Lisa Madigan talks Illinois marriage push
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has been dogged by the marriage question all year. It's not that she doesn't support equal marriage—that much has long been clear—but her stance on the issue has been closely watched, first when she intervened in favor of lawsuits seeking equal marriage and then when her father, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, took up the issue in the House, where he supported efforts to legalize same-sex marriage.
Michael Madigan has drawn scorn from some LGBT activists who feel did not do enough to pass equal marriage before session ended in May. And some of that anger has been directed at Lisa Madigan, a possible gubernatorial contender and longtime equal marriage supporter.
Windy City Times caught up with Lisa Madigan and asked her about why she intervened in favor of same-sex couples in court, what she did to help the marriage bill and how she feels about the anger resulting from that shortfall.
Windy City Times: So, you put out a statement after the session ended without a vote on equal marriage about why you think the ban is unconstitutional. How are you feeling now that some time has passed?
Lisa Madigan: I think I'm much more positive now than I was on the last day of session. I think everybody who has worked hard to see the gay marriage bill pass was both upset and disappointed that it didn't. At this point, what I am hopeful of is that we are going to take our negative emotions and turn that into positive energy that's going to be necessary to ultimately pass this bill in Illinois.
WCT: You came out very early in the lawsuits seeking equal marriage and took the position that the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. How did you come to that position?
Lisa Madigan: For many years now, personally, I have been supportive of gay marriage. As those debates started taking place in state legislatures, but also in state courts around the country, I followed very closely the legal arguments that have been made and the ultimate resolution of those cases. For anybody who has done that, you see that the legal landscape has been changing relatively rapidly.
You had a situation that in the mid-to-late '90s, you started to see a lot of state legislatures pass bans on same-sex marriage and then it was really more in the early 2000s, mid-2000s, you started seeing legal challenges to those statutes. You have numerous courts at this point that have ruled that those bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional in large part because they violate equal protection provisions.
In particular, the case out of Connecticut is very similar to the situation that Illinois is in. There was a challenge to the ban. They had passed a civil unions law, and ultimately their supreme court said that it was unconstitutional to have these two different types of recognition of relationships.
I think if you're true to the legal analysis of equal protection case law, you find that these bans on same-sex marriage simply are violative of equal protection.
WCT: This, of course, is going to be very important with the Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act expected. What do you think are some of the ramifications for Illinois depending on the outcome?
Lisa Madigan: I shouldn't prognosticate because that's never a wise thing to do, but I think there's certainly both hope and believe that the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act], in large part simply because marriage has always been something that is determined at a state level and not at the federal level.
If there are favorable decisions out of the Supreme Court, I think that adds momentum to work that is taking place in states around the country to pass gay marriage law.
WCT: As I understand it, you had conversations with some lawmakers about supporting this bill.
Lisa Madigan: Yes, throughout session, and even in particular the last several days when people were hopeful that we were only a handful of votes away. Then, it started looking as if it was far more than that because some members of the legislature had been put under so much pressure that while at some point they may have indicated a possible willingness to be supportive, they were now indicating essentially the opposite. So I spent many hours on the phone that Thursday and Friday with legislatures, reassuring them of several things.
One is, from my experience being in the state Senate, you end up having to vote on controversial bills, but once they're passed, much of the controversy dies down [and] goes away, and everybody moves forward—certain threats that may have been made to be or concerns that they may have had about elections that maybe did not need to be so concerned about that.
WCT: Do you remember the first moment that you knew the bill might be in trouble?
Lisa Madigan: I think I got a call probably that Wednesday, maybe it was Thursday before the end of session [Friday]. I think it was late in the game. Like many people, we had been doing a lot of work. We were very hopeful. My understanding was we never had a firm 60 votes. We were close and the momentum was going the right way, and it really turned.
WCT: Obviously, there has been a lot of anger over this, even at supportive representatives. Do you think that anger is fair, and how do you feel that some of that has been directed as you as the daughter of Speaker Madigan?
Lisa Madigan: I think anger is understandable. Everybody who was working toward passage of this bill was certainly disappointed, upset that it did not have the votes to pass at the end of session. So, I can understand anger. I think the useful way to channel that anger is into working harder and assuring ourselves that we do get commitments from representatives that we will vote for this bill when it is called. I don't think that anger for anger's sake is useful at the end of the day. But, again, I understand that there are a lot of people who are very disappointed, myself included, that the votes weren't there to pass it at the end of session.
WCT: Do you have any plans for Pride?
Lisa Madigan: We always go to the parade, so we'll be out at the parade.
WCT: Is there anything you want to add?
Lisa Madigan: This is something I have been supportive of ever since I ran for public office. I put a little bit of in because I remember commenting on this when we signed the civil unions bill a number of years ago that it took a very, very long time for the Human Rights Act to be amended to include sexual orientation as a protected class. Larry McKeon [the state's first out gay rep] was one of my state representatives. I remember the work that he did on this to amend the Human Rights Act. I remember the disappointment and the frustration and anger that was directed at him in years that it didn't pass.
We're always in a battle over something, and what pays off ultimately is perseverance and developing relationships and connections. We will pass marriage equality in Illinois. It may not happen fast enough for a lot of people, but it is coming.