A same-sex marriage bill in Illinois is gaining traction thanks to a coalition that includes President Barack Obama and the chairman of the state Republican Party, Pat Brady.
On the heels of their first ballot-box victories in November, gay-marriage supporters are pushing lawmakers in Springfield to make Illinois the 10th state to legalize the unions. The effort has taken shape quickly during the waning days of the legislative session, which many lawmakers expected to be dominated by solving a $97 billion unfunded pension liability. Elected officials who often avoid commenting on state matters have added their voices to the debate.
“I urge you to vote for marriage equality in Illinois so that our state can be part of the emerging national consensus on this issue of justice,” Democratic U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said yesterday in a letter released from his Washington office.
Same-sex couples are now able to marry in nine states and the District of Columbia, home to a combined 14 percent of the U.S. population. In November, voters in Washington, Maryland and Maine approved the practice. While 30 states have constitutional amendments defining marriage as a pact between a man and a woman only, Delaware, Hawaii, Minnesota, New Jersey and Rhode Island lawmakers plan to consider or revisit legalization this year.
Brady, the Republican chairman, said he was putting his “full support” behind the bill. “It strengthens families and reinforces a key Republican value -- that the law should treat all citizens equally,” Brady told the Chicago Sun-Times in an article published Jan. 2.
A coalition of religious leaders opposes the Illinois bill, and the National Organization for Marriage pledged yesterday to defeat any Republican legislator who votes for it. The group also called Brady “unfit” to continue as chairman of the party. Brady didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.
The Washington-based group targeted lawmakers who voted for same-sex marriage in New York, including two Republicans who were defeated at the ballot box last year.
“Any Republican in Illinois who betrays the cause of marriage will be casting a career-ending vote and will be held accountable to their constituents,” Brian Brown, the group’s president, said on the organization’s website. “We will spend whatever it takes.”
No Midwestern legislature has approved same-sex marriage. An Illinois Senate committee yesterday sent the measure to the full chamber. It would require approval by the House of Representatives before going to Democratic Governor Pat Quinn, who has said he would sign it into law.
The losing streak for same-sex marriage at the polls ended Nov. 6, when voters affirmed laws passed by the legislatures of Washington and Maryland, extended the right to gay Mainers, and rejected a bid in Minnesota to constitutionally define marriage as heterosexual. Gay-marriage groups spent $35 million, compared with $10 million by opponents, according to both sides.
Before then, legalization had come only through legislative or judicial action as gay marriage was defeated all 32 times it appeared on a ballot.
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