Despite urging from President Barack Obama in his home state and fierce on-the-ground campaigning, a legislative measure that would have made Illinois the 13th state to allow same-sex couples to marry didn't rally enough support from lawmakers in the House.
The bill's sponsor on Friday evening said he would not call the measure for a vote in the waning hours of the legislative session.
"Several of my colleagues have indicated they would not be willing to cast a vote on this bill today and I have never been sadder such a request, but I have to keep my eye, as we all must, on the ultimate prize," Rep. Greg Harris said on the House floor Friday evening, appearing to choke back tears. "They asked me for time to go back to their districts and reach out to their minds and hearts."
Legislators applauded him after the speech, which was interrupted by shouting from those who'd traveled to the Springfield statehouse with hopes of witnessing history.
From Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised Harris for his "eloquent call for action."
"With his moving words this evening, Rep. Harris made it clear that it is time for us to move forward as a city and state, making marriage a right for all," said Emanuel. "To honor our city and state’s proud place in the struggle for equality, and most importantly, to honor the life-long commitments of all residents to whomever they love, we must heed Rep. Harris’ words."
Also expressing his disappointment was Gov. Pat Quinn, who'd hoped to sign the bill that was passed by the state's Senate on Valentine's Day.
"I am disappointed that the House of Representatives in the Land of Lincoln did not pass a historic measure that would have guaranteed equal rights and benefits for all citizens," he said. "This is not over. The fight goes on. We will keep on fighting until marriage equality is law in Illinois."
Members of Equality Illinois and other supporters traveled to Springfield earlier in the morning to push for action as sponsors hustled to round up the needed votes. About 20 people who oppose same-sex marriage also gathered. They prayed in the rotunda and planned to talk with lawmakers about their views on the issue, noting no one "has a right to step beyond the veil" to change the definition of marriage.
One lawmaker told Ward Room on Friday why he changed his vote from a no to a yes.
"The sponsor has been very respectful and I got lots of calls from constituents in favor," Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) said. "Plus looking at the protections in the bill for churches, and our constitution guarantees the right to political freedom and the right to religious freedom and this bill does that."
During his visit to Chicago on Wednesday, Obama exhorted legislators to approve the measure if it were called for a vote.
"Here in Illinois, we've got a vote on same-sex marriage that's going to be coming up in the state Legislature," Obama told the attendees. "And I just want to say for the record it's something that I deeply support."
And last week former President Bill Clinton issued a statement in support of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, asking legislators to stand up for the "proposition that all citizens should be treated equally under the law."
Clinton joined a chorus of voices, including Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, who publicly backed the legislation earlier this year.
He said he believed the vote would strengthen the country, putting it closer to the nation's mission of forming a "more perfect union."
“That mission has inspired and empowered us to extend rights to people previously denied them," he said. "Every time we have done that, it has strengthened our nation. Now we should do it again, in Illinois, with marriage equality.”
Polls show support for gay marriage has surged since 1996, when Gallup found that 27 percent of Americans backed it. Now Gallup finds that 53 percent support giving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. President Obama said last year he supports same-sex marriage, and in November voters in four states either approved or voted down bans on gay marriage.
Illinois approved civil unions in 2011.
Marriage equality was one of several landmark issues without resolution ahead of Friday's deadline, including pension reform, gun control and a Chicago casino.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.