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Marriage equality bill to get final vote in Illinois Senate today

Civil Unions Marriage equality

By Jacob Combs

Later today, the Illinois Senate will vote on SB10, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, which would provide same-sex couples in the state with full marriage equality.  Following several frenzied days of lobbying right after the New Year to pass the legislation in the lame-duck session–during which the bill failed to get a floor vote for procedural reasons–advocates postponed a vote for the new legislative session, where it was approved by the Senate Executive Committee last week by a 9-5 vote.

The Senate will convene at 11 a.m. Central time.  A live feed of the proceedings can be found here.  (If that link isn’t working, here’s another one to try.)

“We’re looking at a very favorable Senate vote,” Randy Hannig, director of public policy at Equality Illinois, told EqualityOnTrial.  “We’ve been reaching out to everyone: Democrats, Republicans, city representatives, suburban representatives, downstate representatives.  I think that the people of Illinois, as well as their legislators, know that the time has come for marriage equality.  Even a lot of our opponents realize that we’re not going to back away until we get the fairness, equality and respect that we deserve.”

Yesterday, Heather Steans, the marriage bill’s chief sponsor in the Senate, told the Springfield-based State Journal-Register she believes the measure has the 30 votes it needs to pass the floor vote.

If the bill passes the Senate today, it will go to the House of Representatives, where advocates know the legislation will face a steeper climb than it did in the Senate.

“The House tends to skew a little more conservative when it comes to social issues,” Hannig said.  “We’re still working on roll call and we’ll be working up to the moment the bill is called for a vote.  There are a lot of legislators on the fence, which is why we’re really urging our membership to contact their legislators, contact their family members and friends in other parts of the state, especially in suburban and down-state areas, to let them know they’re in support of marriage equality in Illinois.”

Rep. Greg Harris, the bill’s chief sponsor in the House, told EqualityOnTrial that there is no set schedule at this point for when the measure might be considered by the House.  Before a full floor vote, the bill will be referred to the Rules committee, which will assign it to another committee for a preliminary vote. “To put a timeline on it is, I think, speculative,” Harris said.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has said that he will sign the bill into law if it passes the General Assembly.  Couples would be able to marry 30 days after the bill receives the governor’s signature.

Hannig attributes the speed with which Illinois has progressed on the issue of legal protections for same-sex couples–from no recognition to the possibility of full equality in just a few years–to the “rapidly changing public opinion” surrounding marriage equality.

“More and more people are courageously coming out to their friends, their family, their co-workers and changing the way people view this,” Hannig told EqualityOnTrial.  “Legislators are people too, so they see their friends and family coming out, and they’re seeing that it’s not the end of the world.  They realize they should not be a party to blocking someone from being happy and being in a committed relationship.”

Illinois does not have a ‘people’s veto’ referendum process, so any referendum to block the marriage equality bill would have to come from the legislature and receive a three-fifths majority in each house.  Given the make-up of the General Assembly, there is very little likelihood that would occur.

In addition to the efforts in the legislature, there is also a marriage case currently pending in Illinois state court, combined from two separate lawsuits filed by Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Illinois, seeking equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.  Yesterday, the court hearing the case rejected a request by a conservative legal group to place the lawsuit on hold pending the resolution of two marriage equality cases currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.  Should the marriage equality bill pass the General Assembly and be signed into law, the ACLU expects the case to be dismissed as moot, the legal group told the Windy City Times.

Illinois has offered civil unions since the summer of 2011.  The marriage equality bill will not change the state’s civil unions law, meaning both same-sex and opposite-sex couples will still be allowed to enter in to civil unions if they so choose.  Couples with civil unions who want to convert their union to a marriage will have one year from the marriage law’s effective date to ask the state to make the change, according to the ACLU.  After that date, they will have to apply for a marriage license and register the marriage following a civil or religious ceremony.

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