CHICAGO — Supporters of a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois are confident it will pass when it's likely called to a vote in Springfield next week. Especially so because of a statement supporting it from President Obama.
“As he has said, his personal view is that it’s wrong to prevent couples who are in loving, committed relationships, and want to marry, from doing so. Were the President still in the Illinois State Legislature, he would support this measure that would treat all Illinois couples equally,” White House spokesman Shin Inouye told the Chicago Sun-Times Saturday.
The statement from the White House has energized supporters of the bill, including one of its sponsors, Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago).
"I was just thrilled that the president of the United States took time to talk about an issue that is so important to so many families in Illinois," Harris said.
Obama has generally stayed out of state issues, which makes this statement particularly strong, Harris said.
"I think it's hugely important that he has stated his position and urged my colleagues (to support the bill)," he said.
Harris and Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) introduced the Illinois Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act earlier this year, and plan on calling the measure to a vote when the General Assembly reconvenes next week for its lame-duck session.
Harris said he expects the bill to pass, with bipartisan support.
"Public opinion is moving across the country and every part of Illinois," he said. Legislators "support this issue because people think it is the right thing to do."
Three states passed gay marriage amendments in the last election, and voters in Minnesota struck down an amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage. Hundreds of clergy in Illinois have publically backed this bill, as has Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Illinois passed a civil union law in 2011, and more than 5,100 couples have taken vows, according to a survey done by Civil Rights Agenda, an LGBT advocacy organization..
But civil unions aren't the same as marriage. Couples engaged in a civil union do not have the same hospital visitation rights as married couples, for example, and gays in Illinois are expectantly waiting for news from Springfield, said Rick Garcia, senior policy adviser for Civil Rights Agenda.
"I think that gay people are excited about the possibility, and I just hope they don't become complacent thinking that hotshot lobbyists and a handful of legislators will get the job done," he said.
"People are so excited that finally their family will be treated with the same kind of respect and dignity that their across-the-street neighbor has," Harris said.
Still, opposition remains, even though the bill wouldn't require churches to perform same-sex marriages. Cardinal Francis George, leader of Chicago's Catholic diocese, told the Chicago Tribune Sunday that same-sex marriage violates "natural law." State Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton) is pushing for an amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman.
That means supporters of the bill need to keep fighting and contacting legislators, Garcia said.
"We'll be in Springfield looking under every rock for yes votes," he said.