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Sponsors say vote on Illinois marriage equality bill coming in January

By Tony Merevick| Chicago Phoenix
Sunday, December 16, 2012
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The legalization of same-sex marriage in Illinois could be just around the corner.

The chief sponsors of a bill in the state’s General Assembly that would legalize same-sex marriage said Thursday they’d bring the legislation up for vote during the lame duck session beginning Jan. 2, or early next month.

Illinois state capitol building in Springfield.

Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), the bill’s chief sponsor in the Illinois Senate and Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the chief sponsor in the House, said they are close to securing enough support among their colleagues to potentially pass the bill, apparently riding the wave of increasing support for same-sex marriage throughout the country.

“I really think that there’s a national sea change that’s happening on this and I think it’s helped [other legislators] evolve on this issue,” Steans told Chicago Phoenix. “We have a governor now, who two years ago was running on a platform of civil unions, and now he supports it. It’s just been a real sea change here.”

Several high-ranking state officials have also called for same-sex marriage. On Monday, Gov. Pat Quinn told reporters he’d like to see the bill reach his desk in early January, lining up with the legislators’ new timeline.

Steans and Harris must have at least 60 House votes and 30 Senate votes to get the bill to Quinn’s desk. The bill won’t go up on the board in the General Assembly until they have those votes secured, Steans said, and added that they’ll likely start with a vote in the House and then bring it to the Senate.

Recent statements by local LGBT rights activists suggested the bill would come up for vote early next year. Until now, sponsors in the legislature have been quiet about the timeframe for the bill, which was introduced early this year and has been held up in a Rules Committee.

“We’re working to have a vote as soon as we can,” said Rick Garcia, a longtime LGBT rights activist in Illinois and policy advisor at The Civil Rights Agenda. “We will call it if the votes are there. We are activating all of our folks throughout the state to contact their legislators.”

Garcia cautiously looks forward to January, emphasizing: “We will call the bill when the votes are there.”

If passed in January, House Bill 5170, or “The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act,” would make Illinois the tenth state to legalize same sex-marriage. Three states — Washington, Maine and Maryland — approved marriage equality via popular vote in the Nov. 6 general election, joining Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut.

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