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Miller: Fallout from last week’s gay-marriage vote

Perhaps the biggest loser in last week’s historic passage of a gay marriage bill in Springfield was the National Organization for Marriage.

The group, based in Washington, D.C., has been at the forefront of attempts to stop gay marriage in states throughout the country. A Maine investigation uncovered alleged internal NOM documents about the group’s strategy that included this passage:

“The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks – two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African-American spokespeople for marriage, develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots. No politician wants to take up and push an issue that splits the base of the party.”

The organization tried all that in Illinois, spending tens of thousands of dollars on politically connected consultants and robocalls into black districts in the spring, summer and right up until the day of the vote, and holding media friendly events in the black community. The bill wasn’t called for a vote last spring mainly because black House members were overwhelmed by fervent local opposition.

In the end, NOM lost badly. Fourteen of 20 Democratic members of the House Black Caucus voted “yes” on the gay marriage bill, while only four voted “no” (Monique Davis, Mary Flowers, Eddie Lee Jackson and Chuck Jefferson) and two voted “present” (Rita Mayfield and Derrick Smith).

Ironically enough, though, other than gay marriage supporters, those who probably cheered the loudest after the bill’s passage might have been the four Republican gubernatorial candidates. They’ve been hoping this issue would be safely put away, allowing them to move on to their own agendas.

They might be right. These things do tend to fade away once a bill is passed. The big talk last week in Congress was about a bill to prohibit employment discrimination against gay people. Illinois has had that law on its books for years. Despite much screaming by opponents that the end of the word was surely near, everybody just accepted the law and moved on without incident.

But people don’t always move on. Social conservatives could try to stir up a backlash by demanding that the Republican candidates pledge to repeal the marriage measure. Three of the four candidates are on record opposing gay marriage. The fourth, Bruce Rauner, said he would sign a gay marriage bill into law only if the public had first voted to approve it via a nonbinding referendum. It obviously wasn’t done that way, so he could be forced to answer some touchy questions.

State Rep. Tom Cross, a Republican candidate for state treasurer, is undoubtedly hoping that the issue fades quickly, at least in the runup to the spring primary.

Cross voted “yes,” even though a spokesman recently told the Sun-Times that he opposed the bill. It’s been known for weeks, however, that Cross was truly struggling with the issue, both on philosophical and political levels.

Cross has a Republican primary opponent, the socially conservative DuPage County Auditor Bob Grogan. Grogan hasn’t been much of a campaigner to date, raising little money and garnering few major supporters. But he says he’s not interested in Cross’ vote. Some anti-gay marriage forces are, though, and that could cause him problems.

The immediate fear among Cross’ allies is that his gay marriage vote could spark more interest among, and money from, the far right to defeat him. Cross has done a good job so far of rounding up traditional GOP supporters, however, so the calculation was that the vote won’t be fatal in the primary.

Last week’s vote will, however, take an issue away from Cross’ Democratic rival, state Sen. Michael Frerichs. Cross clearly took the long view, and that could come with significant benefits, including campaign contributions from gay marriage supporters and the ability to paint himself as a moderate and “modern” Republican in the general election.

Speaking of Republicans, unlike in the Senate, where the lone Republican “yes” vote was more symbolic than essential to the outcome, the three House Republicans who voted for the bill last week helped provide the margin of victory.

Without those votes, the going would’ve been a whole lot tougher.

• Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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