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Illinois Senate to vote on gay marriage as early as Thursday

[UPDATE: The Daily Herald in Illinois is reporting that Pat Brady, chair of the Illinois Republican Party, is calling GOP lawmakers today to ask them to support marriage equality in the Land of Lincoln.]

CHICAGO -- Democratic State Sen. Heather Steans said Tuesday a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois will be heard by a Senate committee Wednesday night and a full Senate vote on a bill could come as early as Thursday.

“There is certainly a lot of great momentum,” Steans said. “Thursday is what we are aiming for.”

The bill will be considered by the Senate Executive Committee at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, where Steans expects it to gain approval.

The announcement signals the bill’s chief sponsors — Steans in the Senate and Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) in the House — and other proponents of the bill have gained enough votes to secure its passage in the Senate, as forces on both sides of the issue make their final pushes to lobby lawmakers before the legislature’s lame duck session begins Wednesday.

The bill needs at least 30 votes in the Senate before it can move to the House, where it will need 60 votes to make its way to the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn, who will sign the bill into law and has been lobbying state lawmakers for additional support.

Steans said the “yes” votes needed to pass the bill in the Senate are there if all of the lawmakers make it back to Springfield following the holidays.
“If everyone shows up, then yes, the votes are here,” she told Chicago Phoenix, adding that absences may delay a vote.

In addition, both Steans and Harris said they are close to securing the 60 votes required to pass the bill in the House.

“We certainly want to get to 60 by next week,” Steans said. “We are in striking distance — if not already there.”

Lawmakers have until the end of the 97th General Assembly’s lame duck session — Jan. 9 — to pass the bill through both the Senate and the House, when a new class of legislators are sworn in.

Steans attributes the rapidly increasing support for same-sex marriage among her peers to President Barack Obama’s coming out in support of the bill as well as efforts by civil rights and LGBT rights organizations.

“[Obama's] coming out in support really helped a lot,” Steans said. “I think it really has made a difference.”

But Harris, Steans and several LGBT rights organizations are asking supporters to contact their local legislators, regardless of their voting record or current stance on gay marriage.

“Have your friends and family call throughout the state — it’s needed,” Steans said in a recent interview. “Especially outside the city limits. Now is the time.”

Anthony Martinez, executive director at Chicago-based LGBT rights and policy non-profit, The Civil Rights Agenda, echoed the call to action.

“It is imperative that the community step up and contact their senator and their representative and ask their friends and their family to do the same,” Martinez said. “The community needs to mobilize and mobilize now.”

While the bill may appear to have enough support in the Senate to pass, Martinez said the two days before the actual vote equate to a lifetime for pieces of legislation and that support can shift due to intense lobbying from opposing groups.

“It’s very encouraging to see how confident our lead sponsor is in regard to this bill,” he said. “There is still a lot of opposition out there that is working really hard to change votes from ‘yes’ to ‘no.’”

Just hours before Steans announced the bill’s next steps, Chicago Cardinal Francis George issued a pastoral letter to Roman Catholic priests across the state in which he urged them to oppose the bill.

“Civil laws that establish ‘same sex marriage’ create a legal fiction,” George wrote. “The State has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible.”

George also argued that same-sex marriages violate natural law because gay and lesbian couples cannot procreate.

Along with the local Roman Catholic Church, a coalition of other conservative organizations has formed to combat the growing support for the bill, including the Illinois Family Institute, the Thomas More Society and several religious groups that oppose LGBT rights.

However, a group of over 260 religious and faith leaders from across Illinois signed a letter to state lawmakers urging them to vote in favor of gay and lesbian nuptials because it’s the compassionate, just and fair thing to do.

“Standing on these beliefs, we think that it is morally just to grant equal opportunities and responsibilities to loving, committed same-sex couples,” the clergy — mostly Jewish and Protestant — wrote. “There can be no justification for the law treating people differently on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Nine states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages. Three states — Washington, Maine and Maryland — approved same-sex marriage ballot measures in the November elections.

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