensure marriage equality won’t get lost in the shuffle amid the state’s financial and other challenges, and he thinks it will unless someone makes it a priority. He’s met with the leaders of both houses of the legislature, and he’s calling on citizens to become active. “We have to go to work,” he said.

Emanuel, well known for his outspokenness, has a record of support for marriage equality and other LGBT causes. He’s a member of the national coalition Mayors for the Freedom to Marry. He lobbied for the Illinois civil unions bill, and the day it went into effect, he officiated at the union of one of his top staff members. As mayor, he’s also been an advocate for programs to address LGBT-specific health concerns, stop bullying in schools, and assure fair treatment by law enforcement. He represented a Chicago district in Congress for three terms, from 2003 to 2009, and received a 100% rating each term from the Human Rights Campaign for his votes on LGBT issues.

His most high-profile positions before becoming mayor in 2011 were as an aide to President Clinton from 1993 to 1998 and as President Obama’s chief of staff from January 2009 until October 2010, when he resigned to run for mayor. Emanuel declined to say if he had conversations with Obama or Vice President Joe Biden regarding their statements of support for marriage equality last spring, but he said he’s “honored to have served” in an administration that has made so many advances for LGBT rights.

Now he’s working for further advances. Marriage equality, he said, “is aligning our values and our laws.”

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