By Rick Pearson and Rafael Guerrero
Organizing for Action, the offshoot of President Barack Obama's successful re-election campaign, is joining the push for same-sex marriage in Obama's home state, the group announced Tuesday.
Though the organization had been created to assist Obama's second-term agenda on a variety of issues before Congress, the group's decision to get involved in matters such as this brings its vast technological and networking skills to the statehouse level.
"We've heard from OFA supporters here in Illinois that this issue matters to you, and that's why we're teaming up with Illinois Unites for Marriage -- a joint project of (the American Civil Liberties Union of) Illinois, Equality Illinois, and Lambda Legal -- to add our voices to this fight," Lindsay Siler, the group's national director of issue campaigns, told supporters in an email.
The Obama organization is pushing such issues as immigration reform, addressing gun violence and dealing with the federal sequester, but organizers who led Obama's re-election campaign also have said it would be driven at the grass-roots level and take up local issues.
"I think this will remind people that the president of the United States changed his mind on marriage," said state Rep. Greg Harris, the Chicago Democrat sponsoring the same-sex marriage legislation in Illinois. "I'm so glad that he's changed his mind. It's what a lot of people are doing."
The Obama group's involvement comes as both sides of the gay marriage issue are ratcheting up their efforts. The group was recruited by a national gay rights organization, National Freedom to Marry, said officials with Equality Illinois.
Legislation to authorize same-sex marriage has passed the state Senate, but has been mired in the House. Speaker Michael Madigan, the Southwest Side lawmaker who also is state Democratic chairman, has said the measure is about a dozen votes shy of the 60 needed for passage. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has said he would sign the bill if it passes.
Despite a significant Democratic majority in the Illinois House, passage of the measure had always been viewed more difficult there than in the Senate. Several Downstate Democrats have socially conservative views. And efforts also are under way to turn some city Democrats off the bill.
A coalition of African-American clergy from Cook County has begun airing radio commercials on black-oriented stations urging opposition to the measure. The radio ads come on top of automated telephone calls placed to African-American households by former state Sen. James Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church of Chicago.
The African American Clergy Coalition, as the group calls itself, is also working with the Catholic Conference of Illinois and representatives of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod against the gay marriage bill.
Harris would not say whether the efforts by the African-American clergy group have cost him votes.
"I think people are going to listen," he said. "They are going to listen to all sides. They are hearing from ministers and parishioners on both sides of the issue in their districts. I think they are going to come to the same conclusion the majority of Americans have in that this is the fair thing for government to do -- to treat all people equally."
Supporters tried to get the measure passed during the January lame-duck session, but failed to get the bill out of the Senate.
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