SPRINGFIELD — Gay marriage supporters said today they have moved to “within striking distance” of collecting enough votes to pass a bill in early January.
Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Greg Harris unveiled plans to take up the measure in the closing days of the current General Assembly before a new set of lawmakers are sworn in Jan. 9.
The legislation would allow same-sex marriage and protect the right of religious institutions to either consecrate or not consecrate such weddings, but church leaders from a variety of faiths have rallied staunch opposition.
Nine states allow gay marriage, including three states --- Maine, Maryland and Washington --- that approved legalizing gay marriage.
Both Steans and Harris said the ballot-box victories elsewhere last month represent a “sea change” that they are seeing among colleagues in Illinois. The two Chicago Democrats said they plan to put up the same-sex marriage bill for a vote and indicated they wouldn’t do that without believing it would pass. Still, they remained cautious.
Steans said the two “don’t want to lose the momentum” and “we want to do it now.”
“Public sentiment is moving fast on this,” Steans said, pointing out support from Gov. Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and President Barack Obama. “It’s just a wave now. It’s moving very quickly.”
The two have to muster 60 House votes and 30 Senate votes. If that happens, Quinn has indicated he would sign the bill into law. Such a measure would take effect in the summer, the lawmakers said. The measure also would recognize gay marriages performed in other states, they said.
Harris said constituents have made arguments to a growing number of lawmakers, raising questions like, “Why would our state treat our lesbian granddaughter with less respect than our straight grandson?”
The gay marriage push comes after the state first allowed civil unions for same-sex and heterosexual partners in 2011. Opponents of civil unions predicted that fight would open the door to making gay marriage legal in only a matter of time, but the timetable for action is moving quicker than many foes may have anticipated.
Opponents cite religious concerns, saying the sanctity of marriage should be protected and the institution be defined as between a man and a woman. But Harris has said the question for Illinois has turned from whether the state would pass gay marriage to when.
On Monday, Quinn said he hopes lawmakers would send him the gay marriage bill in January. But Harris had cautioned that the legislative agenda is filling up with so many big-ticket items like pension reform and casino expansion proposals that there might not be enough time and room for gay marriage to be taken up. Harris also wanted to make sure he had the votes to pass the bill before going forward on such a contentious issue.
But with dozens of lame-duck lawmakers available to cast votes more freely as they prepare to walk out the door, they may be able to provide enough support to pick up the final votes needed to pass the gay marriage bill.
Quinn called the House the “key arena at this time” and urged lawmakers sitting on the fence to “vote their conscience.”